27 September 2023

Lessons to learn in the global skills shortage

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Dan Schawbel* says employees are reacting to the ever-changing work environment by demanding their bosses provide opportunities to learn new skills.

Chief Executive of Accenture, Julie Sweet recently shared that one of the most important skills job seekers need today is the ability to learn.

“We know that while we may hire you for a certain set of skills, the rate of change and the need for new skills is quite rapid,” Ms Sweet said.

She’s right: Data reveals that 33 per cent of the skills needed three years ago are no longer relevant.

While it’s critical that companies hire people who are quick and eager learners, an organisation’s work isn’t done once a new employee walks through the door.

The onus is on employers to ensure that workers have everything they need to continue to develop their skillset.

Forward-thinking organisations know this isn’t just about offering the right learning content.

It’s also about creating an environment where skill-building is embedded into the workplace culture.

Despite the clear benefits of helping workers realise their potential at work, new research finds that just 55 per cent of employees are confident that their organisation prioritises developing new skilling opportunities.

That number is down from 60 per cent in 2020, an indication that things aren’t moving in a good direction.

So what should businesses do to boost workers’ confidence and reverse this worrying trend? Here are some suggestions.

Build a learning culture

Elizabeth Young McNally, at McKinsey, says what’s missing at most companies is a long-term growth orientation that favours learning.

“Are [leaders] investing in the types of learning programs, reskilling programs, even being explicit in expectations of time spent on learning?” McNally asks.

“How are they, in what we often call moments that matter — the beginning of a meeting or the end of a meeting — driving a culture and language of learning?”

Her point is well taken, as multiple studies have confirmed that investing in skills development is a key driver of overall company performance.

Her other points around culture are equally important.

Senior leaders and managers need to role model the desired learning behaviour and regularly communicate about the importance of skill-building.

They also have to ensure that adequate time for learning is built into workers’ schedules.

Offer a wide variety of solutions

In a time when people can learn almost anything from the internet, business leaders may hesitate to invest in internal development resources.

However, research indicates that organisations need to offer a wide range of solutions, including in-house tools.

That’s partly because today’s employees expect to have an abundance of options when it comes to their learning experience at work.

While 39 per cent of workers said they relied on internet research to learn new skills, nearly the same percentage (36 per cent) turned to their company’s skills and development platform.

The most important area businesses should invest in is skills development content, which nearly 80 per cent of employees said they want more of from their employer.

However, leaders can’t afford to ignore other forms of support, for example better career guidance and more coaching, mentoring, and career-shadowing opportunities.

Focus on self-directed learning

One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that during quarantine periods, many people found themselves with extra time on their hands.

Research from my company and Oracle found that 93 per cent of people used this time to reflect on their personal and professional lives.

Others elected to pursue new hobbies or learn new skills — including skills that could help them advance their careers.

This thirst for knowledge and growth has carried over well into 2022. In fact, we discovered that workers’ top career priority this year is to gain new skills and advance their education.

With employees so eager to learn, it’s up to employers to equip them with the right tools to take charge of their own development and growth.

Align skills development with career progression

Smart organisations know that skills development should support and enable employees’ career advancement.

It’s critical that organisations clearly communicate about what competencies workers should focus on in order to progress.

This is whether they’re looking for a raise or promotion, to move into a different part of the business, or even to pursue a career in a different field.

​Amazon, for example, now funds full university tuition for its front-line employees — including those who have been at the company for as little as three months.

Take a holistic approach to learning

Employees need ‘hard skills’ to advance their careers, but they’re also seeking out guidance on how to boost their wellbeing, avoid burnout and stress.

There’s also a pressing need for workers to learn other ‘soft skills’, like how to collaborate with dispersed team members or enhance their emotional intelligence.

These are all competencies that can help employees succeed not only in the workplace, but in their personal lives as well.

One study reported a nearly 28 per cent increase in performance as a result of employees’ acquisition of soft skills.

With the Great Resignation showing no signs of slowing, employers can’t afford to ignore these critical competencies when they bring on new team members.

There’s no question that skills development is critical for the future success of organisations.

However, the pandemic uncovered a need for change when it comes to how employees grow and develop at work.

Forward-thinking companies recognise that the path forward will require not only more learning solutions, but also a re-evaluation of their workplace culture.

They also know that today’s workers expect their efforts to translate into greater career mobility.

*Dan Schawbel is a bestselling author and Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence, a research and advisory firm helping HR adapt to trends, drive performance and prepare for the future.

This article is part of his Workplace Intelligence Weekly series.

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