The Third Upskilling Wave: Can Companies Make It Permanent?

Geri Plamenova
October 15, 2021
Read: 5 min

Covid comes in waves and so do all of the changes associated with it. Among the detrimental implications for people, science and businesses, the inspiration for upskilling can be quite wholesome per se.

The first wave of upskilling emerged at the start of the pandemic when everyone was trying to stay positive and view the time spent in isolation as an opportunity. Naturally, summer 2020 despite all of its risks and restrictions, welcomed people outside again, so the urge to learn was put on pause.

Then came the long winter that brought more lockdowns and even heavier restrictions that caused everyone to reconsider finishing the courses they had started back in the spring. This summer, a combination of fatigue and optimism reignited social interactions, so learning once again took the back seat.

While most teams seem to be going back and forth, some companies fare in the sea of upskilling at a steady pace. In the face of another winter marred by the Coronavirus, we cannot help but wonder how businesses can make the third upskilling wave permanent and adopt a learning culture they can sustain.

Upskilling schedule

A newfound penchant for upskilling? Not quite.

There is one simple truth that underlies the whole discussion: if one were passionate about learning, they would like to spend more time doing it regardless of the global situation.

One of the main reasons so many people have turned to taking classes online while stuck at home is career insecurity. As many industries would struggle from the very beginning of the pandemic, employees became cautious of putting all their eggs in one basket. However, the recurring waves of optimism also helped filter out the ones who really meant change.

There were also the people who jumped at the opportunity to broaden their expertise in the field they were already employed in. This way, booming industries would both attract new talent and see a surge of expertise within.

Since companies benefit hugely from employees’ willingness to put in the effort, it is only natural for them to adopt measures to help them sustain this expertise growth. In a context that is overly generous in incentivising development but also undeniably volatile, the ball is in the businesses’ court to utilise any genuine desire to learn.

Upskilling and the learning culture

The business context

Learning is still widely seen as a substitute for more enjoyable activities. Even if getting certified and adding to one’s skill set is extremely trendy, people do not tend to talk about it with the same enthusiasm they discuss their professional accomplishments. The reason behind this is also simple: learning on its own is still rarely seen as an accomplishment in business.

A company that thrives on upskilling and that is a part of its culture does not need to push it. However, it needs to make sure that the employees share these values and feel comfortable in an environment that places development in its centre.

In a fast-paced and volatile world, alignment is crucial for developing sustainable long-term strategies that affect business outputs and outcomes. And since a company pools in individual skill sets, it is once again its responsibility to ensure alignment and phrase in initiatives that would not conflict the existing balance within teams.

Upskilling at knowledge-centred companies

Knowledge-centred companies would thrive anyway

After nearly two years of individuals alternating between joining in the learning spree and casting course subscriptions into oblivion, it has become obvious if a company thrives on talent development.

Insecurities can be alleviated by adopting consistency and dependability and expertise is one of the most dependable assets a company can have. Building a knowledge-centred company is therefore an investment that can be relied on to produce continuous results.

Businesses with a knowledge-growth philosophy will not really adapt to changes but will rather continue on their learning path in spite of them. Regardless of upcoming Covid waves, industry fluctuations or social instability, their expertise will easily translate into resilience.

Building a learning culture

How to adopt a learning culture

Many businesses would either get too optimistic about adopting highly intense development programmes or encourage employees to take care of it entirely on their own. These two extremes can be equally unproductive as they either make a person feel excluded from the decision or rely entirely on personal initiative.

Here are the three pillars of a resilient learning environment that Infinite Lambda has adopted from day one and that are still at the heart of the company:

Tech agnosticism

Having the right mindset proves to be more important than being familiar with a specific tool. This allows the staff to remain open-minded and select the most efficient approach and tech stack to solve the specific challenges on each project.

This is especially valid in the tech industry whose fast pace results in too many tools for a person to aim to master. Instead, remaining tech agnostic allows teams to choose the right set of tools on a case-by-case basis but also encourages teams to explore new tools and methodologies to meet new requirements or scale existing projects.

Knowledge sharing

Adding to an individual’s skill set automatically means expanding the collective expertise at an organisation. Therefore, it is vital that organisations create a culture of knowledge sharing that prevents expertise from being locked with an individual or a group.

Having simple processes in place and maintaining documentation will help you make sure that the knowledge is there for everyone to utilise and apply on different projects.


Since employees’ effort to develop new skills does benefit the organisation, showing appreciation for their achievements is often enough incentive to motivate them to keep up the good work.

Just as someone’s strive for excellence gets praise and is expected, so should learning be viewed as growth and get the attention it deserves on the part of management. Such patterns easily take on and help build an environment where teammates support each other’s learning curve.

Upskilling pillars

A final word on sustainability

The pandemic has many collateral effects, which might seem positive per se but could have their implied risks too. For instance, people enjoy greater flexibility working remotely but not everyone’s living arrangements allow them to work comfortably from home. They commute less, which reduces harmful emissions but they also order more items over the Internet, resulting in more plastic packaging. Upskilling, however, does not have side effects to counteract its inherent value.

Although people are getting used to uncertainty, they should not have to choose between social and intellectual stagnation. In this context, it is organisations’ responsibility to maintain a learning culture that supports personal development and contributes to business goals.

Upskilling looks different for every single organisation but they all need to plan and forecast the effectiveness of their efforts. The single most important criterion here is the sustainability of the models they introduce and their dependency on external factors.

Sustainable development is rooted in building teams of people that are passionate for upskilling and providing a nurturing environment for them to learn. It is only through making such long-term commitments that businesses can hope to keep the expertise traction they have seen over the past 18 months.

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