Blog Post

6 Key Ways to Upskill Your Workforce

January 29, 2021

Never has there been a more important time to upskill your workforce.  With remote working, low morale, and evident skills gaps, we lay out a plan to kick-start your skills program into 2021.

“What if I train my people and they leave? But what if you don’t and they stay” is an age-old conundrum that businesses have grappled with for years. But in the digital age upskilling your workforce is no longer optional. And as the pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital transformation across the globe, this upskilling requirement is now more urgent than ever.

According to The McKinsey Global Institute up to 375 million workers, or 14 percent of the global workforce, will need to change jobs or acquire new skills by 2030 due to automation and artificial intelligence – aka digital transformation. And, in a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87 percent of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. But less than half of the respondents had a clear idea of how to overcome this challenge.

But upskilling has become a buzzword, a term that companies use to pay lip service to the idea that they’ll keep their employees’ competencies up to date so their careers can flourish. But in reality, how many companies, especially in legal, believe and actively encourage the upskilling of their workforce?

As a sector that is renowned for lagging in technology adoption, it stands to reason that upskilling to cope with this technological change isn’t high on the priority list. A report by Gartner back in 2018 found that 81 percent of legal departments are unprepared for digital change, and cited developing digital skills as one of the key game-changers for helping legal departments become digital-ready.

But this was pre-pandemic, and legal departments and law firms surprised everyone, including themselves, by adopting successful remote working strategies within weeks. As law firms and departments are urged to do more with less, and as remote working becomes the norm, now is the time to capitalize on this momentum and undergo an upskilling program. Not only will it help law firms and departments emerge, fitter, stronger and with a more adapted workforce, but it will also boost morale, help employees feel valued, and could even drive more revenue. So, where to start

1. Identify the skills you need to upskill your workforce

According to McKinsey, the first step is evaluating the ‘skills pools’ you need, not just for today, but for your five-year strategy. For example, as they move towards a data-fuelled legal sector continues, you’ll need more data analysts and data scientists in your team, but will you also need a Chief Data Officer or similar to manage this process? Other areas where there’s a skills shortage are appropriate legal project management skills and talent management.

2. Include softer skills to help upskill your workforce

During the pandemic, the softer skills (or lack thereof) have come into their own. Managing a team remotely, having empathy for individual challenges, and communicating well are essential skills. This is nothing new, according to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report back in 2016, these skills were high priority then, but legal has been slow to develop these skills among its ranks.  Alongside this EQ, which the report states will be in higher demand over the next decade than more traditional technical skills, is now considered as vital as writing and problem-solving.

3. Get the budget (and ring-fence it)

To be successful, an upskilling program must be considered essential and the budget ring-fenced. McKinsey states that according to data from the 2009/10 recession, although training budgets were cut, the money was reinvested back in 2012, therefore only delaying the investment, rather than creating any actual savings. Given the opportunity, we have now and the way the legal workforce is already adapting, it’s the ideal time to hive off some budget for upskilling.

4. Develop a culture of agility and growth

Sometimes referred to as a growth mindset, this cultural change is fundamental to the success of any upskilling program.  Whether it’s developing a data culture to help employees upskill around the value of data to legal practice, or helping more senior members of the team gain insight into what innovation is and why it matters to your firm.  McKinsey says large firms should think like small businesses – try to be agile and move quickly with upskilling programs.

5. Hire out and consider having champions

One way to accelerate your upskilling program could be to work with a third party in the areas where you think you require new skills.  This ‘try-before-you-buy’ approach will help you clearly define the areas where you need the skills most urgently and better understand the ways these skills could benefit your business. Alternatively, to ensure agility with your program, you could appoint upskilling champions, as we suggested recently for AI or data exploration for example. This allows each champion to expedite the upskilling of their own mini team while other autonomous skills programs run simultaneously.


According to McKinsey, procrastination is one of the biggest challenges with starting a program to upskill your workforce. By the time a program is organized and set up, the market has moved and those skills are less relevant. The greatest success is found by those firms who get started quickly, and then adapt their upskilling programs as they go along.

According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2020, despite the current economic downturn, most employers recognize the value of human capital investment. An average of 66% of employers surveyed expect to get a return on investment in upskilling and reskilling within one year. For a legal sector that needs to reimagine the way it works, now it’s the right time to look at your skills gaps and start working with your existing employees to upskill and reskill to fill those holes. It will provide a much-needed morale boost – people want to have career progression and a path to follow to get there – and will drive your revenue and business into the next decade.