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What CHROs Need to Know About Outskilling in 2020

March 31, 2020 by Josh Hrala

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The world of work is changing as we speak. The outbreak of the novel Coronavirus and the disease it causes (COVID-19) has forced countless businesses to turn to a remote workforce in hopes of curbing the spread of the virus.

At the same time, businesses will still have to perform many of their same tasks – just in different ways. Many of these tasks fall on HR’s shoulders.

In today’s article, we’ll go over how outskilling can help with one of the most challenging aspects of our working world: RIFs.

Note: We are not health experts! If you have questions about COVID-19 and what is recommended to stay safe, please check out these resources provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here.

First, if you want a rundown of the skills gap crisis for some background, you can read our extensive article about the topic here. And, as a bonus, you can read all about how some of the world’s biggest companies are starting ‘upskilling’ programs here.

Wait, what’s upskilling and how is it different from today’s topic? That’s a great question. Let’s dive right in.

Upskilling, Outskilling: What’s the Difference?

Upskilling and outskilling are essentially two sides of the same coin. They both involve training workers for the future and paying close attention to what skills will be valuable as technology marches forward.

For example, Amazon has a huge workforce that helps them operate all of its warehouses across the US. It has been hinted that most of these jobs will be automated in the future so most of those workers need to obtain new skills that will enable them to keep their jobs at Amazon. In this example, workers are likely trained for more tech-heavy roles, such as software engineering, database roles, and others.

To do this, companies are partnering with organizations such as community colleges, online education platforms, and others to provide top-notch programs for their staff members to increase their skills through. You can check out how companies are ‘upskilling’ for more examples because this is very much the same way that organizations are outskilling.


This is a prime example of upskilling. Amazon, in other words, wants to retain these workers by offering them new roles inside the company once their current jobs become redundant, though it should be noted that Amazon also knows that this will help workers land outside roles, too.

Outskilling, on the other hand, is when a company trains its workers for the future job market but doesn’t do it to retain them. Instead, they do it so that their workforce is ready for any future job transitions. In fact, sometimes companies use upskilling as a way to enhance the RIF process and provide a higher level of support – more on this in a second.

“Unlike traditional education benefits or even corporate training, outskilling is not about retaining workers, but helping workers develop the tools they need to land a new job or find a whole new career path,” reports Forbes.

In short, outskilling and upskilling are two very similar offerings. They both help workers obtain new skills in order for them to stay relevant in the workplace. Also, they both typically have a mix of retention and reduction benefits for organizations that offer them. Some will stay, some will go.

Outskilling as a Reduction Tool

As we alluded to, outskilling – as a term – is generally used for workers who are going to be let go during a RIF event.

These workers are offered training programs to ensure that when they enter the labor market they will be able to land a role quicker than if they didn’t have these new skills.

“Which is why we’re seeing the emergence of a new approach to outplacement—“outskilling”—that is designed to quickly give workers slated for layoffs, or at high risk for them, the skills and navigation supports needed to land a high-growth job that pays a family-sustaining wage,” reports Forbes again.

The comparison to outplacement here is really apt. Outplacement, as a refresher, is a service that is extended to displaced workers that helps them find a new role after a RIF event.


At Careerminds, we help workers land a new role by pairing them up with a dedicated, one-on-one career coach, supporting them until they land, and providing countless educational tools to help them along the way. We also work with managers to help them navigate the RIF process and even how to help survivors after the event.

You can read more about our process here!

Just like outplacement, outskilling is a way to help displaced workers. Outplacement typically helps with the actual job hunt, which is important because the labor market changes so quickly that workers who have held roles for years are oftentimes not ready for what a modern, tech-driven job hunt entails.

The same can be said about skills. Technology has fundamentally changed the way we work and live. The job search and the skills required to land a job have changed as well. Some would say that the process has completely changed over the last 15 or so years.

With manual labor on the decline thanks to automation, many workers – especially blue-collar ones – are left with limited options if they find themselves displaced. Outskilling hopes to change all of that by preparing these workers for their next role while they are still in their current role.

When it comes to reduction events, this helps organizations ensure that they are doing everything in their power to help their displaced staff members. And there are a lot of benefits to be reaped from this, too.

The Benefits of Outskilling Plus Outplacement

The benefits of providing outskilling programs are very similar to those gained by providing outplacement. Both programs help workers who are displaced but outskilling helps them before the event takes place. It may even be offered when no event is even on the horizon. In other words, it’s an insurance plan for worker’s futures.

Outskilling, when performed properly, educates the workforce on what skills will be required to make a job transition. However, it seems like very few companies actually label their programs as ‘outskilling.’

“Proponents say outskilling, if successfully implemented, could act as an antidote by re-educating lower-skill employees to fill this widening global gap in middle-skill work – even if it means them leaving their current company, which is likely why many companies don’t actually call what they’re doing “outskilling,” reports the BBC.

Instead, most companies name their programs various things, typically all alluding to – but not outright saying – outskilling. For example, Amazon’s program is called ‘Career Choice.’


Why is this important? Well, in order for workers to fully understand what their programs provide and why they are offered in the first place, they need to understand that if a company is offering outskilling programs, it’s a pretty big indicator that the roles these workers have may be wiped out in the future. Companies are obviously hesitant to say that, but a quick look at how automation will impact the global workforce cannot be ignored.

Outskilling, then, is a subtle way of helping workers not be blind-sided by workforce changes. If organizations know that in a certain amount of years that their workforce will change drastically with automation, they are acting now so that their workers will not be without work once those changes happen.

When coupled with outplacement for these workers, too, organizations can ensure that when the time comes for those workers to be let go they will be able to craft resumes with their new skills included, understand their transferable skills, and be able to sell themselves for new roles.

It makes sense for companies offering outskilling to also offer outplacement for these reasons. Outskilling prepares for the move and outplacement enacts the move.

The benefits of both are that they show workers that the company truly cares about their well -being even as they exit their roles.

This has the power to increase employer branding – which is a top concern for CHROs across the world this year – retain key employees during RIFs, reduce survivor sickness, and increase productivity after an event.

The Wrap Up

In the end, outskilling and outplacement are two programs that go hand-in-hand when it comes to helping displaced – or soon to be displaced – workers land roles outside of their current companies.

Outskilling provides educational support by future-proofing talent so that they can land a new role in the modern workforce. Outplacement helps these individuals actually land said new role by providing job search support.

Top-notch outplacement firms like Careerminds also train managers to hold an event, too, enabling organizations to make tough business decisions while also retaining key talent, decreasing survivor sickness, and much, much more.

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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