‘Piling on more e-learning isn’t going to close workforce skill gaps’

Dr Parves Khan, global research and insights director at Pearson, discusses the importance of building transferable skillsets as the workplace becomes more transient

The supply of skills is not matching demand and the gap is growing. The financial imperative on employers to take action can’t be more crystal clear: a worldwide business cost of US$150 billion annually.

Training and development which focuses on upskilling the existing workforce is an obvious starting point. Pearson’s research found that globally, 44% of employers say they will be significantly investing in retraining employees on new skills required for their current role and 41% will be focusing on retraining employees for new roles over the next decade.

Taking a strategic and targeted approach

This is good news, but the problem is current approaches to workplace upskilling are not up to this challenge. Employers are investing millions in learning management systems and employees hardly use them. Courses are too hard to find, and the e-learning is boring and irrelevant. Employees instead just turn to Google whenever they need to know something. Frustrated with formal learning environments, employees are “’DIY’ing” their learning. Among those who needed to upskill for their jobs in the last two years, we found in a recent survey that 43% searched for information online and self-taught.

Too many upskilling programmes jump straight to delivery without considering how learning needs to support the wider business strategy. That’s why it is so important to take a strategic and targeted approach. Before adding more e-learning content, employers need to consider how they first close the following gaps:

Closing the diagnostic gap

Do you need a learning ecosystem that can offer every conceivable learning module known to mankind? Absolutely not! Employers need to start by asking themselves what are the business capabilities they need to thrive? They then need to perform a skills gap analysis to get an accurate diagnosis of their most pressing skills gaps.

Most often, employers are grappling with an interconnected web of skill deficiencies that need to be assessed at the industry, organisation, department and individual levels. This type of diagnosis isn’t easy but there are some innovative online platforms that can help. Platforms like SkyHive and Comaea apply a competency-based methodology to monitor and size up skills in current demand and those in surplus and where the skills of the future are going to be.

Once employers close the diagnostic gap, they can then focus on the areas of learning that will help them develop the skills their company needs to achieve business goals.

Closing the learning gap

The objective of learning is not learning but performance improvement. A recent survey found that less than a third of employees said the training they had received in the past 12 months had notable positive outcomes, such as improved performance, productivity, or wellbeing at work. An employee’s upskilling programme should be aligned with business needs as well as their own personal development and career progression plans. Put simply, the learning has to be purposeful.

To drive performance, the learning needs to be available at the point of need, not six months later. Think screen pop-ups as-you-go that support rapid, context-specific learning in the flow of work.

You might also like: Industry must get hands-on to plug the tech skills gap

Measuring the impact of the learning doesn’t need to be complicated either. It all comes down to regular feedback between the employee and their line manager: did the learning improve their skills and knowledge? Did the learning change their behaviour in the workplace? What benefits resulted from the learning? When it comes to feedback, most of us want it. According to PwC, nearly 60% of survey respondents reported that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis—a number that increased to 72% for employees under the age of 30.

Closing the engagement gap

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. In a recent survey, over half of managers said that increasing learner engagement is their top upskilling challenge.

Learning the right things, at the right time, and for the right reasons will of course help – but learning is no longer just about content and knowledge. Learning is about the experience as well. So, employers need to tap into how their workforce likes to learn. Pearson’s research on preferred learning styles reveals that for the modern day learner, learning has to be a multimedia experience – including written words, interactivity, tests, videos and audios, gamification and social elements.

The more personalised the experience and content is, the more effective it will be in driving adoption and performance. That doesn’t mean a company needs to come up with their own ‘Netflix of Learning’. Indeed, in trying to satisfy the learning preferences and demands of all learners within a workforce by increasing the number of modes methodologies of learning to drive the most personalised learning experience, employers will spread themselves too thin. Managing quality and cost becomes extremely difficult. But employers do need the ability to see which learning interventions are delivering the most impact and make investment decisions accordingly (so feedback as noted).

Closing the assessment gap

With digital transformation and new age technologies, the shelf life of many technical skills is shortening rapidly. Nearly half of the knowledge acquired during the first year of a technical degree is out of date by graduation.

In the face of such rapid change, a continuous process of on the job learning is exigent. However, employers struggle to assess and evidence mastery of skills learnt at work. This is especially true for soft skills like adaptability and cognitive flexibility which are difficult to measure and teach. Moving forward, employers, governments and educational institutions will need to work together to create new approaches to learning and accreditation for the emerging skills for the future of work. In the meantime, digital credentialing platforms like Credly, can create bespoke digital badge programs that officially recognise individuals for mastery of specific skills.

Demonstrating this mastery will become even more important as careers take a different shape. With the rise of the gig economy, the workforce environment is shifting to more short-term engagements, temporary contracts and independent contracting. The new normal for Millennials is to change jobs 4x in their first decade out of university.

As the workforce becomes more transient, employees need to be able to build transferable skillsets that can be taken with them along their career journey. Ensuring that skills come with credentials will build their transferability and enable people to catalogue and prove their skills they have developed.

The stakes are high

Employers that get it right and close their diagnostic, learning, engagement and assessment gaps – will in turn close their skills gaps. For these employers, the potential is huge. Not only will they develop the cutting-edge skills they need to compete and win in the future, but they will also create a highly engaged, motivated and productive workforce, ready and eager to meet the challenges to come.

Leave a Reply

Free live webinar & QA

Blended learning – Did we forget about the students?

Free Education Webinar with Class

Wednesday, June 15, 11AM London BST

Join our expert panel as we look at what blended learning means in 2022 and how universities can meet the needs of ever more diverse student expectations.