27 September 2023

Never a better time to emphasise training

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Dan Schawbel* says there is an increasing call for employers to provide upskilling and training that recognises employees’ concerns in the rapidly changing world of work

As job openings continue to be high, it might appear that employees have every opportunity to advance their careers right now.

Hiring is predicted to level off in 2023, but there’s a lot of uncertainty around this.

Against this volatile backdrop, many workers are looking for ways to boost their competitiveness in what could become an employer-driven job market.

LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends finds that opportunities for upskilling and career advancement are two of people’s top priorities right now.

According to new research from my company, Workplace Intelligence, and Amazon, 89 per cent of employees were motivated to improve their skills this year.

An impressive 88 per cent of workers are already putting a significant amount of time and effort towards skills-building.

Part of the reason for the renewed focus on skills-building is because people feel wholly unprepared for what lies ahead in the world of work.

We found that 78 per cent of employees are concerned they lack the skills required to advance their career, and the pandemic is at least partly to blame.

In fact, 58 per cent of employees are afraid their skills have gone stale since the onset of the pandemic, and 70 per cent feel unprepared for the future of work.

As a result, well over half of employees feel it will be difficult to advance their career or transition into another type of job or a different industry.

A lack of employer support is partly to blame for these widespread feelings of unpreparedness.

With workers holding the power over their employers (at least for now), this could be bad news for some businesses.

Research from McKinsey shows that “a primary driver of quitting is that employees do not have opportunities to learn new things or find their work interesting or challenging”.

My company’s study with Amazon corroborates these findings.

Two out of three employees we surveyed say it’s likely they’ll quit within the next year because there aren’t enough opportunities for skills development or career advancement

Notably, Gen Z and Millennial employees were more likely to say they’ll jump ship, with 74 per cent saying they’re likely to move on due to sub-par support.

This presents a compelling opportunity for businesses to retain their current workforce and attract new talent by offering better learning and development programs.

Here is some advice to help prioritise upskilling and ensure that employees are on board.

Expand your benefits to workers who need them the most.

Many people don’t have access to the programs they want the most.

For example, just over half of employees surveyed say their employer offers free or partially-covered university tuition or training programs in other areas of the business.

However, more than eight out of 10 employees say these benefits are important.

Other research from Gallup and Amazon reveals that upskilling opportunities are disproportionately offered to already highly-skilled workers.

Build time for learning into people’s schedules.

While most workers are eager to grow their skillsets, it can be immensely difficult to prioritise learning over more critical job tasks.

One study found that the main reason employees say they’ve stopped learning is because they don’t have the time.

In fact, on average people are spending only one per cent of their work time on professional development.

This is a far cry from what experts recommend, which is for employees to spend around 20 per cent of their work-week on learning and experimentation.

While this percentage is perhaps geared more toward knowledge workers, I think the one per cent average is low no matter what type of role an employee is in.

Align skills development with career progression.

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

That’s why it’s critical they clearly communicate about what competencies workers should focus on in order to progress.

This is whether they’re looking for a raise or promotion, or to move into a different part of the organisation.

Employees who see how their learning efforts translate into better opportunities will be more likely to stick around.

Help your workers see the bigger picture.

For employees, developing their skills can result in much more than just a promotion or a salary increase.

Upskilling is one of the most effective ways to boost employees’ confidence at work, it can unlock greater purpose in people’s lives, and it can result in a better quality of life.

In the wake of the pandemic — when many people took the time to reflect on what’s really meaningful to them — focusing on these other outcomes is crucially important.

For example, Amazon’s study found that people hope that advancing their career will lead to better work-life balance (48 per cent) and a sense of purpose (41 per cent), as well as more interesting work.

In today’s employee-driven job market, employees feel empowered to seek out an employer that truly supports their long-term career goals and ambitions.

Organisations who recognise this and provide a high level of support — from more time for skills development during the work-day, to better learning benefits and programs — will stay one step ahead in the continuing war for talent.

Invest in your people and give them the ability to realise their potential, and they’ll invest in you.

*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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