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How to upskill your team when resources and budget are limited

More and more, employees are starting to value education and professional development over ping pong tables and Friday drinks

It looks like the days of gimmicky, Silicon Valley-style office ‘perks’ are coming to an end. More and more, employees are starting to value education and professional development over ping pong tables and Friday drinks. In fact, RMIT Online Research reveals that the majority of employees would even forego free lunches at work for additional training opportunities.  

This is great news for businesses – employee training is one of the best ways to improve company culture and retention – but it also presents a challenge. With the industry shifting towards lifelong learning, what can managers do with a limited budget? Not every organisation has the resources to establish company-wide development programs.  

The good news is, there’s plenty organisations can do to upskill staff, even with a limited training budget. Here are just a few ideas: 


1. Prioritise skills gaps 

The first step for any resource allocation is figuring out where it will create the greatest value. In other words, where can you get the best training bang for your buck? Start by analysing your current skills gaps. Do you have an analytics team yet? Are you wasting budget on external developers when you could bring those skills in-house? Have you been neglecting cyber security? By figuring out what your business lacks, you’ll be able to funnel training budget where it’s needed most. This falls broadly under the umbrella of organisational change management 


2. Start small 

Not every employee needs to rush out an earn a new Bachelor’s degree. Not only can these be very expensive – approximate $20,000 to $45,000 on average, according to CANSTAR Blue – but the business likely won’t see tangible benefit for years. Instead, look into online shortcourses, certificates and diplomas. Many of these can be completed online, around regular work duties, in as little as six weeks. They’re a cheaper, more agile way of learning, and they allow you to stagger and scale your training commitment over time.  

For example, if you wanted to upskill an employee in data analytics, you could start with a Business Analytics shortcourse, followed by an SQL and Python model, followed by a graduate certificate in Data Science 


3. Explore online learning platforms 

These days there are plenty of online platforms – Udemy, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning and Skillshare are some of the big ones – that facilitate self-paced learning and development. These platforms offer a wide variety of courses on various subjects and technical skills, and many of them come with enterprise subscription models, allowing you to purchase one plan for your entire team. They have the advantage of being relatively affordable, and accessible from anywhere, although you usually won’t get the same depth and industry experience as a dedicated tertiary shortcourse.  


4. Share knowledge 

By encouraging knowledge sharing within your organisation, you can quickly foster a culture of continuous learning and development. And it’s more or less free! The only resource being consumed is time. Knowledge sharing is one of the most cost-effective training methods, although it does rely on your business already having a good depth of technical skill. To get started, just organise some lunchtime lectures or skills workshops, where departments and team members can learn from one another. This has the added benefit of improving understanding and communication between departments, which is a great way to increase efficiency across the business.  


5. Open Educational Resources 

No budget for training at all? You can still tap into Open Education Resources (OERs). These are free, online, publicly accessible learning resources that anyone can use. RMIT has its own library of OERs, but you can also explore sites like OER Commons, OpenStax and MIT’s OpenCourseWare. It’s worth noting that OERs do not produce any formal qualifications, for obvious reasons, and they probably won’t lead to skill proficiency. Still, they’re a great jumping-off point if you have employees who want to explore a certain field, or technical skill, without investing too many resources. 


5. Networking and meetups 

Encourage employees to attend industry events and meetups. Many of these are free, and they offer invaluable learning and networking opportunities. Your staff can attend panels and seminars, connect with industry professionals, and even find mentors to guide their training and development. The cost to the business is minimal – usually just the price of a ticket – but the potential upside is enourmous. By allowing employees to explore new career paths and opportunities, you improve engagement, and studies show that companies with highly engaged employees enjoy 21% higher profitability.  

This article was originally published on 6 September 2023