Closing the Activation Gap:

Converting Potential to Performance by Upskilling the Workforce

October 13, 2023
8 min read

In an economy shaped by continuous technological change, conversations about artificial intelligence (AI) and automation and questions around which skills will be required to future-proof the workforce in the United States, the importance of upskilling – developing and advancing workers’ skills – cannot be overstated. 

DeVry University commissioned a survey of American workers and employers to gather their views on upskilling and shine a bright light on the barriers that stand in the way of skills development. More than 1,500 workers and hundreds of American companies were asked about their interest in – and access to – skills building. The results reveal a harsh new reality – that even with nearly universal acknowledgment of the importance of upskilling, most American workers think employers aren’t living up to their responsibility to prepare them for the future workplace.

DeVry Research Uncovers the Say/Do Gap in Skills Development

While nearly 8 in 10 employers say they offer paid upskilling benefits, only half of workers (51%) use them, putting both groups at a major disadvantage. This finding reveals a startling new phenomenon that we call the say/do gap. It’s the gap between the perception of upskilling and the reality of employee participation in employer-paid upskilling benefits. 

In our efforts to understand this gap, we examined the barriers and challenges both groups face, gathering their opinions about the benefits of upskilling, the challenges standing in the way of employee participation and what each group ranks as the most valuable skills of the future.

3 More Key Findings Reveal Harsh Realities

The insights gathered in Closing the Activation Gap: Converting Potential to Performance by Upskilling the Workforce uncover 3 more key findings that illuminate the opinions of each group and the barriers that may be standing in the way of more widespread adoption of upskilling efforts by American employers. 

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Actionable Solutions for Employers and Workers

Despite a lack of alignment on the skills needed now and in the future, workers and employers agree they are both responsible for taking action on upskilling. Our report outlines several actionable solutions both groups can deploy to narrow the say/do upskilling gap and mitigate its negative effects on productivity, efficiency and overall economic growth.

Limiting Student Debt is Crucial in Upskilling

As workers see upskilling as a way for them to take control of their careers and both groups agree on the importance of continuous learning, employers need to do more to boost employee participation in upskilling programs. 

Our research indicates the need to better understand the lack of employee participation in upskilling programs:

  • Workers express legitimate concerns about student debt. If they feel the resulting debt burden (from tuition, fees and expenses) outweighs the benefits of new skills, participation levels are likely to continue to be low. This underscores the importance of tuition benefits programs that are non-restrictive and inclusive. 

  • While the majority of workers prefer a formal degree, certificate or certification as an upskilling outcome, it is clear that credentials need to be delivered in new ways to keep pace with change.

  • Employers can work with an education partner that offers highly customized and abbreviated learning cycles and non-traditional credentials to meet their skills development needs.

  • Employers not currently offering employee tuition assistance plans should take a serious look at the upskilling benefits an effective plan can deliver.

  • Employers with tuition assistance plans in place should re-examine their policies through a lens of inclusion and equity

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Jenna McCoy
Jenna McCoy
Director, Sales Enablement at DeVryWorks
“Our research and other studies around this topic indicate the need for inclusive tuition assistance policies that boost employee participation and encourage a culture of continuous learning to close the skills gap. This can’t begin to happen, however, if the policies are too restrictive or workers don’t know the benefit is available. Once an effective and equitable program is in place, employers should be motivating and communicating, as often as possible and at every managerial level, about the importance of upskilling and continuous learning.”

What’s In The Report?

Closing the Activation Gap: Converting Potential to Performance by Upskilling the Workforce provides answers to some of the most important questions asked by employers and workers amid rapidly-changing technologies.

  • What do workers and employers have to say about upskilling barriers?

  • How severe is the impact of the say/do gap on women vs. men?

  • Why don’t more women take advantage of upskilling opportunities when offered by their employers?

  • How likely are workers to take advantage of upskilling opportunities if offered or paid for by their employers?

  • Do employers and workers think the same way about on-the-job skills? Where do their opinions surrounding upskilling align, and where do they diverge? 

  • Who should bear the burden of funding for skills programs?

  • What type of skills credentials do workers prefer?

Discover these insights and more, along with in-depth examination of all 4 of the report’s key findings, by downloading the full report.