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TL;DR: Bridging the skill gap through ‘Upskilling’

  • The Coffee Mornings episode focuses on the skill gap in the modern workforce and the significance of upskilling.
  • Sam and Robbie emphasise the implications of the skill gap, which arises from the mismatch between employee skills and employer demands.
  • Factors contributing to the skill gap include rapid technological advancements and evolving industry needs.
  • Upskilling is presented as a crucial solution to bridge the gap and avoid becoming obsolete in the job market.
  • Both Sam and Robbie believe that upskilling is a shared responsibility between employees and employers.
  • Lack of resources, such as funds and time, is often blamed for the lack of training, but lateral skill development and reaching out to external consultants can overcome these barriers.
  • Hands-on training and real-life simulations, including VR-based scenarios, are highlighted as valuable methods for upskilling.
  • The importance of practice is emphasised, as no learning is truly well-learned without practice.


Welcome to the Coffee Mornings podcast, where we dive into thought-provoking discussions on topics shaping the world of work. In this episode, we explore the pressing issue of the skill gap in today’s modern workforce and the transformative potential of upskilling. Join us as we delve into insightful conversations with industry experts Sam and Robbie, who share their perspectives on the importance of upskilling and its impact on individuals and organisations.

The modern workforce is evolving at a rapid pace, driven by technological advancements, and shifting industry demands. As a result, there is a growing disconnect between the skills employees possess and the skills employers require. This phenomenon is commonly known as the skill gap, and it poses significant challenges for both job seekers and businesses.

In this episode, we shine a spotlight on the skill gap and explore how upskilling can bridge this divide. Sam and Robbie, share their insights on the importance of upskilling and its potential to reshape the modern workforce. Through their engaging conversation, we gain valuable perspectives on how upskilling can empower individuals to adapt to changing industry landscapes and unlock new career opportunities.

Introduction: The Modern workforce skill gap

In today’s ever-evolving workforce, one of the most pressing challenges is the skill gap. Sam emphasises the significance of this gap, highlighting how it arises from the mismatch between the existing skill sets of employees and the ever-increasing demands of employers. We, often see a disconnect between the skills people have and the skills that are in demand. This creates a gap that needs to be addressed for individuals to thrive in their careers.

The skill gap not only affects individuals seeking employment but also has profound implications for businesses and the overall economy. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills found that the skill shortage in the UK cost businesses an estimated £2 billion a year in higher salaries, recruitment costs, and temporary staffing. It hinders productivity, stifles innovation, and creates a mismatch between available talent and organisational needs. Recognising the urgency of this issue, the concept of upskilling has gained significant attention to bridge the skill gap and foster a more skilled and agile workforce.

According to a report by the Open University, around 69% of employers in the UK have struggled to find workers with the required skills in the past year. And a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that 36% of small businesses in the UK reported skills shortages as a barrier to growth.

Throughout this episode, we explore various facets of upskilling, including its definition, benefits, successful implementation, and potential challenges. Sam and Robbie’s insights shed light on the transformative power of upskilling, providing listeners with a comprehensive understanding of how it can address the skill gap and drive individual and organisational growth.

Upskilling the workforce, a very interesting and quite a relevant topic given the hiring issues that are going on at the moment and it could be a potential part solution to gaps in the – You can’t find the right person if you’ve taken six months to try and find them. Why not just train someone to do that job that you’re hiring for? – Robbie Blake, Senior Recruitment Consultant

To watch the full episode and gain deeper insights into the role of upskilling in shaping the future of work, click on the play button below. Prepare to be inspired and equipped with knowledge to navigate the changing landscape of the modern workforce.

However, if you prefer reading, continue your journey as we delve into the insightful discussion between Sam and Robbie, exploring the key points they highlighted in the episode regarding the skill gap and the importance of upskilling in detail below.

The implications of skill gaps

  • Reduced productivity: When employees lack the necessary skills for their roles, their performance and ability to carry out their duties effectively may suffer. This can lead to reduced productivity and efficiency within the organisation.
  • Lower job satisfaction: Employees who experience skill gaps may feel inadequate, frustrated, or disengaged due to their inability to perform their job responsibilities effectively. This can result in lower job satisfaction and higher turnover rates.
  • Inability to meet business goals: Organisations with significant skill gaps may struggle to achieve their strategic objectives and long-term plans, as they might not have the necessary talent to execute those plans.
  • Impaired competitiveness: Companies with skill gaps may find it difficult to keep up with competitors that have a more skilled workforce. This can result in lost market share, reduced revenue, and weakened competitive position.
  • Increased training and hiring costs: Organisations need to invest in training and development programs to address skill gaps, which can be costly. Additionally, they may need to hire new employees with the required skills, further increasing costs.
  • Adverse effect on innovation: A workforce that lacks critical skills may struggle to innovate and adapt to changing market conditions, new technologies, and evolving business models. This can hinder the organisation’s ability to stay ahead in a competitive marketplace.

In conclusion, skill gaps can have far-reaching implications for both individuals and organisations, affecting productivity, job satisfaction, competitiveness, and the ability to achieve strategic objectives. Addressing these gaps through effective training and development programs, as well as strategic hiring, is crucial for maintaining a successful and competitive organisation.

Factors contributing to the skill gap

Several factors contribute to the skill gap, including the rapid development of new technologies, digitalisation, and advancements in fields like AI, AR and VR. Some of these factors are:

  • Inadequate training: Employees may not receive sufficient training to keep up with the evolving skills demanded by their roles, making it difficult for them to adapt to new technologies and practices.
  • Poor recruitment: Ineffective hiring processes may lead to organisations recruiting employees who lack the required skills, exacerbating the skill gap.
  • Employee turnover: High employee turnover can result in a loss of skilled workers, leading to skill gaps in the remaining workforce.
  • Failures in the broader educational system: The education system may not be adequately preparing students for the skills needed in the workforce, particularly in high-demand areas like STEM, IT, and digital technology.
  • Digitalisation: The increasing reliance on digital technologies in various industries has created a demand for advanced digital and data skills, which many employees may not possess.
  • Adoption of new tech advancements: Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) are transforming industries and creating a need for specialised skills. Employees without these skills may struggle to keep up with the pace of change.
  • Changing roles and responsibilities: As job roles evolve due to technological advancements and market trends, employees may find themselves lacking the skills required to perform their new responsibilities effectively.

Addressing these contributing factors to the skill gap requires a comprehensive approach, including investing in training and development programs, improving hiring processes, and fostering collaboration between educational institutions and industries to ensure that curricula align with the skills needed in the workforce.

Upskilling as a solution

To bridge the skill gap, upskilling plays a crucial role. But as Sams states upskilling isn’t limited to acquiring new knowledge; it’s about staying relevant and adaptable in an ever-changing work environment.

So, you know what  need to look for when upskilling? You need to learn life skills. You need to be armed with a situation toolkit. It’s almost to say – Yeah, I’ve been here and know what this looks like, and I know exactly how to get this fixed? – Sam Ingram , CEO of Northreach

They both emphasise the importance of upskilling for employees, as it expands their career prospects and increases their earning potential.

As Robbie states, “Upskilling is the key to unlocking new opportunities and achieving long-term success in the workforce.”

The benefits of upskilling for employees and employers

Upskilling offers significant advantages for both employees and employers, fostering personal and professional growth while driving organisational success. For employees, upskilling enhances employability by equipping them with new or improved skills that make them more valuable in the job market. This, in turn, increases their chances of securing employment, earning promotions, or advancing their careers. Additionally, upskilling leads to higher job satisfaction as employees gain confidence and competence in their roles, leading to a greater sense of fulfilment and motivation. By continuously upskilling, individuals also become more adaptable to changes in their industries, ensuring their relevance and readiness to embrace new technologies, tools, or methodologies. This proactive approach to upskilling future-proofs their careers, reducing the risk of job obsolescence and enhancing their ability to transition into new roles or industries. Furthermore, acquiring in-demand skills through upskilling initiatives increases the income potential of employees, as they become more qualified for higher-paying positions and can negotiate better compensation packages.

For employers, upskilling the workforce brings a range of benefits that contribute to organisational success. One key advantage is improved productivity. By investing in the development of employees’ skills, organisations create a more efficient workforce that can deliver better results and performance. Furthermore, upskilling promotes innovation and enhances competitiveness. Equipping employees with the necessary skills and knowledge enables them to contribute to the development of new products, services, and ideas, keeping the organisation at the forefront of its industry. Moreover, upskilling initiatives play a vital role in employee retention. When organisations invest in the growth and development of their workforce, employees feel valued and are more likely to remain with the company, reducing turnover rates and associated costs. Additionally, upskilling allows employers to address skills gaps within their organisation, developing the talent they need internally and mitigating the impact of skills shortages. It also supports effective succession planning, as a workforce with diverse and up-to-date skills ensures a pipeline of potential leaders who can steer the organisation towards future growth and success.

However , Sam and Robbie believe that the responsibility of upskilling should not solely rest on the shoulders of employers. They believe that upskilling is a two-way street, where both employers and employees have a role to play.

“Should it be a case, though that you’re upskilling someone or they’re upskilling themselves, or is it a mixture between the two?”  – Sam Ingram, CEO of Northreach

“I think it’s both. I think you can’t upskill someone if they don’t want to do it.” – Robbie Blake, Senior Recruitment Consultant

Challenges and barriers to upskilling

Upskilling initiatives can face several challenges and barriers, both for individuals and organisations. Some of these challenges include:

  • Limited resources: Time and money constraints can be significant barriers to upskilling. Employees may struggle to balance work, personal responsibilities, and additional training, while organisations may not have the financial means to invest in comprehensive upskilling programs. But Sam emphasises that the lack of training often gets attributed to the scarcity of resources, such as funds or time. However, he proposes alternative approaches to overcome these limitations. One strategy he suggests is upskilling in lateral skills that can enhance overall efficiency. Additionally, Sam recommends engaging third parties or consultants to bridge the knowledge gap and encourages teams to learn from their expertise. He finds it perplexing when companies hire consultants but keep them isolated from the rest of the team, as there is a wealth of knowledge and learning opportunities that can be leveraged. For Sam, true upskilling involves actively tapping into the expertise and experience of external consultants to enrich the team’s skill set and foster continuous growth and development.

It’s just about thinking about if you have got gaps in the business, you don’t have to look to fill those gaps internally. Just go external. There will be means for it and you can use contractors and consultants, and maybe that’s a great way to help upskill the teams. So right, you’re an expert in your field. I don’t have this skill in my team, but we can’t afford you full-time, but why don’t you get you to help partially? Do what you do best, but you can train our team as you go. I’d love to see more of that. Because I don’t know why and I see this a lot where they kind of get a contractor and they go right well, that’s just them, they just do their thing. It’s like they have all that knowledge right there and you want to put them on an island and not get them involved with the rest of your team?- Sam Ingram, CEO of Northreach

  • Access to quality training: Finding high-quality, relevant, and up-to-date training resources can be challenging. Not all training programs are created equal, and organisations need to carefully evaluate the effectiveness and applicability of the courses they offer to their employees.
  • Resistance to change: Employees may be resistant to change or unwilling to learn new skills, either due to a lack of motivation, fear of failure, or uncertainty about the benefits of upskilling. This resistance can make it difficult for organisations to implement successful upskilling initiatives.
  • Skill assessment and identification: Accurately identifying the skills gaps within an organisation and determining the most relevant training to address them can be challenging. Organisations need to have a clear understanding of their current workforce’s skills and the skills required for future success.
  • Keeping up with evolving skills demands: The rapid pace of technological advancements and changes in the job market can make it difficult for organisations to keep up with the evolving skills landscape. Ensuring that upskilling initiatives are continuously updated and aligned with current and future skill demands is crucial for long-term success.
  • Measuring the effectiveness of upskilling initiatives: Evaluating the success of upskilling programs can be challenging, as the impact on employee performance, job satisfaction, and retention may not be immediately apparent. Organisations need to develop methods for assessing the effectiveness of their upskilling initiatives and making data-driven decisions to improve them.
  • Inclusivity and accessibility: Ensuring that upskilling programs are inclusive and accessible to all employees, regardless of their background or experience level, is critical. This may involve providing additional support and resources to employees who may have a more challenging time adapting to new technologies or learning new skills.

To overcome these challenges, organisations need to develop well-planned and targeted upskilling strategies. Some key strategies are listed in the section below.

Strategies for effective upskilling

Sam and Robbie discuss the key components of successful upskilling programs. They highlight the need for personalised learning, continuous development, and aligning training with industry needs. Sam and Robbie highlight the significance of hands-on training and real-life simulations as effective methods for upskilling.

“You could actually simulate this virtual office with something going on. And then you could run a simulation using AI/VR, train through machine learning on how to develop that scenario, and every time you do it, it could be different because it learns what you do.”- Sam Ingram, CEO of Northreach

However, Sam astutely points out, learning alone is not sufficient. The true mastery of a skill comes through practice and application.

“But that’s my biggest takeaway and it’s probably that – To be upskilled or to upskill somebody in any way then you need to think it’s not just about the identification of what you need, it’s the actual execution. And almost like that consistent practice of doing it to make you better and running through different scenarios, understanding different paths, and to look like I’m probably walking some of those paths to see what they really would be like for me. It’s probably the best way to describe what you need to do to improve your skills or learn new skills.” – Sam Ingram, CEO of Northreach

Successful upskilling programs often share several key components that contribute to their effectiveness. These components include:

  • Alignment with organisational goals: Upskilling initiatives should be closely aligned with the organisation’s overall strategic objectives and workforce needs. This ensures that the skills being developed are relevant and valuable to both the employee and the organisation.
  • Skill gap analysis: Identifying existing skills gaps within the organisation is essential for developing targeted and relevant upskilling programs. This can involve analysing employee performance data, conducting surveys, and holding discussions with managers and team leaders to determine where skill gaps exist.
  • Personalised learning paths: Each employee has unique strengths and areas for improvement, so it’s essential to create personalised learning paths tailored to individual needs. This can involve offering a variety of training options, such as online courses, workshops, and mentorship programs, to cater to different learning styles and preferences.
  • Access to high-quality training resources: Providing employees with access to high-quality, up-to-date, and engaging training resources is crucial for the success of upskilling initiatives. This can involve partnering with reputable training providers, leveraging e-learning platforms, and offering in-house training programs.
  • Flexibility and adaptability: A successful upskilling program should be flexible and adaptable to accommodate the evolving needs of the organisation and its employees. Regularly reviewing and updating training content and offering new learning opportunities can help ensure the program remains relevant and effective.
  • Supportive learning environment: Fostering a culture of continuous learning and professional development within the organisation is crucial for the success of upskilling initiatives. Providing employees with the necessary support, encouragement, and resources to learn new skills can help create a positive and productive learning environment.
  • Inclusivity and accessibility: Ensuring that upskilling programs are inclusive and accessible to all employees is vital. This may involve providing additional support and resources for employees who face barriers to learning or adapting training materials to accommodate different learning needs.
  • Measurement and evaluation: Regularly assessing the effectiveness of upskilling initiatives is crucial for continuous improvement. This can involve tracking employee performance, engagement, and satisfaction, as well as evaluating the impact of the training on overall organisational performance.
  • Recognition and reward: Acknowledging and rewarding employees’ efforts and achievements in upskilling can help motivate and encourage continued learning. This can involve offering promotions, bonuses, or other incentives for employees who successfully complete training programs and demonstrate improved performance.
  • Leadership commitment: A strong commitment from organisational leadership is essential for the success of upskilling initiatives. Leaders should actively promote the importance of continuous learning and professional development and invest in resources and support for upskilling programs.

The Future of upskilling 

Sam and Robbie analyse current trends in upskilling and workforce development. They mention the increasing adoption of technology-driven learning platforms, AI, and virtual reality in upskilling programs.

Emerging technologies and innovations are expected to have a significant impact on upskilling efforts in the future. Here are a few examples:

  • AI-powered personalised learning platforms: AI-powered platforms can personalise learning experiences based on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, learning style, and career goals. These platforms can provide targeted training that is tailored to the specific needs of the individual, making the learning experience more effective and efficient.
  • VR and AR for immersive training experiences: Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies can provide immersive training experiences that simulate real-world scenarios. This type of training can be especially effective for jobs that require hands-on experience or specialised skills. VR and AR can also help learners develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Blockchain-based skill verification systems: Blockchain technology can be used to create decentralised, secure, and transparent systems for verifying skills and credentials. This could help to reduce fraud and make it easier for employers to verify the skills of job candidates. Blockchain-based systems can also help individuals take control of their own data and share it with potential employers, educational institutions, or other organisations.
  • Gamification: is the use of game elements in non-game contexts, such as learning and training. It can make the learning experience more engaging and motivating, leading to better retention of knowledge and skills. For example, a training program may use a point system or leaderboards to encourage learners to complete tasks and challenges.
  • Microlearning: involves breaking down complex topics into smaller, bite-sized pieces of information. It allows learners to absorb information at their own pace and provides flexibility in scheduling training sessions. Microlearning modules can be accessed on various devices and platforms, making learning more accessible.
  • Chatbots: are automated programs that can simulate conversations with human users. In the context of upskilling, chatbots can be used to answer learners’ questions, provide feedback on assignments, and offer personalised learning recommendations. They can also be integrated with other learning technologies, such as gamification and microlearning.
  • Mobile learning: or m-learning, refers to the use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets for learning and training. It allows learners to access training materials and resources anytime, anywhere, and can provide a more immersive and interactive learning experience. Mobile learning can also be combined with other technologies, such as gamification and microlearning, to enhance the learning experience.

Analysing current trends in upskilling and workforce development

  • Increased emphasis on lifelong learning: As technology and industries continue to evolve rapidly, it has become essential for individuals to engage in lifelong learning. This approach ensures that professionals stay up-to-date with the latest trends, tools, and skills required in their fields. Lifelong learning is crucial for career growth, as it helps individuals adapt to changes in the job market and remain competitive. Employers are also recognising the value of fostering a culture of continuous learning and development within their organisations to maintain a skilled and agile workforce.
  • Focus on transferable skills (watch our Coffee Mornings episode on ‘soft skills’ and to learn more on how to master soft skills): In addition to technical skills, transferable skills, also known as soft skills, have become increasingly important in the modern workforce. These skills, such as communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and adaptability, can be applied across various industries and roles. Employers are placing greater emphasis on hiring candidates with strong transferable skills, as they can help bridge gaps between different roles and departments within an organisation. Transferable skills can also help individuals navigate career changes and adapt to new industries or job functions.
  • Growing importance of digital literacy: Digital literacy, the ability to use digital technologies effectively and safely, has become a critical skill in today’s technology-driven world. As more aspects of work and daily life become digitised, it is essential for individuals to have a strong foundation in digital literacy to succeed in their careers. This encompasses a wide range of skills, from basic computer proficiency to understanding complex digital tools and platforms. Employers increasingly prioritise digital literacy when hiring, and many educational institutions and training programs now incorporate digital literacy components to better prepare students for the workforce.
  • Emphasis on personalised learning: Upskilling initiatives and workforce development programs are increasingly focusing on personalised learning experiences to cater to the unique needs and learning styles of individuals. This approach allows for more effective skill-building and better engagement in the learning process. Personalised learning can be achieved through tailored training programs, adaptive learning platforms, and mentorship opportunities that cater to an individual’s strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Collaboration between stakeholders: Successful upskilling and workforce development strategies often involve collaboration between various stakeholders, such as employers, educational institutions, governments, and individuals. This collaboration ensures that training programs are relevant to industry needs and provide individuals with the skills required to succeed in the job market. It also facilitates the sharing of resources, best practices, and insights to improve the overall effectiveness of upskilling initiatives.
  • Integration of technology in learning: Advances in technology, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality, are increasingly being integrated into upskilling and training programs to enhance learning experiences. These technologies can help create immersive, interactive, and engaging learning environments that support better retention of knowledge and skills. Additionally, they can help bridge the gap between theory and practice by simulating real-world scenarios and situations.
  • Focus on reskilling and career transitions: As industries evolve and certain jobs become obsolete, there is a growing need to help individuals transition into new roles or industries. Upskilling initiatives are increasingly focusing on reskilling or retraining individuals to equip them with the necessary skills to make these career transitions. This approach not only benefits individuals looking for new career opportunities but also helps employers fill skill gaps in their workforce by tapping into a pool of professionals with diverse experiences and backgrounds.


In conclusion, the Coffee Mornings episode on upskilling emphasises the importance of taking action and practicing bridging the skill gap. Here are the key points to take away from the discussion:

  1. Identify the skill gap: The first step in upskilling is to identify the areas where there is a mismatch between the skills you currently possess and the skills required in your desired field. Recognising the skill gap helps you focus your efforts on the areas that require improvement.
  2. Embrace learning and practice: Upskilling is not just about acquiring knowledge but also about putting that knowledge into practice.

As Sam mentions, “It’s the actual execution and the consistent practice of doing it that makes you better.”

So, actively seek out opportunities to apply your new skills and continuously practice enhancing your proficiency.

  1. Benefits of upskilling: Upskilling offers numerous benefits for both individuals and employers. For individuals, it opens doors to new career opportunities, increases job security, and boosts professional growth. Employers benefit from a more skilled and adaptable workforce, leading to improved productivity, innovation, and a competitive edge in the market.
  2. Real-world examples: The episode shares real-world examples of successful upskilling initiatives, such as VR simulations for fire safety training. These examples demonstrate how technology and innovative approaches can enhance the upskilling process and make it more engaging and effective.
  3. Challenges and barriers: While upskilling is crucial, it may come with challenges and barriers. Not everyone may be receptive to the idea, and there could be obstacles such as time constraints or access to resources. However, by addressing these challenges, individuals and organisations can overcome them and reap the benefits of upskilling.
  4. Strategies for effective upskilling: The discussion highlights key components of successful upskilling programs, including the role of employers, educational institutions, and governments. Collaboration and partnerships among these stakeholders are essential for creating a conducive environment for upskilling and providing necessary support and resources.
  5. Future of upskilling: The future of upskilling looks promising with emerging technologies such as AI and virtual reality. These innovations have the potential to revolutionise the learning experience and make it more immersive and personalised. Keeping up with current trends and embracing technological advancements will be crucial for staying relevant in the evolving workforce.
  6. Embrace continuous growth: Upskilling is not a one-time event but a lifelong journey. Cultivating a growth mindset and embracing change is essential for adapting to the evolving job market.

As Robbie mentions, “As upskilling becomes more prevalent, we can expect to see a more agile and adaptable workforce.”

In summary, identifying the skill gap, actively practicing, and embracing continuous growth are the key takeaways from the Coffee Mornings episode on upskilling. By putting these principles into action, individuals can bridge the skill gap and unlock new possibilities in the modern workforce. Embrace the opportunities for continuous growth and embrace upskilling as a mindset.