Bootstrapping: How to upskill your employees on a lean budget

By Jonathan Richards, CEO at breatheHR

What do you reckon is the one thing every entrepreneur is concerned about? The skills gap. Speaking to clients or business owners at events, it’s the skills crisis that has been one of their biggest concern for some time now.

So it is music to my ears that Philip Hammond has pledged £30 million in the development of digital skills distance learning courses. However, business owners shouldn’t get complacent in addressing the skills shortage themselves. Government investment takes time to materialise and trickle down into businesses, and time is something businesses cannot afford to waste.

Struggling to find the right talent has kno-on effects on various other factors. For instance, it limits business growth and hinders companies from taking on a new client or creating new services. In order to do these things, you need enough people.

For us at breatheHR, we’ve experienced this struggle. It took so long to find a developer with the necessary skills that we hired someone with potential and who was a good cultural fit instead, then trained them up ourselves. I think someone that’s the right fit culturally is arguably more important than skills – the latter can always be taught. These were a few things we learnt during this experience that I wanted to share:

Start with free courses and work your way up 

Upskilling staff doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, there are lots of free resources available from companies like Code Academy through to Google Digital Garage online. People don’t even need to physically go somewhere anymore – all can be done in the comfort of the office alongside their day-to-day role.

Have regular catch ups to monitor progress

Meet on a weekly basis with staff (this can shift to bi-weekly once further into the training) to see how they are getting on, what they’ve learnt and importantly, if it’s worth continuing.

Having an open culture, whereby employees are free to speak their mind will help. If a course isn’t right, it’s better to determine this early on and move onto another rather than waste precious time.

Plan strategically

Determine the best times for staff to go on training courses. For instance, January is likely to be a no-go for HR-based roles as most people are often on the hunt for a new job then. And for sales or customer service teams, use any internal data you have to see when its busiest for customer leads, then make data-driven decisions based on this.

Share the learnings

Once you’ve successfully trained up one employee – which can take significant time and effort – make sure they share their learnings with a wider team. Perhaps presenting a ‘lite’ version of the course during a workshop session.

In addition, most organisations are full of people with different strength and weaknesses – so why not tap into these. Perhaps one person excels at a certain area, such as, time management. Encourage them to organise a learning lunch session whereby they present to the rest of the team. This again, is a cheaper way than bringing in external resources and can also build presentation and public speaking skills – a win-win all around.