The Best Ways to Upskill Staff for SMEs

Upskilling employees can be a secret weapon for SMEs against the larger organisations and allows them to punch well above their weight.

Upskilling isn’t about simply training employees to be competent in their current role. Upskilling is the continual act of enabling talent to develop skills that are not necessarily directly related to their current role. Take a look at our recent article: ‘The benefits of upskilling employees’ to read more about the multiple benefits to organisations.

For many SMEs financial budgets are often a concern, so devoting a portion of an already tight budget to upskilling talent that may not directly improve their current job function may seem like a gamble. However, there are ways to begin the process of upskilling employees that won’t cost a great deal, and we’ve outlined some these below to help you get started.

Free Courses

There are many free digital resources and courses that enable employees to learn alongside their job. This is a great way to enable employees to discover if they would like to learn more about a specific area. This doesn’t cost you anything and you will soon start to reap the benefits. For example, Hubspot’s Academy and Google Digital Garage both offer free courses. This is not considering printed resources such as books and case studies. We often neglect these types of resources, but they hold a wealth of knowledge. For the younger generation most of these resources can be found online and in PDF formats.


Often we overlook the amount of knowledge that we have within our own organisation. We often have devoted Marketing, Accountancy, HR and Sales teams that have a wealth of knowledge within their field. Any employee that has an interest within these fields can be linked to a mentor that they can shadow or have one-to-one sessions to pick up new skills. These mentors can even run mini training courses for employees that wish to attend.

Hire Curious People

One of the key principals to upskilling is having employees that wish to better themselves. When hiring new staff explore the idea of learning new skills that are not directly related to their role. Ask to see if they picked up new skills on their own and get a feel if they are curious to learn more. This is the sort of attitude that helps develop the talent that will enable your SME to compete with the ‘big boys’. Once you have this talent, nurture it by partnering individuals up with leaders or provide resources to help them develop themselves further.

Often we see rewards as monetary based, but this does not have to be the case. Rewarding the effort of learning can be as simple as allowing extra time on a lunch break for study, letting employees leave early on a Friday to complete a course or even giving them acknowledgement within the business that they have completed a course. These types of reward will help to improve engagement and reinforce upskilling within the business.

Personal Development Plans

Giving employees a personal development plan in which they can create areas of competence that they wish to work on brings the emphasis of upskilling on to them. Empowering your employees to develop their own plan is a key step in creating a workforce that consistently wants to develop.

Outside Experts

On a daily basis many of us are in contact with partners and suppliers that help us with certain aspects of our business. A great way of getting different skills into your SME is to invite one of those to come into your organisation and talk about their skills and give advice on what they do within their role. Many organisations are happy to send their top talent to speak with you because of the networking possibilities as well as the interpersonal relationships you have built up with them. These can take place over an extended lunch break and cost nothing, except maybe a free lunch! From these events your employees can discover if the areas discussed are something they wish to explore further.

We’re not ignoring the fact that many employers and employees will want or need to use accredited training courses to secure certifications for certain skills. For an SME, that can mean a big commitment in terms of financial investment. However, by encouraging upskilling, an employee can be given the opportunity to show that they are committed to developing their skills whilst remaining with the organisation, which could help their employer decide whether further training is a worthwhile investment.

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  • What is upskilling and how to use it to benefit your SME

    The upskilling of staff has become the new ‘must have’ for SMEs and their employees. Employees are now more likely to look at the other benefits on offer to them rather than just the salary itself, and the opportunity to be upskilled ranks highly amongst those benefits.

    Upskilling does not only help individuals by developing them to reach their potential, it also helps the organisation to attract and retain staff, as well as improving the performance of the organisation through it people.

    What is Upskilling?

    Upskilling is very similar to training and development. With both upskilling and training, the idea is to help get the most out of your people by helping them to develop new skills or improve existing skills that are required for the role. The difference between training and upskilling is in the development process. Upskilling is a continual internal drive to help employees develop the skills they want. It is also a conscious effort to help employees discover new talents, encouraging them to bring more back to the organisation. Acquiring new skills that are not necessarily specifically required for their job function empowers people to take control of their own learning and could result in a positive impact for the company in ways that may not have been immediately apparent from the outset. The aim for the SME is to create a positive learning environment.

    What are the Benefits of Upskilling?

    The benefits of upskilling are mutually beneficial to both the employee and the organisation. We’ve listed some these benefits below:

    Employee Retention

    Employees that believe that their work is challenging, and feel therefore that they are continually developing their skills, are the happiest within the work environment. When employees are upskilled beyond their normal roles they often are eager to discover what could be the next step to take in their personal development.

    Promote from Within

    As an SME, attracting the best talent can be a long and difficult process therefore once you have people on board you will want to keep hold of them. The best way to do this is to promote from within. Promoting from within saves time on searching for new talent when you already have an extensive pool within your organisation. However, you will not be able to do this without upskilling them first.

    Customer Satisfaction

    As the saying goes ‘happy employees means happy customers’. By upskilling your staff, they are more likely to be happy within your organisation, meaning they will be more invested in your brand which in turn will result in them presenting a positive company image to your customers. Also upskilling enables them to think outside the box and better aid your customers.

    Attracting Talent

    As mentioned above, attracting the best talent can be difficult for SMEs; you may not be able to offer the highest salary or the best perks. However, being able to offer to help give them skills that they want to develop it is a great attraction. Being seen as providing a positive learning environment enables your business to continue to compete with ‘the big boys’.


    It is obvious to anyone that has had to deal with an unskilled worker that they impact negatively on productivity. However, not only training employees to have the right skills needed for their role but also upskilling them, has a positive impact on productivity. When employees are upskilled, they have a diversification of skills, meaning that they can take on additional tasks or roles, therefore increasing the overall productivity of the organisation.


    These are just five examples of the way in which upskilling your workforce benefits both your business and its people. As discovered by providing opportunities to upskill you are not committing to simply a noble gesture, but you are enabling rewards to be felt by both the organisation and the employees.