An Interview with

“The current skills shortage has far-reaching impacts on organizations, including on business outputs. As a result, companies that conduct a skills assessment now and upskill/reskill employees, accordingly, will be better prepared to mitigate the skills gap of the future,” said Vanessa Williams, Founder and CEO, of Leading Edge Consulting, LLC.

For 25+ years, Vanessa led service, relationship management, productivity, and talent development at major financial services institutions for large client segments in the U.S. and internationally.

In an exclusive interview with, Vanessa touches upon why employee skilling, reskilling, and upskilling are crucial today, what organizations must do to engage and retain talent, and how can they create opportunities for upskilling and reskilling, among others.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Why employee skilling, reskilling, and upskilling are so important in current times and in the future?

Vanessa: Reskilling and upskilling serve to address and meet the needs of a company and maximize an employee’s potential at any given time. In current times, we face a systemic need to integrate authentic DE&I initiatives and as a new area of focus in the workplace, this requires that current employees reskill or upskill to develop an understanding of these societal issues.

Skills development should support employees in positioning themselves for growth within a company – whether reskilling to allow for horizontal mobility or upskilling for a promotion. As layoffs happen to the masses and talent retention continues to pose a challenge, the mutual benefits of reskilling or upskilling in the workplace make it more important now than ever before.

When organizations reskill and upskill current employees, the employee’s value increases and they contribute to a healthier and more dedicated workforce. When reskilling and upskilling does not happen, contribution stays relatively stable while the cost of employing a staff member increases over time.

The current skills shortage has far-reaching impacts on organizations, including on business outputs. As a result, companies that conduct a skills assessment now and upskill/reskill employees, accordingly, will be better prepared to mitigate the skills gap of the future. Coaching can be the element that makes an employee or HR leader step back and think about what is missing that would tie all the pieces together within an organization. As the middleman between points A and B, coaching establishes a process to navigate reskilling and upskilling for years to come.

Q: In terms of workforce management and talent development, what are the challenges organizations face and how do they engage and retain talent?

Vanessa: Organizations are facing increasing challenges in workforce management and talent development as the recession looms and employees continue to demand new levels of support from their employers.

Organizations are left to balance low resources, high output needs, and the challenge of meeting the digitization of the workplace. However, organizations that utilize their HR and learning & development (L&D) teams now to evaluate potential skills gaps will be better prepared to meet developing business needs in the coming years.

Since talented employees have more options and are more courageous to leave their jobs, organizations are better off if they upskill their current talent rather than constantly recruiting to combat turnover.

Leaders that incorporate strategy driven by HR and L&D can evaluate what skills are needed for the future of the company’s success. A skills and gap assessment allow a company to plan accordingly and can shape reskilling and upskilling needs in a way that is mutually beneficial to both the organization’s future and the employees’ personal and professional development.

Further, organizations can engage and attract new potential talent by showing thoughtfulness in how they plan for the future. In today’s market, employees are weary to join a new company at the risk of being laid off. An organization with a strong plan for the future negates this concern and provides a steady and established work environment to attract top talent, while placing a heightened focus on retaining current talent.

Coaching serves to support HR and L&D teams in this skills and gap assessment by supporting actions in the present that mitigate the gap now and in the future. As the future of the workplace continues to rapidly evolve, companies that want to stay competitive need to support the upskilling and reskilling of current talent and express these opportunities as employee benefits to attract and supplement with new talent.

Q: What are the key challenges CHROs face when it comes to the skilling of employees? How should they address them?

Vanessa: CHROs must evaluate what the company and society as a whole need to drive reskilling and upskilling efforts. However, HR leaders can not do this alone; they must be supported by new ways of leading across all managers within an organization. By creating new programs across the business to meet future needs and anticipate changes, organizations can proactively address challenges posed by skills shortages.

While reskilling and upskilling opportunities can be effective tools to support company and employee growth, they must be done thoughtfully and strategically to guarantee the right impacts. This is where professional coaching comes in. Coaching supports improved communication skills, optimized team and individual performance, expanded professional career opportunities and improved business management strategies, according to the 2022 Global Coaching Awareness Study by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). This data reflects the value coaching brings in reshaping leadership styles to support reskilling and upskilling goals.

This is increasingly a challenge when responding to societal issues. As HR leaders consider DE&I initiatives, for example, they are faced with the challenge of effectively acknowledging the societal need to support diversity, while managing the internal challenge of doing so in an authentic and meaningful way for the organization’s specific team. Coaching supports this with guidance-driven conversations that allow CHROs to analyze future goals of the organization as they relate to business and society, look at current staff skills, and decide where upskilling and reskilling can be most beneficial to enhancing the skills’ portfolio.

Q: How is the employee learning and development landscape changing?

Vanessa: The employee learning and development landscape has evolved significantly with the “reskilling revolution” predicting the transformation of nearly 1.1 billion jobs by technology in the next decade. As a result, employees are eager to develop and expand their skills to ensure they future-proof their jobs ahead of this digital transformation. With the current recession underway and layoffs happening every day, employees are further motivated to partake in adult learning to support horizontal and/or vertical mobility within their current roles – this supports meeting company-wide needs, while guaranteeing a spot in the organization amidst downsizing.

Across the board, learning and development must be digital in nature – it should be easy to export to remote locations, more on-demand and flexible to change with business needs, and multi-cultural, produced in different languages and sensitive to the needs of diverse employee groups.

Addressing where an employee has an opportunity to reskill or upskill starts with a coaching-driven conversation with the L&D team. By beginning with a conversation about what’s needed and what the person can realistically provide, an analysis of opportunities to mitigate the skill gaps occurs naturally.

Q: Going forward, how do organizations create opportunities for upskilling and reskilling?

Vanessa: Organizations must invest in the teams they have now – this can be done through reskilling and upskilling current talent. Coaching can support L&D and HR teams in conducting an assessment to see what skills are currently on the team, what the employees’ interests are, and how they can be best utilized to support operational goals.

As organizations across industries face this technological transformation of the workplace, the human element will become increasingly valuable. While technology can alter the way work gets done, certain components driven by person-to-person engagement can only be done with human talent. Technology must be led and managed by humans to earn predetermined results. Though technology is a driver for change, an evolution of human leadership will be the decider of how employees reskill and upskill to solidify their role in this transformation.

Organizations can also provide more online learning opportunities, become more selective about which employees serve what roles, and provide career development to help employees understand what they need to learn to advance within the company.