What is reskilling?


Reskilling is the process of acquiring new skills or updating existing ones to adapt to changes in the job market and enhance employability. 

Reskilling is the process of learning new skills to adapt to changes in the job market or transition into a different field. It involves upgrading or updating one’s skillset to meet the demands of evolving industries, technologies or job requirements. Reskilling can take on various forms, such as formal education programs, vocational training, online courses, workshops or on-the-job training. 

Reskilling is often necessary when roles change because of automation, new technologies and systems that can replace traditional tasks. By reskilling, individuals can enhance their employability and remain competitive in the workforce.  

Reskilling, which refers to learning entirely new skills, is distinct from upskilling – which involves acquiring additional skills or enhancing existing skills to stay relevant and competitive within the same industry or job function.  

History of reskilling  

The first instance of reskilling on a large scale occurred during the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During this time, the economy was shifting away from agriculture and towards industry, meaning that workers had to learn new skills to operate the machinery and work in factories. 

Today, with automation and artificial intelligence, the need to reskill is just as prevalent. As technology continues to advance, many jobs that were previously performed by humans are being automated. This has caused new roles to emerge, which require new skills and expertise. As such, the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025, 50% of all employees will need reskilling.  

Recent trends in reskilling  

AI and machine learning 

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts that technology, particularly AI and machine learning, will transform approximately 1.1 billion jobs in the coming decade. This transformation, coupled with the shift towards green technology and the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, has created a pressing need for the implementation of reskilling programs.  

Failure to implement such programs can lead to widening skill gaps among business leaders and their workforce, resulting in shortages and disparities between required skills and available talent. Without reskilling initiatives, employees may lack the proficiency needed to transition into new roles, hindering business functionality and increasing the cost of hiring skilled individuals externally.  

Employer demand for reskilling 

According to the World Economic Forum, nearly half of the skills employees need to perform their roles will have changed by 2025 – highlighting the need for reskilling initiatives. However, surveys conducted in the UK reveal concerning statistics, as 61% of employees feel they don’t have the skills they need for the next 5 years and 26% report that they haven’t participated in a workplace training in over a decade.

While employers and governments alike recognise that training is valuable, practical action is often lacking. Governments can play a major role in encouraging reskilling by shaping practices in the public sector, promoting collaborative efforts with employers and prioritising good employment practices. However, it is employers that must make significant changes – as their tendency to ‘hire in’ skills rather than reskill or upskill existing employees is a major contributor to the problem.  

According to FEWeek, employers must therefore move away from the role of ‘customers’ in the skills system to that of ‘co-producers’ – and start viewing the system as a “joint enterprise”. Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) are a potential solution to this problem, as they can foster deeper discussions and enhance collaboration between training providers and employers. 

The World Economic Forum’s Reskilling Revolution  

The Reskilling Revolution, initiated by the World Economic Forum, is an example of a program that addresses the need for future-proof skills in the face of evolving technologies like artificial intelligence. Since its launch in 2020, the Reskilling Revolution has made a significant global impact – reaching over 350 million individuals worldwide.  

Backed by CEOs and ministers from various countries, the initiative has formed a diverse community of over 350 organizations, including The Adecco Group, Coursera, LinkedIn, PwC and UNICEF. By 2024, the initiative plans to benefit an additional 300 million workers and adult learners and 150 million students worldwide. 

Advantages of reskilling  

  • Reskilling allows individuals to acquire in demand skills and knowledge. 
  • By upgrading their skill sets, individuals become more adaptable and versatile – making them more attractive to employers. 
  • By acquiring new skills or transitioning into a different field, individuals can qualify for higher-level positions or take on more challenging roles.
  • Reskilling can lead to increased job satisfaction, higher salaries and better prospects for professional development.

Disadvantages of reskilling  

  • Individuals may need to dedicate substantial periods to training and education, which could impact their current employment or personal commitments. 
  • The costs associated with reskilling, such as tuition or training program fees, can be a barrier for some individuals.
  • Individuals may face challenges in finding suitable employment or competing with candidates who already have experience in the target industry.

Use case

IBM is a prime example of company with a reskilling program. IBM's initiative, called SkillsBuild, focuses on giving individuals the opportunity to acquire new skills and transition into high-demand roles.  

The SkillsBuild program offers free online training in areas such as data science, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and cloud computing. It is designed to help learners, including those with non-traditional backgrounds, gain the skills needed for in-demand STEM careers. The program includes a combination of self-paced learning modules, hands-on projects and assessments to track progress. 

IBM's reskilling program also provides personalised coaching and mentorship, along with job placement assistance and connections to potential employers. By offering access to relevant resources and support, IBM aims to bridge the skills gap and enable individuals to pursue new career opportunities in the STEM fields. The company has committed to reskilling 30 million people by 2030.