The reskilling challenge: are your learning programs really delivering ROI?

The reskilling challenge: are your learning programs really delivering ROI?


The urgency to develop employee skills to respond to workplace changes imposed by automation and digitisation has never been greater. Accelerated by the COVID pandemic, McKinsey and Co estimate that “107 million workers may now need to switch occupations by 2030, about 12 million more than our pre-pandemic estimate.”

Given the enormity of the skilling challenge upon us, our approach to workplace learning and development has never been so critical. Not only does a quality professional development program make a company attractive to new talent, strategic and effective skilling and reskilling opportunities ensure that existing talent is not lost, supporting a positive corporate climate and reputation more broadly.


Are organisations well prepared to close these skills gaps? I would suggest the answer is, not yet. The cautionary tale is to beware the false economy of low cost per head training with promises of outcomes resulting in real change.

As educators, we understand the importance of motivating our adult learners and ensuring materials are relevant. We know that opportunities to apply new knowledge in authentic settings are key to making learning “stick”.

Despite this knowledge, and decades of research supporting that we’ll forget most of what we’ve learned within a few days unless we use it, mass online learning programs still prevail, with little or no opportunity for collaboration or application in the workplace. Most of us have clicked through a mandatory compliance program, proceeded to the test until the tick of satisfactory completion is received, and continued on with our day, forgetting most, if not all, of what was presented.

For businesses looking to maximise their L & D budget, these scaled online learning programs are tempting. At first. But it’s a false economy for those looking for real behavioural change through upskilling or reskilling.


  1. More than 50% of work activities have the potential to be automated (McKinsey).
  2. Three-quarters of Australia’s CEOs are worried about the availability of key skills in the wake of technological change and automation (PWC).
  3. The pandemic accelerated existing trends in automation with up to 25% more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations (McKinsey).
  4. Staff training and development will be the highest investment priority in 2023 to deal with skills gaps (Ai Group).

With these facts in mind, the importance of programs that truly engage learners and deliver real results can’t be underestimated.


Mentem by UNSW has solved the learner engagement challenge with an approach to skilling and reskilling that prioritises social, and on the job learning and builds the capability of a business to coach their own learners. The design is supported by an insights platform that allows easy access to learner progress to support their success, reporting and visualisation of outcomes.


The results speak for themselves for organisations who commit to this approach. In a recent engagement with SANE Australia in a Data Literacy program, CEO Rachel Green reported a significant shift.

"We are able to develop new SANE data startegy with extraordinary results. Something that would have been much more challenging before the Mentem program".

Ms. Green agreed that “investing in learning and development is a big and important commitment for every business and off-the-shelf programs are often difficult to fit within a work program, inconsistent and not relevant to day-to-day functions. In comparison, with Mentem you can be sure that the investment in the program and the time for your people to undertake it is well spent and outcomes focused.“

A second example of effective upskilling, is a program that addressed a now common challenge - that of upskilling for a digital, distance economy. The program we designed for the Department of Regional New South Wales addressed existing gaps in foundational digital skills that were constraining DRNSW’s overall digital transformation journey and increasingly impacting on staff connectedness, productivity and wellbeing. We provided contemporary learning pathways for staff to uplift foundational digital literacy informed by human centered design that ensured the learning was relevant and motivating for learners. The program was awarded Best in Class at the Good Design Australia Awards.

The final example that best demonstrates the positive outcome of a strategic reskill initiative underpinned by careful learning design is a program recently developed for the Suncorp Group. Facing a large oversupply in front-line roles due to impacts from digitisation and automation and an undersupply in critical digital roles, we designed and delivered a Business Process Modelling Program that involved learners in authentic workplace projects using a combination of formal, social and on the job learning. With a 100% success rate, all learners were all eligible for redeployment, with many in new roles by the time the program ended. Both learners and the business was thrilled with the outcome.

"This is so desperately needed by the company... it's been a long time coming to get a reskill course that really bites...that actually delivers to the promise of a new skill. I'm thrilled with where we got to.”

Tim Johnson, Head of Automation, Suncorp Group.

So, while it’s challenging, it’s definitely doable, and well worth the cost in both financial and human terms. Let’s give tick-and-flick learning programs the flick once and for all and invest wisely in our people to genuinely connect them with business strategies and the skills needed to realise them.

Get in touch with us if you would like to discuss our learning programs and if they would suit your companies needs.

Liz is an expert in higher education specializing in online learning and the student experience. She brings more than 25 years of experience in higher education, with extensive leadership of education focused projects and programs.

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