What’s the difference?

The words sound similar but they possess significantly different meanings. Confusing one word for the other can make you look silly, or throw your boss into a panic if you say you want to reskill instead of upskill.

“What? Do you want to change departments, or are you quitting?”
“No, nothing like that! I just want to take a night course in Network Management so you can promote me.”
“Oh! You want to upskill, not leave and start a completely different career… That’s a relief!”

Hopefully, your boss isn’t that literal-minded, and just thought you were a bit dimwitted, rather than that you were abandoning the department.

How to Improve Your IT Skills

According to the Cambridge dictionary:

reskill, verb:

1. to learn new skills so that you can do a different job:  Many unemployed people are forced to reskill.

2. to train people to do a different job:   The company plans to reskill 300 of its engineers.

Reskilling is undertaken often after a long-term employee is laid off, or made redundant. Someone who has just turned 50 could wake up and find out that a career of 20 years in a particular industry had suddenly come to an end. An industry that had existed for decades might have essentially vanished, or been exported to countries with lower labor costs, and this expert suddenly no longer had a place to ply a lifetime trade.

S/he can be reskilled, sometimes with the help of a government program, and start a completely different career. When these programs are available, a person can be sent to a trade school or college to earn a degree or certification to become fully employable once more. And, of course, someone who is working doesn’t use welfare, and actually becomes a taxpayer again, which benefits everybody.

The Cambridge Dictionary states:

Upskill, verb:

1. to learn new skills or to teach workers new skills:  The program is aimed at people working in IT who want to upskill.  We are upskilling the team.

Upskilling, on the other hand, refers specifically to enhancing the abilities of an employee who is staying within the profession. Like our example at the beginning, maybe some of the network-IT people want to take a management course, to enhance their value to the company. That’s a perfect example of upskilling and a popular path up the corporate ladder.

They’re Both Useful

Of course, that doesn’t mean you cannot reskill in the information technology field. People transition from one area to another reasonably freely, particularly when they discover a new interest.

A techie whose primary responsibility is to walk up and down the aisles of a server farm, pulling bad units, and replacing them, might long to take a course in coding, to aid in making a move upstairs; someone working a help desk phone line might want to embrace network security to get into the server room and away from the phones.

The Takeaway

Although they are completely different concepts, both upskilling and reskilling can have a place on your career path, depending on your intentions, and can certainly help move your career along. They can assist you in recovering from bad choices you may have made in your education, such as focusing on software and subsequently discovering that hardware is far more interesting (or vice versa), or only completing a portion of your degree work.

Changing your skills through any means is perfectly fine if it advances your IT career in a direction you want to go, or if it increases your happiness and/or job satisfaction. The essence of life is change.
Remember: The meek shall inherit the Earth—the rest of us are going to the stars…

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