Employee Empowerment vs Mandates: Crafting an Upskilling & Reskilling Model for Business Success

    Employee upskilling is vital. But should you empower learning or require training? Compare voluntary and mandatory upskilling models to see what drives success.
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    Crafting an upskilling & reskilling model for business success

    Upskilling and reskilling programs are no longer nice to have for businesses. With estimates that roughly 3 out of 5 workers will need new skills. The World Economic Forum also estimates that 20.8% of individuals could be positively reskilled into roles of growing demand. Upskilling and reskilling have become a necessity.

    Organizations turn to two primary approaches: voluntary initiatives, which empower employees to take ownership of their development, and mandatory programs, where developing specific skills is required for certain roles.

    Here we delve into the differences between the two approaches and how to decide which one is optimal for your organization.

    Upskilling & Reskilling: Enforcement or Empowerment?

    Studies show that many employees have a dim view of mandatory training, saying they take too much time, may lack accessibility, and don’t tailor content to individual roles and existing knowledge.

    Research shows mixed results when it comes to real-world performance. A study by the American Society for Training and Development found that 40% of voluntary training participants changed their performance to meet course objectives, compared to 35% of mandatory training recipients. A later study found few differences. And for some industries, required skills training may be a best practice.

    Let’s examine the two approaches.

    Mandatory Upskilling vs. Voluntary Upskilling


    Mandatory Upskilling

    Voluntary Upskilling


    Programs where employees must complete training to acquire skills deemed essential by the organization. May be driven by industry standards or legal requirements.

    Programs where company-provided training opportunities are aligned with company goals and skill needs, but aren’t required for continued employment.

    Personalization & Flexibility

    Uses a standardized curriculum; typically follows a structured schedule, potentially limiting training personalization and flexibility; risks needlessly retraining employees in skills already possessed.

    Provides more opportunities for individuals to tailor skill development to match current roles or explore areas for growth; allows flexibility in timing and training method, accommodating diverse learning preferences.

    Skill Alignment

    Ensures training aligns with skills identified by the company as crucial, results in homogeneous skill sets. May be required in highly regulated industries.

    Tends to produce a more diverse skill set, which could be beneficial for innovation; could lead to unevenness in skills across employees.

    Culture of Learning

    Helps the organization adapt quickly to changing industry requirements but may discourage further learning beyond specific needs.

    Encourages ongoing opportunities for skill development and employee growth, fostering a culture of continuous learning.

    Employee Autonomy, Morale and Satisfaction


    Employees are obligated to participate, which could lead to disengagement stemming from a lack of choice and harm employee morale.

    Voluntary upskilling allows employees to take charge of their professional development, aligning learning with personal interests and career aspirations. This can lead to greater engagement and satisfaction as employees develop skills relevant to them.

    Costs and Resource Allocation


    Centralized resource allocation with a well-defined budget for programs, consistent investment across employees.

    Budget decisions might be distributed across functional or geographic units, with costs varying based on individual choices.


    Measuring ROI

    Standardized curriculums and outcome measures across a group of employees make ROI calculations simpler.

    With diverse outcomes and individual learner paths, ROI measurement may be more complex.

    Finding the Right Fit

    So, if you are evaluating different models, which do you choose?

    A mandatory program may be more effective, or even legally required, in certain highly regulated industries where health, safety, customer disclosures or other considerations are paramount.

    In contrast, a voluntary system may be the right choice for organizations that thrive on employee empowerment and want to drive innovation. According to PwC, employees who feel they have autonomy at work perform better and have a greater commitment to the organization; nearly 70% of companies said increasing worker autonomy was a priority. Autonomy also increases talent retention.

    A third option is a hybrid strategy, which has been successful for organizations like the Bank of Montreal. Businesses with diverse workforce roles may find this approach offers a powerful blend — delivering standardized core competencies through mandatory training and then enhancing individual performance with voluntary learning.

    Voluntary Upskilling Powered by Digital Credentials

    Building an effective and efficient training model requires a data-driven upskilling approach, especially for voluntary programs.

    First, organizations need to understand how employee needs mesh with company goals and then identify workforce skill gaps. Demonstrating return on investment through data analysis will help secure L&D resources. This is where digital credentials become game-changers. They allow skill validation and enable deeper analysis that can prove ROI. Digital badges also are powerful individual motivators, allowing people to share what they’ve learned with peers and colleagues.

    More on how to build a positive upskilling & reskilling on our blogpost.

    Credly's comprehensive features further simplify this process, allowing organizations to seamlessly weave digital credentials into their upskilling and reskilling initiatives. To learn more, download our whitepaper 'Strategies for Overcoming Challenges in Employee Upskilling and Reskilling'.

    Download whitepaper

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