Reskilling: A response to the war for talent

Don’t miss the opportunity to substantially improve your business and workforce as technology changes the way we work

15 years ago, AT&T discovered nearly half of its employees lacked the necessary skills needed for the company to remain competitive in an increasingly mobile and software centric world. They also recognized that 100,000 of their hardware jobs wouldn’t exist in the near future.

They had two options: try to hire hundreds of thousands of software and engineering people and pay the high price tag to do so. Or equip their existing workforce with the skills they needed to be competent in new technology. By doing the latter, they could retain their current employees who already held a wealth of institutional knowledge.

AT&T chose to invest $1 billion in a massive retraining effort of their existing employees.1

The resulting global program called “Future Ready” is a multi-year effort that helps employees identify and train for the types of jobs the company needs now and in the future.

Since its inception, at least 180,000 of their 203,000 employees have participated.2 Last year, 45,000 roles were filled throughout the business – 50% were filled by existing employees. AT&T’s commitment to creating opportunity for its employees has made them stand out among the 250 biggest US public companies. The American Opportunity Index report published by the Burning Glass Institute, Harvard Business School, and the Schultz Family Foundation ranked them the “best place to grow your career.”3

Of course, most businesses won’t have the need or the wherewithal to make such a large investment. But reskilling may be a low-cost solution to a persistent problem impacting most US businesses – the inability to find, hire, train, and retain the skilled employees they need.

The increasingly high cost of turnover

The median cost to replace an employee is 21% of their annual salary. That’s more than $13,000 to replace someone making $65,000 a year or $25,000 for someone who makes $120,000.

Beyond the tangible cost of recruiting and training new hires, other costs go unseen:

  • Stress on existing employees making up for gaps in coverage
  • Distraction of top performers who provide shoulder-to-shoulder guidance
  • Mistakes made by new hires resulting in rework, material waste, and safety incidents

Reskilling an existing employee means retaining institutional knowledge that helps you avoid a lot of those pitfalls. It could take up to a year for a new employee to get acquainted with the ins and outs of your business.1 And with an already tight labor market, it’s risky to assume that you can find someone.

 “When you have workers that already possess much of what you need, it makes a lot more sense to retrain them than to go out and hire new workers – who may be more educated … [long-time employees] already have two or three tiers of skills because they’ve learned the structure and culture of the institution,” says Anthony Carnevale Director and Research Professor of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Setting employees up for success

The way you train your workforce (new or existing) can be the difference between adoption or another HR exercise. Your training approach can significantly increase or decrease the time it takes for your employees to close skills gaps, adopt new processes, or become proficient at their work. You can set them up for success by making the same tools used for training accessible to them while performing new tasks.

Understanding how your workforce learns can help you provide the support your team needs to master new skills quicker and reduce their time to proficiency. Job-embedded training is proven to help training stick by making it more relevant.

Other keys to helping your employees learn include:

  • Engaging as many senses as possible with the material – visual aids can improve learning by up to 400%.6 
  • Providing information in context, ideally while they are performing the task.
  • Making information part of the task so it’s repeated each time and the employee knows they’re responsible for it.
  • Checking for comprehension to ensure the most important information has been retained.
  • Confirming compliance with processes and providing additional, targeted training as needed.

This kind of full-circle training program can be applied to any learning scenario. It ensures every team member gets the support and attention they need without hindering the advancement of the entire team. The best part is you’ll get better retention because your employees feel safe and confident in their work.

Building and tracking new skills

As industries continue to change at a rapid pace, high-performing organizations are closing their skills gaps by creating real engagement with their teams. Reskilling an employee doesn’t have to mean replacing their previous skills. It will likely look more like giving them more skills to be more flexible in complex work environments. To do that you need a means for employees to access information. You also need to understand what skills you have on the team before you can train others to fill the gaps.

Digital just-in-time tools can support your team members in the office, in the field, or on the factory floor. And they’re not just for training. Acadia clients provide their teams with access to the same tools in training as they do during work. Every team member has access to the resources they need to comply with critical processes or as a quick reference for completing tasks they don’t do as often.  

For example, a technician might go on break, leaving their machine unmanned. When they come back, they find another tech has taken over for them and they now need to cover for someone else. They may not be completely familiar with the new machine. But by accessing the digital work instructions for it, they can quickly come up to speed without disrupting others for assistance.

By learning new skills outside of their existing skillset, your employees will increase their value and improve the company’s operating flexibility. But how do you track what each employee knows? Most companies are doing this in a very manual process that’s cumbersome and inconsistent.

This should be managed as part of workflow, too. Acadia clients can manage employee role requirements and track their progress as daily work is completed. Then, when specified milestones are met, managers can evaluate individuals against the standard to advance them to the next level.

Ditching the spreadsheets and going digital gives both managers and frontline team members greater visibility into skills gaps and development. When it’s easy to see the gaps, it’s easier to encourage those who are close to advancing on the skills spectrum to take the next steps or provide more training where someone may be struggling.

Reducing time to proficiency

Recently, one of our clients had a lot of turnover as long-time team members began to retire. Where they once had many years of experience, they now had green team members who needed a lot of training. In a highly automated manufacturing facility with extensive machinery and equipment, it was critical that they keep team members safe while getting them up and running quickly.

Because they hadn’t experienced much turnover in the last 30 years, their training program was outdated. Training consisted of splitting time between reviewing physical copies of manuals in the plant’s library and shadowing technicians on the floor. If they had a question about a procedure, they’d have to leave the floor to sift through physical books and manuals. Without work instructions or job aids, they even had to wait for a machine to break down to learn how to fix it. None of this met their urgent need to replace retiring team members.

They turned to Acadia and transformed their paper-based system. SOPs are now delivered digitally with videos and other job aids that employees can access on the plant floor. Those SOPs can also be instantly converted into trackable checklists. Tracked task lists, quizzes, and evaluations allow managers to review every team member’s proficiency while they are gaining critical skills.

Their step-by-step, on-the-job training leads team members on a path to the skills they need to become skillful enough to work independently instead of waiting for an expert to answer their questions or show them what to do.

By using Acadia, they have reduced their onboarding time from 538 days to 125!

The Big Pay-off

AT&T attracted a lot of attention for what they were doing. Fortune 1000 companies that were customers of AT&T were asking salespeople to explain the retraining and if they could tap into it. While AT&T’s program wasn’t available to the public, the CEO was very open about why they’d adopted retraining their employees as a key principle.

“When you have engaged employees, that leads to satisfied customers and increased profits for the company. Having a mantra of continuous learning is all part of that equation,” said AT&T’s senior EVP of human resources. “It’s important for companies, at the senior level, to engage and retrain workers rather than constantly going to the street to hire.”1

In the next two years alone, 375 million people are estimated to need new skills globally.5 As the rate of change continues to accelerate in business, long-term investments in reskilling and upskilling programs can drive your business goals while supporting retention, career mobility, and strategic skilling. One company found that for every $1 spent on reskilling and career mobility efforts they had a $3 Return On Investment (ROI).5

This calculator that uses pre-pandemic industry data from and SHRM can give you a general idea of how much you’d save by improving turnover even by a modest 20%.

Estimate Your Return on Investment

See how much you could save by reducing turnover with Acadia.

Cost of turnover for your company this year
Potential savings on turnover from Acadia

Many industries are in a period of rapid change. Manufacturing and distribution are becoming more automated. Banking and finance businesses are relying on less people to serve more customers using AI and other tools to stay competitive. Meanwhile, customer expectations and regulatory requirements are changing just as quickly.

Businesses face serious risks if they don’t act, from losing productivity and a competitive edge in the market, to a disengaged workforce. Not addressing workforce knowledge gaps really isn’t an option any longer.

A recent survey found that the lack of career growth is a strong motivator for employees to leave their company, regardless of industry.5 But with the right tools, you can help your employees through the reskilling process and equip them to perform tasks consistently, in standard time, with the expected quality.

Make on-the-job training easily accessible so whether you’re hiring new employees or reskilling the talent you already have, you can support and retain both.

You don’t have to go it alone. Our clients’ goals are our goals. Reach out and we can help you identify a plan that works for you.


  1. AT&T’s $1 billion gambit: Retraining nearly half its workforce for jobs of the future
  2. Reskilling Your Workforce
  3. The best company for growing your career, according to research: ‘Less than 5%’ of roles require a bachelor’s
  4. How Reskilling and Upskilling Can Bolster Economic Recovery and Workplace Success
  5. 5 Numbers That Explain The Talent Gap – And What Leaders Can Do About It
  6. Polishing Your Presentation

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