How To Upskill Employees: Lessons From Amazon, Uber, KFC, And More

December 7, 2022
June 26, 2023
Upskilling And Reskilling

The irony is that we often upskill effectively by learning from our peers and colleagues.

And yet when you read blog posts and articles on the topic, they rarely do that!

Not us! We’ve found five companies who approach upskilling differently, focusing on a tactic they use and that you can apply today.

Whether it’s Uber’s short-term assignments or Heineken’s removal of hierarchy for upskilling, this is your practical guide on how to upskill employees.

Amazon: Use internal data to understand in-demand skills

We always say that it’s not sustainable to buy or borrow talent forever, so we’ll end up building the skills we need eventually.

And if you’ve got hiring data on the positions you’ve been filling most frequently, you can definitely take a leaf out of Amazon’s book!

The retail giants ensured they were primed for upskilling by analysing hiring data for the past five years to understand their highest-growth roles. And they learnt that data mapping specialist (832% growth), data scientist (505%), solutions architect (454%), security engineer (229%), and business analyst (160%) topped the list.

This allowed them to invest in targeted upskilling, to fill these positions from within by developing the existent talent in their teams.

Hiring can be pricey, and if you understand where most of your budget is being spent, you can use learning to fill those roles more efficiently.

Investec: Build groups and communities who help each other develop over time

It’s not easy being a first-time leader in a company. It’s not always easy for experienced leaders to join new companies either.

Why? Because we not only need the skills, we also need the understanding of the business to apply them in context. This is what allows us to be effective.

And social learning is a great way to build that understanding, upskilling yourself through the experience and knowledge of your peers.

Investec’s Developing Team Leadership program uses modular learning sessions alongside group coaching for this very reason. People can help each other through day-to-day challenges and learn how they’ve overcome similar challenges in the context of the business.

“Beyond the program itself is the support team. If you’ve gone through a program with a coaching team, those people often continue to meet and hash out issues. So it really enables a network and further learning along the way. Which is something by design.” – Lior Chuvali, Leadership Learning Experience Manager.

Read: How Investec personalise leadership development at scale.

Heineken: Let upskilling bypass your organisation’s hierarchy

“First, we believe that everyone has talent… The organization as a whole is responsible for this: leadership must provide opportunities for continuous learning and employees must embrace them with a growth mindset.” – Arnold Dhanesar, Global Head of Talent, Culture & Leadership at The Heineken Company.

And this mindset is probably why Heineken has so openly embraced what most people label reverse mentoring but is really upskilling without hierarchy.

A recognition that no matter where people sit in the business structure, there is something we can learn from them.

This is an attitude that, ironically, filters down from the top:

“The success rate is incredibly high, with 86% of senior leaders doubling as mentees revealing that they wanted to connect with the junior employees to acquire new skills.”

KFC: Create realistic practice environments to build skills

The Colonel’s secret herbs and spices were at the end of a VR headset, after all! Well, only if you work at KFC and are being trained on how to prepare that Finger Lickin’ Good chicken.

In 2017, they launched The Hard Way, a virtual escape-room-style game that taught employees the process of preparation without the stress of a real-life kitchen environment.

“What excites us is experimenting with new tools and mediums to tell stories. VR became an obvious choice to create an immersive experience that teaches trainees how to make KFC’s Original Recipe,” said Jonathan Minori, design director at Wieden+Kennedy’s creative technology group.

Now, VR headsets are pretty pricey, so we’re not saying these are your only options. But you can certainly apply the same principle to your upskilling efforts:

How do we recreate realistic practice environments to build our skills, while removing the stress or pressure that could damage our application of what we’re learning or result in a negative feedback loop for building new skills?

Uber: Add short-term placements to your internal mobility strategy

Internal mobility isn’t just about promoting from within. It’s about allowing people to leverage or build their skills on projects and assist other departments within the business.

Adopting this mindset helps for a few reasons:

  • We can close temporary skills gaps that exist for the length of a project.
  • We can provide people with the opportunity to practise, maintain and grow skills that typically sit outside their roles.
  • We allow people to experience what it’s really like to work in a different department, rather than them taking a leap of faith by applying for an internal vacancy.

There’s a great explanation of how Uber do this in a Comparably round-up:

“We also offer several short-term assignment opportunities — from business-driven assignments that come up as needed, to more structured programs that match employees with high-impact projects tackling some of our most interesting business problems.

Lastly, we’ve been expanding a program where part-time “gig” projects are posted to a centralized Talent Marketplace for employees to explore and apply to.

This is designed for employees to try something completely new or get experience in a part of the business they’ve never worked in before.”

Read our complete guide to upskilling

Check out Upskilling: Everything A Fast-Growing Company Should Know

Upskilling: Everything A Fast-Growing Company Should Know

Check out our other upskilling resources