Upskill - A New Word for the AEC World!

June 6, 2018

I came across the word “Upskill” the other day while reading through some AEC news articles, as I tend to do when I have free time. (What can I say – I’m a bit of a tech geek, and AEC is the world I play in!) Having never heard the word “Upskill” before, it caught my attention, and I had to do a quick bit of research on what it was. Imagine my surprise when I found that someone had coined a slick new phrase for a concept I’ve been talking to my clients about for years. 


 Upskill is the concept of investing in the education and training of current employees, instead of looking outside your firm for people with the skills you want. This concept seems simple to me, but in the AEC world it’s actually been the exception and not the rule. For decades, management in the design and construction world have gone for the simplicity of hiring, over the long-term benefit of training current staff. I can understand why. At first glance, it seems the simpler and more cost-effective method. After all, to train an existing employee you’re taking them out of their daily work cycle, which means lost revenue. Not only that, but there’s the expense of the training itself, plus travel and accommodation, even meals. All that, and there’s no guarantee that your employee is going to retain what they’ve learned, or be able to apply it, since you’ve got to put them back into their daily position, which may not even need the skill set you’ve trained them on. The management logic goes like this: If I have to take a loss to train an employee to do a new job/process, I have to pay them more for the skills and move them into that new position, which may require even more training. It’s easier, and more cost-effective, to hire someone who already has those skills and leave my current staff alone to do their jobs. That’s actually a reasonable argument, and it might makes sense, if all you look at is the numbers. The reality is quite different though. If you take the time to Upskill (I really do like that word!) your current workers, you’ll see far more benefit than you imagine.  


The truth is that if you hire instead of train, you’re building resentment and mistrust into your staff. Countless studies have shown that the most effective and motivated employees are ones who feel they have a path to advance their career, not those who make the most money. Let me stress that once more: your employees want to advance even more than they want more cash! If you hire outside instead of moving them forward, they’ll start looking for a new job – one where they’re actually appreciated. At its core, the “hire-over-train” concept is badly flawed because it doesn’t consider the additional benefits of training your current staff. In addition to keeping them happy and motivated, you also know the commodity you’re getting. Employees you’re looking to train have already proven themselves as reliable workers, otherwise you wouldn’t be considering them for additional training. The idea that it’s more cost effective to just hire skills is also just wrong. At the end of the day, you’re going to hire somebody, whether it’s someone with the skills you want, or someone to replace your Upskilled worker who’s advancing, so the savings there are minimal. By training your workers to move up, you’ve already got a skilled trainer/support system in place to help get their replacement up to speed. Now, you’ve also got a happy employee, who will go the extra mile for you, and that type of positive environment is beneficial across your entire staff, in a hundred ways. The concern, of course, is finding and applying effective training. 


The key to providing good training is to find programs that are easy to use and provide skills and career growth all-in-one. For example, one of the courses we run here at ZenTek is a 40-hour, online, program called “From the Ground Up”, which covers Civil Design concepts and processes alongside real-world application of those concepts using industry-leading software. The idea is that we’re letting you Upskill staff right from their own desk, and giving both specialized industry knowledge, and practical application, all at once. That’s the type of training program and partnership that you want to look for: one that gets you the Upskills you want, at low overhead, while still providing information that will be highly effective in day-to-day work. Training that is strictly “how-to” on one end of the spectrum, or esoteric theory on the other end, won’t give you the results you need. All training really needs to be focused on is balancing both and providing a trainer/mentor who has practical industry experience to address your staff’s concerns. That’s the way you “Upskill”! 


See . . . we all learned a new word today! Even if we already understood the concept behind it! 


- Jim Coppinger

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