Many U.S. workers face significant barriers to upskilling and can’t gain access to the tools they need to advance in their careers, especially women and people of color, according to a Sept. 18 report from DeVry University and Reputation Leaders.
For instance, about 56% of women reported having access to upskilling opportunities, as compared with 73% of men. In addition, only 42% of Black, Hispanic and Asian American/Pacific Islander workers surveyed said they have access to and use company-paid upskilling.
“As the labor market undergoes a transformation that calls for new skill sets, employers and workers must address the inequities and obstacles that persist and inhibit workers from accessing critical opportunities for career growth,” Elise Awwad, president and CEO of DeVry University, said in a statement.
“While there are many organizations working to upskill American professionals, providing upskilling that does not effectively address these barriers in access will negatively impact productivity, efficiency and economic growth,” Awwad said.
A “say/do gap” has emerged, where 8 in 10 employers say they offer company-paid upskilling benefits, yet they estimate only 51% of workers use them. Bias and structural barriers likely play a role in this discrepancy, according to the report.
In a survey, 55% of women said upskilling is essential for their future career development, yet only 37% said they’ve actually used company-paid skills training. The gap in access is contributing to higher turnover rates, according to the report, with women being twice as likely to leave their jobs due to a lack of upskilling or training. In terms of barriers, women listed family obligations and a lack of time as the biggest obstacles to upskilling.
Notably, those without access are highly likely to actually use the programs; 80% of Black workers and 71% of Hispanic workers who don’t have access to company-paid skills training said they’d be highly likely to use it, as compared with 62% of white workers. About 37% of Black, Hispanic and Asian American/Pacific Islander workers indicated that workplace bias and discrimination impede their skills development goals.
Overall, both employers (97%) and employees (96%) agreed that upskilling is essential or good to have for professional success — and both groups said they could do more to support access or take advantage of opportunities. At the same time, only 1 in 3 workers believe employers are living up to their responsibility to upskill and prepare workers for the future.
“The American workforce and jobs economy is evolving at a rate never seen before, and the ability for workers to grow and adapt is the difference between career and business success and stagnation,” Awwad said. “Continued skills development and growth is a necessity, not simply a nice-to-have.”
Upskilling current employees could aid major concerns around hiring, engagement and retention, according to a recent report from Salary.com. This could help with skills gaps, particularly around new technologies and generative AI, as well as in-demand “soft skills” that AI doesn’t cover, such as problem solving, communication and effective decision making.
Due to the current labor market, workers are particularly interested in upskilling and professional development opportunities as well. About 82% of workers told Emeritus that continuing education leads to higher engagement, commitment and well-being at work.
At the same time, workers may lack access or understanding of upskilling and related development opportunities. Nontraditional pathways, microcredentials and targeted training programs, in particular, still aren’t the norm and may require additional awareness campaigns to encourage buy-in and participation.