Don’t let the cooling labor market fool you.

At first glance, it appears staffing organizations have more available talent to meet their clients’ needs, but there’s still a mismatch between the skills clients want and what’s available in the workforce.

Demand is soaring for temporary workers with expertise in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, marketing and blue-collar skills, to name just a few. Yet people with these and other specialized capabilities are in short supply.

“We’re still in a tight labor market, even though things are changing,” says Joanie Bily, chief experience officer of Employbridge and chair of the American Staffing Association. “It’s not like there’s a huge surplus of skilled talent on the market.”

Could upskilling bridge the gap?

“It’s one of those rare things where it’s a win for everybody,” says Garrett Ferencz, executive VP and general counsel at TrueBlue Inc., which operates a program for skilled trades upskilling called WorkUp.

Upskilling is training that supplements professionals’ existing skills. For example, an experienced travel nurse may receive training and certification in pediatric advanced life support. Upskilling is a twist on reskilling in which workers learn new skills entirely. A hospitality worker could be reskilled in IT, for example.

Upskilling not only helps client firms by equipping their workers with expertise in short supply but can also benefit employees and their communities.

“It’s closing the gap for our customers,” says Kristy Willis, president of TrueBlue’s PeopleReady division. At the same time, she says, “it’s helping people really succeed and become better earners for their families.”

Currently, about 61% of staffing firms provide some kind of training for temporary workers, according to SIA research. Of these, industrial staffing firms (78%) were most likely to provide it.

Yet implementing an upskilling program is much more complicated than just onboarding a few trainers. For one, it can be costly. Reskilling a worker displaced by technology costs an average of $24,000 each, according to the World Economic Forum, though the actual costs can vary. In addition, client companies worry a worker will leave after receiving the education. Programs and infrastructure can be complicated: Training can take place in person, on the job or virtually.

Benefits for Workers

Upskilling can bring several benefits to workers, including increased pay and career progression.

Take “Ian,” who came to Adecco seeking a warehouse position. With no experience, Ian was placed at a logistics company in a position paying $14 per hour, according to Jennifer Cross, manager of upskilling reskilling initiatives at the Adecco Group US Foundation. A year into his assignment, after completing Occupational Safety and Health Administration forklift training and certification as facilitated by Cross’ team, Ian received a $4 per hour raise. Ian was next promoted to supervisor, earning $26.70 an hour, and ultimately was hired full time by the client.

But there’s strong interest in the practice — as well a need.

“From an employer perspective, we know we’re living in a time of talent scarcity, and often there’s a mismatch between the needs a company has and the skill sets available in the talent available to them,” says Doug Hammond, division president of Randstad Inhouse Services. Being able to create the workforce that you need can be powerful, he says.

It’s also a plus for workers: Most people want to feel as though they’re advancing or moving ahead toward something, Hammond says.

One of the biggest benefits of upskilling, proponents say, is the vote of confidence that workers receive. That, in turn, encourages them to remain.

“The No. 1 thing that we see is retention,” says Joyce Russell, president of the Adecco Group US Foundation. “When you invest in individuals — whether it be contingent workers or full-time workers — it says something to them.”

Another benefit is increasing the number of available workers, Russell says.

“We see the job market changing and we see skills changing, and so we really see it increasing our talent pool,” she says.

Tech Workforce of the Future

Beacon Hill Staffing Group offers several types of training designed to equip the workforce of the future, including a recruit-train-deploy program for IT workers. The company also has programs for people from underrepresented areas to learn technology skills.

While upskilling bridges the skills gap, it’s also an opportunity for companies to create next-generation talent, says Lindsey Paskvan, senior VP, national and strategic accounts, Beacon Hill.

Staffing clients “need to be thinking long term, like what is their actual human capital strategy? What are they going to be doing with this program?” Paskvan says. “Usually, where we really partner well with customers is working with them to embed it into their infrastructure and their talent strategy.”

AI skills are also top of mind for staffing companies and talent.

House of HR, a staffing firm headquartered in Kortrijk, Belgium, recently began offering intensive AI training for its workers. The training touches on general knowledge about AI as well as demonstrations of how to use specific AI tools in certain jobs. It also touches on potential ethical and legal issues.

“A rapid and abrupt shift is imminent,” Lieven Van Nieuwenhuyze, chief digital officer at House of HR, said in a press release. “We have a moral obligation to ensure that both our own colleagues and our temporary workers are prepared for this.”


Healthcare is another area that is ripe for upskilling opportunities.

Conexus MedStaff, for one, offers upskilling for the international nurses and international medical technologists it recruits to the US.

“It starts with an assessment, but then we also look at where they want to go and then we personalize their education journey to help them get to where they need to go,” says Tracey Moore, associate director of education.

The Motivation Effect
When it comes to deciding whom to upskill, it helps to know what skills you need, says Doug Hammond, division president, Randstad Inhouse Services, Randstad USA.

You might also look at people who already have similar skill sets to those for which you are planning to train. For example, someone with forklift driving skills could be upskilled to drive a reach truck, Hammond says. However, taking someone out of retail without materials handling experience would be a bigger skills gap to breach — though even that gap could be surmounted if a worker is interested and motivated.

“I think we all find in life attitude is like 80% of everything,” Hammond said. People who are interested in learning, who are committed to the process and engaged the entire way through can bring better success than those who have to be dragged through a process.

Conexus also offers scholarships, such as its Education Advancement for Registered Nurses, or EARN. Recipients of the biannual award may use the scholarship money to advance their clinical knowledge, skills or education.

“I just think in healthcare, upskilling is mandatory,” Moore says. “We are a rapidly evolving industry. You can’t be a nurse 20 years ago and not actually upskill throughout your career because you’d be left behind.”

At a time when talented healthcare workers are leaving the industry in droves, upskilling benefits encourages them to remain, says Sarah Vura, executive VP of brand marketing and communications at Conexus.

“Obviously, we have a massive shortage globally of healthcare professionals,” Vura says. “This is one of the ways we believe we can keep them in the profession, by helping them grow and giving them resources throughout their entire career.”

Industrial Staffing

The industrial staffing segment is the most active of all sectors when it comes to upskilling temporary workers, according to SIA research. Forklift driving is a frequent offering. Others include client-specific training and customer service skills.

Employbridge, the largest industrial staffing firm in the US, offers upskilling through its Better WorkLife Academy. Partnering with Penn Foster, an online education provider, Employbridge provides online training programs at no cost to temporary workers or clients, unless they’re customized programs. Some examples include an introduction to manufacturing or training in Microsoft products. There are more than 20 Employbridge centers across the US, where 22,000 workers participated in its forklift-driving training in 2022.

The Adecco Group’s US Foundation program helps workers earn a high school equivalency credential as well as one for forklift driving. The forklift program combines in-person training with a virtual reality component. The unit includes a VR headset with a steering wheel, gear shifts and foot pedals to provide a forklift-driving experience.

The program pays for the OSHA forklift classroom and hands-on training, plus certification for the candidates. The certification is good for three years whether the person works for Adecco or another company — another example of upskilling’s benefits to workers.

Skilled trades are also ripe for the benefits that upskilling can bring.

TrueBlue’s WorkUp program identifies motivated individuals within the firm’s blue-collar workforce, assesses their interests and career goals, and then prepares them for careers in trades such as carpentry, electrical, HVAC or plumbing. It’s currently available in Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; and Charlotte, North Carolina, and there are plans to expand to other markets.

Concerns to Mitigate

How do you choose the best upskilling candidates? Randstad’s Hammond recommends considering people with similar skill sets. For example, someone with forklift driving skills could be trained to drive a reach truck.

One concern is that training can be expensive. If someone leaves after being provided with new skills, it is a loss for the company.

“It’s a challenge you can mitigate,” Hammond says.

For one, he says, make sure people are assigned positions where they can immediately begin to use their new skills. It builds their confidence and their loyalty. Also, people generally want to stay and perform the task they were trained for.

Interpersonal benefits abound: Upskilling of existing employees means these reliable and productive employees stick around. In addition, it increases their job satisfaction.

“Properly trained employees have more confidence in what they do, and therefore their job satisfaction is higher,” Hammond says. “I think that is really critical.”