Upskilling, reskilling: what are we talking about?

Mathilde BourdatL&D management expert, Cegos France

At a time of profound change in business models organizations, "upskilling" and "reskilling" are key in HR practices. But what do they actually mean and what is their impact?

Upskilling and reskilling: definitions

What does the Association for Talent Development (ATD), an important professional organisation for those involved in skills development, have to say? In the book "Upskilling and Reskilling, Turning Disruption and Change Into New Capabilities", published by ATD and DeVryWorks, these two notions are defined as:


Upskilling refers to training designed to increase existing skills in order to enable the continuation of the same job, or the same field of activity, in a context of change in the profession.

For exemple:

  • Customer relations training for an employee who moves from the back office to the front office.
  • Digital marketing training for a marketer. It could therefore be translated as "Rise in skills".


Reskilling is training that is designed to help people acquire new skills to change jobs. This expression is particularly used for people who are hired without having the qualification required for the job, and who are then trained. For example: training in computer code for a former farmer. It could be translated as "Reconversion". The challenge is to hire above all on the basis of motivational criteria, "transversal skills" that will be reinvested in the new profession.

Upskilling was on the agenda at the Davos forum held in January 2020. PWC's Global CEO Survey (23rd edition) indicates that it is "an essential lever to overcome the talent shortage" (quoted by Les Echos Executives). In the traditional trade-off between training and recruitment, training takes over when recruitment becomes too difficult. This is also the case when one wants to act in social responsibility, preserve jobs and capitalize on the corporate culture and skills of people who are already there.
Upskilling initiatives are therefore aimed at anticipating the risks of skills obsolescence and making successful changes.

Why is it so relevant now?

  • 53% of working people think that automation will change their jobs within 10 years,
  • 56% of companies expect a loss of competitiveness due to a skills shortage.

Even if 47% of jobs are likely to be automated in the coming decades (source ATD), automation is not the major trigger for upkilling or reskilling policies. Rather, they are the result of a diagnosis of the skill gap, risks to the sustainability of core business skills, the needs related to new technologies, and new demands from customers and organisations.

The expected benefits are improved talent retention, better performance and successful transformation.

But under what conditions are these policies effective? To be continued in a future post …

Companies need to develop their competitiveness by investing in strategic skills (through the development of existing talent or recruitment) while ensuring the employability of their employees.

Cegos supports companies in the transformation of business skills. Discover our approach.

Written by

Mathilde Bourdat

Mathilde used to share her insights in this space when she worked at Cegos.
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