SUMMED UP WITH THE CLICHÉD “PERFECT STORM” SCENARIO, THE SKILLS CRISIS IS ARGUABLY THE MOST PROLIFIC PROGNOSTICATION OF RECENT TIMES AND TYPICALLY. THE CONTRIBUTING FACTORS INCLUDE; ACCELERATING TECHNOLOGY CAUSING UNPRECEDENTED SPEED OF CHANGE AND ROBOTS, MACHINE LEARNING AND AI – IF NOT SUPERSEDING – THEN CERTAINLY CHANGING THE WAY PEOPLE WORK. THERE IS A PENETRATING SPOTLIGHT ON THE WAY EMPLOYEES LEARN AND DEVELOP AND THE TRADITIONAL IAMBIC AND MODULAR FORMAT OF L&D IS JUST TOO PEDESTRIAN AND FOCUSED ON THE IMMEDIATE JOB ROLE.
With companies struggling to fill tech-based roles in particular – set against the huge potential for economic growth – business leaders must look to other sources to plug these skills gaps and a great place to start is within the existing workforce, up- or reskilling existing employees. This first requires investing in a solid learning & development plan, supported by six pillars that organisations can focus on to solve this challenge, all the while empowering people to take control of their learning
Here are six steps that will help organisations differentiate and increase competitive advantage. Understand why the skills gap has continued to widen: The first step to solving any problem is to understand why it exists in the first place. The traditional format of career L&D can often be overly-focused on the immediate job role, which is modular and not engaging for employees. The result is an educational model that causes career inertia and pigeonholing, with employees learning skills on a “need-to-know” basis – rather than developing broader skills which help them grow in their careers with agility. Consequently, when businesses look for the skills and talent needed to maintain market competitiveness, they find that they don’t exist within their current ranks. In parallel, employees have new expectations from their employer and workplace, demanding more control over their lives and careers. Gone are the traditional, rigid structures of career rungs and stages of development which are no longer relevant to today’s workforce. Employees are increasingly looking for companies that have moved with the times and equally leaving those who haven’t. So, retaining staff and attracting new talent clearly requires a rethink of L&D plans.
Attitude over aptitude: Companies trying to fill a position often have very specific requirements, which ties into the focus on the immediate role. For those organisations concentrated on recruiting early careers roles, there has historically been a demand for applicants with particular degrees, experience levels or even specific job titles. It was only last year that we saw PwC remove its criteria for graduates to have a minimum of a 2:1 degree to join its ranks. By its very nature, this has been an incredibly limiting way to recruit. It significantly reduces an organisation’s access to brilliant talent – closing the door on those that might have no degree, but relevant life experience – people who are switching careers or even those people who are re-entering the workforce after a break. Companies must become more flexible and be mindful of both the skills people have and their ability to learn new ones. Hiring managers also need to consider the existing company culture and see how new hires can fit in. Remember that people can always learn new skills – if you’re willing to invest in them – but they can’t necessarily change who they are to fit into the workforce. Instead, we must look to their potential by focusing on their interest in personal development, over their CV experience. The result is attraction to a far more diverse set of people and a workforce keen to grow their skills alongside the company’s needs. In short, prioritise prospective employee attitudes over their aptitude and look beyond the “skills shopping list” that so many organisations often fall into the trap of following.
Think outside the box: A company’s L&D strategy doesn’t need to follow the staid, traditional model, just because “that’s the way it’s always been.” From a tech perspective, personal development opportunities are thriving despite the tech skills shortages the wider industry is facing. There are many programmes to support reskilling or upskilling through fast-track boot camps and “0-Hero” developer courses that take people with very basic knowledge but the drive to learn more and turn them into skilled workers in a short period. I have seen some exciting programmes that have also created cloud developers in just 12 weeks. Intern programmes can also tie into L&D, giving people opportunities to put their skills into practice. For organisations that don’t have such programmes in place, partnerships can be a strong route to market. Additionally, rotating young people through various positions in finance, marketing and project management at different companies, breaks down barriers for people who may not have undertaken a degree. Likewise, internal secondments to other departments could encourage staff to pick up new skills, which they could then choose to build on. Additionally, creating conditions internally where new team members can use their newly-acquired skills in a risk-free environment, gives them the platform to continue their development. As a bonus to the wider business, this brings new perspectives to teams and leads to more brainstorming.
Consider what staff truly want: As the world has evolved, so too have employee expectations from their employer. Work/ life balance has become as important as receiving a salary and so if we are to avoid making the skills gap worse, leaders must pay attention to this. Equally, research shows that L&D is more important than previously thought. According to Gallup, nearly nine-in-ten (87 percent) Millennials say the availability of L&D opportunities within a company influences whether or not they accept a role. Separately, data from TalentLMS found that when Gen Z doesn’t receive workplace-based training, they are more likely to quit. The same research also found that 76 percent of those who fall into the Gen Z group prioritise opportunities to learn new skills when job hunting. As Millennials and Gen Z will make up most of the workforce in the coming years, companies must put L&D opportunities at the heart of their culture. This will not only improve employee retention rates but also reap rewards by making the company more attractive to prospective hires.
Prioritise development, led by employees: Another route to tackling the skills shortage is to prioritise L&D throughout the organisation and have a dedicated team responsible for it, with a separate team focused to onboarding. Within our business, new hires are immediately brought into the development framework and allowed to participate throughout their time with us. We have an evergrowing pool of employees who deliver peer-to-peer sessions. When building an employee-led L&D model, it is important to have a “can do” attitude. Structure and frameworks are needed to ensure people gain the most out of it, but business leaders should consider the “why” of learning requests rather than turn it down if the reason for it is not immediately clear. This also ties back to the attitude vs aptitude hiring model – appointing employees who are driven to learn – will build a community that is eager to upskill. As a result, you may find employees are naturally closing any skills gaps on their own.
Continually review: As already mentioned, employee expectations relating to L&D and working practices are evolving. This is likely to continue over the coming years as companies grow and diversify. Changing expectations within the workforce will also have an impact and a part of that must include refreshing L&D strategies to fit into this new environment. Committing time and budget for employees to progress and explore their skills, rather than have their training programme dictated to them is a must. After all, development teams need to focus on how to use training to add value to the business – without alienating what their existing workforce wants. It’s easier than ever for people to move between companies, so staff retention and satisfaction will be closely related. Training doesn’t have to be overcomplicated either. Despite the ongoing skills and talent gap, there is a wealth of untapped resources within most organisations. Taking a step away from traditional methods and encouraging people to upskill in areas they have an interest or passion in, will go a long way towards closing that gap, while also benefitting company recruitment and retention.
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