Leadership Development and Learning

Blog: All Skills Are Created Equal – or Are They?

  • June 29, 2022

A key question in the upskilling debate is which skills to focus on…

In a recent CRF Talent, Leadership and Learning Community event about reskilling, somebody asked an important question: should we be focusing on capturing skills that are strategically important, rather than all skills?

The difficulty here is knowing which skills are the most important!

One study by the MIT Sloan School of Management found that a 12-month course focusing solely on ‘soft skills’ in the workplace resulted in a 250% ROI – especially surprising for a study conducted in a factory floor setting. According to MIT, “boosts in worker productivity accounted for much of this gain, but a number of other factors contributed, like the ability to perform complex tasks more quickly, short-term gains in improved attendance, and increased retention during the training.”

So, general skills boosts – in everything from financial and legal literacy to stress management and communication – can have a massive impact on all areas of work.

Ultimately, the skills that are most important to your company will depend on your business strategy and industry context.

One CRF member organisation has introduced campaigns around strategically important skills to encourage people to assess themselves and then build those skills; in turn, the hope is that this will enable the organisation to build up a bank of data on people’s skills and how they change over time, and will enable a more agile, project-based style of working in the future. Key to the success of these campaigns is transparency. The organisation has been very transparent about how it will use the data: in order to plan and to give people opportunities.

Aligning with strategy

It can be easy to assume that ‘hard skills’ – knowledge and experience – are always the most valuable, but the reality is that the most effective upskilling happens when it is tied to a broader strategy.

This also means that upskilling in line with broad skillsets – digital literacy, for example – can and should be specifically designed according to your company’s needs.

Do your employees need technical skills? Do they need data analysis skills? Are there different levels of knowledge required for different branches of your company’s workforce? The granularity and specificity of the skills can be as consequential as the type of skills.

Employee voice

Employees should have a voice in determining their learning needs, but management need to provide clear parameters to ensure that learning is in line with business strategy.

Research by TalentLMS found that 42% of employees pursued additional training on their own after the coronavirus outbreak in 2019, so there is a case to be made that many employees already know what they need to improve and are committed to investing in themselves.

This data suggests that people willing to put the work in to invest in themselves, but employees would benefit from some guidance on what investments will have the most significant returns for their company or broader industry.


However, another CRF member organisation’s pilots with strategic roles found that people were reluctant to participate in skills assessments, highlighting the significance of trust and transparency when it comes to engagement.

TalentLMS’s results suggested that 66% of employees ranked the joy of learning new things and developing new skills as the top upskilling motivator, so avoiding the deficit model – “what don’t you know?” – and focusing on future opportunities – “what do you need to know to take the next step in your career?” – might be the way to go about this.

To find out more about CRF’s research on reskilling, check out our report: Building a Future-Fit Workforce.


  1. https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/soft-skills-training-brings-substantial-returns-investment
  2. https://www.talentlms.com/blog/reskilling-upskilling-training-statistics/


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