What is Upskilling?

Upskilling, as defined by Aspen Institute’s UpSkill America Initiative, refers to “education, training and development that prepares someone for advancement in the workforce.” Employers may administer upskilling programs on-site; institutions may partner with employers to deliver off-the-shelf or customized programming; intermediary organizations (workforce boards, industry groups) may help education providers and employers structure and sustain a partnership to offer upskilling opportunities.


Our Strategy 

In September 2019, the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) convened a meeting of leaders and subject matter experts to identify best practices and strategies for improving access to–and completion of–upskilling programs in New England. Nearly 40 stakeholders, including employers from small and mid-sized companies, leaders of higher education institutions, policymakers in state agencies, and representatives of workforce boards and non-profit organizations participated. Their keen insights, combined with consumer data from Strada Education Network on adults’ perceived need for additional education, yielded a number of key recommendations for how New England can expand and improve successful upskilling programs and policies.



Recommendations to education providers, employers and state policymakers for expanding upskilling focus on three target areas: new delivery models, partnership development, and state policymaking.  We recommend that:


  • Employers, institutional leaders, policymakers, and members of workforce boards convene state-level, cross-sector working groups focused on eliminating structural barriers that prevent the implementation and scaling of collaborative upskilling programs.
  • Both employers and higher education institutions utilize intermediary organizations or designated points of contact to enhance open, sustainable and growth-oriented communication, partnerships and programming.
  • Employers and institutions use standardized skills-related language in job postings, course and credential descriptions to establish alignment between jobs and training programs.

New Delivery Models

  • Education and training providers implement flexible education and training delivery models to enable learning at home, in the workplace or community setting or on a college campus.
  • Postsecondary education providers redesign programs to include stackable credentials, transferrable credits and pathways to further education and training opportunities.  This will enable individuals to transition to and from education and training, work and life responsibilities in a more seamless fashion — setting the conditions for successful lifelong learning practices.
  • Upskilling programs include support services tailored to workers’ needs, including work-based study spaces and expanded or 24/7 access to learning advisers.

State Policymaking

  • Policymakers support and incentivize provider-employer partnerships to expand the validation and recognition of prior learning and work experience–reducing the time to credential attainment and promoting worker participation in upskilling programs.
  • Policymakers provide incentives, including grants and tax breaks, to stimulate employer investment in upskilling as a key business and workforce development strategy.
  • Policymakers encourage higher education and other training providers to develop accessible, transparent credentials and pathways to better communicate how upskilling programs provide specific skill acquisition, career progression and increased compensation.
  • Policymakers promote programs and partnerships that reach underserved populations, including the incarcerated and the formerly incarcerated, those recovering from drug and/or alcohol dependency, new immigrants and individuals living in rural areas.