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Upskilling your staff refers to the practice where an employer would provide opportunities for the current employees to gain additional skills, thus improving the staff’s particular skill set and generally improving the prospects of the existing staff in any sector. This is usually done on an individual basis or by group training to upskill a larger cohort.  

Upskilling essentially makes an employee more productive and efficient in their job and gives them more confidence in their own ability thus leading to increased retention rates.  

For entrepreneurs, upskilling also gives them the opportunity to look at their own competences and improve their own skillset and knowledge in their particular field. Is that you? Well, Blue-C is a great starting point then! 

The main aims of this Bite Size are: 

  • Benefits of upskilling your staff. 
  • Learn the methods of Upskilling. 
  • How to structure an upskilling plan 
  • Identify the challenges of upskilling. 


Upskilling has always been a key tool for employers to help both motivate their staff while simultaneously improving the quality of the staff they have. 

Since the pandemic, the challenge of upskilling has been highlighted due to the movement of staff, particularly those in the hospitality sector/blue economy. Low staff retention rates have a negative impact on the Upskilling opportunities within a company. There is no need to remember that the issue with under-skilled workers in the tourism and hospitality sectors across Europe has been a key area of concern for many tourism providers in recent years. 

Much of coastal Europe is undoubtedly dependent on the tourism sector and the Blue Economy. Hospitality is obviously very closely linked to both these areas, however, there have been many concerns raised about the level of skills within the current workforce in these sectors.  

The pandemic has had a profound impact on the industry’s skill base, with a mass exodus of workers into other industries. HR skills within tourism businesses have also been tested and highlighted a skills gap in areas of: 

  • Recruiting in a competitive market 
  • Onboarding and developing staff 
  • Retention strategies (development, career progression, motivation etc) 

On that note, upskilling is seen as a tool to keep and motivate the staff that you already have to ensure longevity of your workforce. 


As outlined, there are many benefits to upskilling – investing in the staff that you have is a great way to boost their confidence and boost the overall morale and productivity of your employees.  

Since the pandemic staff shortages have become a major issue across all Blue Economy’s sectors. Experienced mature staff members are becoming a thing of the past, with many having changed careers during this time. However, upskilling your less experienced workforce is a clear way of investing in your staff, making them more skilled and minimising skills gaps.  

Benefits to Employers 

  • Increased Staff retention – providing training opportunities and pathways to new skills and career growth within your company can boost employee engagement and retention.  
  • Cost savings – upskilling can mean significant cost savings for a company to retain staff instead of recruiting new staff.  
  • Makes your business more adaptable and agile. 
  • Identify and fill skill gaps within your business. 
  • Helps attract new talent as you are seen as a progressive company.  
  • Improve your employees’ productivity and efficiency can lead to a competitive advantage. 
  • Enhance business innovation. 

Benefits for Employees 

  • Greater job satisfaction leads to a happy workforce and increased productivity.   
  • Increased confidence in their abilities and their ability to take on new challenges. 
  • Career Opportunities – increased skills and knowledge can lead to new opportunities within the organisation. 
  • Increased morale and teambuilding. 

Read more on this here:  The Benefits of Upskilling Your Staff with our Workplace Health Champion Training  

Source: Business Health Matters 

Methods of Upskilling 

There are obviously plenty of methods to deliver upskilling, but here you may find some ideas: 

  • Face to Face learning [F2F] – many training centres prefer the face to face method of teaching with many finding the traditional approach of working together in the same space as the most successful. 
  • Online/Distance Learning – This enables people to receive education without having to be physically in the same space. The rise in digitalisation and online learning platforms through platforms such as Zoom and Teams makes online learning a popular choice as it allows for greater flexibility and access. 
  • Blended learning – A blended approach allows employees the ability to study at a place and time that suited their individual circumstances, couple with some F2F session or activities for all. This blended model is emerging as a preferred choice for many. 
  • Coaching/Mentoring – Allows for on the job training/upskilling and promotes sharing the knowledge skills and experience to help another employee develop in their workplace. This can be related to peer-learning among colleagues. Also, when thinking about your own upskilling path, reaching out for coaching/mentoring could be great. 
  • Conferences and Seminars – Attending industry conferences and seminars provides opportunities to learn from experts, engage in discussions, and stay updated with the latest trends and advancements in your field. This is also a perfect opportunity for networking. 
  • Industry Networking – Building a strong professional network in your industry can provide access to learning opportunities. Networking events, industry associations, and online communities can connect you with experts, mentors, and peers who can share knowledge and insights. Learn more on how to network in our “Your Ecosystem” area of knowledge. 
  • Webinars and Virtual Workshops – Webinars and virtual workshops are live online events where industry experts or professionals share their knowledge and insights on specific topics. These sessions often include presentations, Q&A sessions, and networking opportunities. 
  • Professional Certifications – Professional certifications provide a recognized credential that demonstrates your expertise in a particular field or skill. Many industries have certifications that validate your knowledge and can boost your career prospects. 

It’s important to choose the method – or combination of methods – that align with your and your staff learning style, goals, and available resources.  

Types of upskilling courses available 

A good example of upskilling courses comes from Erasmus+ – as they offer people the chance to take part in free online courses. 

These opportunities are available to people working across the Blue Economy. For more information: Opportunities for individuals | Erasmus+  

Source: EU Commission  

Besides, for the tourism/hospitality sector, there are several upskilling courses available that can help you enhance your skills and knowledge in this industry with regards to specific areas of knowledge or upcoming trends. 

Here are some examples: 

  • Sustainable Tourism: focuses on sustainable practices in the tourism industry, including environmental conservation, community engagement, and responsible tourism management. 
  • Destination Management: provides insights into effectively managing and promoting tourist destinations, covering topics such as destination marketing, tourism planning, and development strategies. 
  • Hospitality Management: Courses in hospitality management can equip you and your staff with skills in hotel and restaurant operations, customer service, revenue management, and event planning. 
  • Travel and Tourism Marketing: These courses delve into marketing strategies specific to the travel and tourism industry, including digital marketing, branding, customer segmentation, and destination promotion. 
  • Tour Guiding and Interpretation: If you’re interested in becoming a tour guide (or in diversifying your offer!), there are courses available that focus on developing your guiding skills, storytelling techniques, historical knowledge, and cultural interpretation abilities. 
  • Tourism Analytics: With the increasing importance of data analysis in the industry, courses in tourism analytics provide insights into analysing tourism data, forecasting trends, and making data-driven decisions. 
  • Event Management: Event management courses can be beneficial for those interested in organising and coordinating events in the tourism sector, such as conferences, exhibitions, and festivals. 
  • Digital savvy: gain insight by watching the following video:  Digital SkillUp promotional video II  

When exploring these courses, consider reputable online learning platforms such as: 

They often offer a wide variety of courses in the tourism sector. Additionally, check for industry-specific associations or organisations that may provide specialised training programs and certifications. More on it below. 

Free online upskilling courses 

There are many free upskilling courses available online that you can take advantage of. Here are some examples of platforms that offer free courses: 

  • Coursera ( Coursera offers a wide range of free online courses from top universities and institutions worldwide. You can access course materials, quizzes, and assignments for free, although you may need to pay if you want to receive a certificate or get additional support. 
  • OpenLearn ( OpenLearn is an initiative by The Open University, offering free courses in various disciplines, including business, technology, languages, science, and more. 
  • European Commission’s Digital Skills and Jobs Platform (  The European Commission’s platform provides access to a range of free online courses focused on digital skills, such as coding, cybersecurity, data analysis, digital marketing, and more. 
  • Alison ( ): Alison provides free online courses related to hospitality management, hotel operations, food and beverage service, front desk operations, and customer service in the hospitality industry. 
  • edX ( edX is another popular platform that offers free online courses from top universities and institutions worldwide. You can access course materials, discussion forums, and quizzes for free, although you may need to pay if you want to receive a certificate or get additional support. 
  • Google Digital Garage ( Google Digital Garage offers free online courses and certifications in digital marketing, web development, data analytics, and more. 
  • FutureLearn ( FutureLearn offers a range of free online courses from top universities and institutions worldwide, covering various subjects, such as business, healthcare, technology, and more. 

JA Europe offers people a free online course introducing you to the Blue Economy, exploring opportunities and learning more about being an entrepreneur in this industry.  Learn more about this here:  

Personal Upskilling Journey 

For many people upskilling can be imposed/strongly suggested by employers, however for others upskilling can be a personal journey for individuals/SMEs to improve their overall performance. 

SMEs and micro-entrepreneurs should often carry out skills gap analysis to assess the gap between the current skills possessed by their workforce/themselves and the skills required to achieve their short-term goals. A skills gap analysis allows employers to determine what skill sets they have and prioritise training/development classes to try and bridge the gap.  

Also, you can use the methodology below to assess your own professional skill gap whether your current role is. 

Here are the key steps involved in conducting a skills gap analysis: 

  1. Identify your goals 
  1. Define desired skills needed for you professional performance 
  1. Assess current skills that already exist within your business 
  1. Identify skill gaps 
  1. Prioritise skill gaps 
  1. Develop a training plan (See Example below, first couple of rows completed as example) 
  1. Implement new training initiatives  
  1. Adjust and update depending on the need. Remember that a skills gap analysis is an ongoing process that should be regularly revisited to ensure that the organisation’s workforce remains equipped with the skills needed to succeed.  
Course Title  Accredited/ Non-Accredited  Start Date  End Date  Frequency  Delivery Mode  Output 
Events Management  Accredited  Sep 2023  June 2024  PT – 1 evening per week  Classroom Delivery  QQI Level 6 
Local Tour Guiding  Non-Accredited  June 2023  June 2023  4-week course – 3 hours a week  Blended Learning  Participants of Attendance 



Some of the main challenges you might face when upskilling your staff, as well as when design your own learning path, are: 

  • Lack of Time: The main challenge of upskilling the lack of time for a busy employee to new training opportunities. A solution to this could be the evolving online training that afforded greater opportunity for employees to upskill, whilst also managing their work/life balance. 

Personally, as an entrepreneur or professional in the industry, you might want to opt for “bite size” sort of contents, and more flexible approaches, to accommodate your needs and busy schedule. 

  • Budget/Investment: The rising business costs for SMEs, including energy costs and VAT rises, have made it difficult for SMEs to invest in their staff. Employers see the need to train and upskill staff however other factors are outweighing the priority to properly train and upskill employees. 

However, a potential solution could be sourcing funding opportunities available through state agencies.  

  • Staff retention – Due to the shortage of staff and competitiveness within the Blue Economy it has been difficult for employers to release staff for additional training and invest in staff if there is uncertainty around their commitment/retention. 

A solution is a clear progression action plan within the organisation which benefits all parties.  

  • Staff Shortage: The issues around staff shortages in many Blue Economy/hospitality businesses since the pandemic has been widely documented across Europe. This has also created issues around upskilling. Many employers are reluctant to invest in upskilling as they don’t have staff to take part in training courses. 

A solution to this could be out of hours of training or online training. 

Mentoring/on the job coaching could also present opportunities to upskill staff without the need to release them from their duties.  


    Tourism & Hospitality

      There is a continuous and great need for more upskilling within this sector to adapt to the changing needs of the consumer. Also the loss of experienced staff during the pandemic has hit the sector hard.  

      Usually, state agencies are providing support to SMEs operating in this sector and training courses are being offered to help upskill staff where possible.  

      While there is a wide range of online content available the nature of the industry needs staff to be confident as well as competent in delivering services to customers. Shared peer learning in person is vital to confidence building.

      Leisure & Sport 

      Regional Training Centres provide opportunities for people to upskill and train within key areas in the Leisure and Sport sector. One key example of this is the  

      Surf Instruction, Beach Lifeguarding and Aquatic First Aid courses are an example of some upskilling courses that will train instructors to deliver Surfing and Adventure Activities so that they are employable and competent in this area to enable them to obtain or retain employment in the outdoor activities area. 

      The adventure sport sector is an important employer within the Blue Economy and the aim is to support people in these industries by providing them with the targeted skills they need to bring the industry to the next level.  

      Meanwhile there are also options for upskilling across Europe. ESSA Sport is the first EU wide Employment and Skills map of the sport and physical activity sector across the 28 Member States 

      More on it:


      Regional and State agencies across the EU offer those in the fishing industry to avail of different schemes and incentives to train/develop your business or staff working in this sector.  

      The European Commission, through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, helps people in the fishing industry to adopt sustainable fishing practices and coastal communities to diversify their economies, improving quality of life along European coasts.  

      See more on this: European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)

      Support Services

      Skillnet Ireland is the provider with the widest spread of sectoral provision in professional and support services, key to their success as facilitator of national training across these sectors is their ability to deliver flexible delivery utilising the best industry respected training providers available not only in Ireland and the UK but also across Europe.  

      Skillnet Ireland has proven during the pandemic that their Networks can be agile and deliver in a timebound mode that suits employers. They also have sub-programmes such as Mentors in Work for business owner support and training and SkillsConnect to upskill/cross skill unemployed personnel to gain access to jobs in core sectors.