Focus on role-based skills & power skills to lead the new skilling revolution: Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek
Learning has become an everyday activity. There is also an increased focus on building resilience and growth mindset. The sudden shift to remote work called for the immediate upskilling and reskilling for all employees, mostly disparately located and speaking multiple languages. The digitisation and personalisation of learning and development has gone into overdrive. How do talent leaders respond to these shifting trends in L&D.
In a recent interview with us, Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek, CMO, Skillsoft discusses the latest trend in learning and development shaping the companies’ talent strategies and talks about top skills in focus. She also shares how leaders can rethink their capability-building approach and how learning technologies can support skilling at scale.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
The way we work has also impacted the way we learn. As the world of work undergoes tremendous transformation, what L&D trends do you see emerging?
The nature of work — and consequently, the nature of the workforce — was already evolving at a rapid pace prior to 2020. Then, organisations were hit with a perfect storm of disruption.
Around the world, access to and encouragement of learning played a central role as employees and employers alike reacted to the pandemic, an uncertain economy, and worldwide social reform in real-time. Consumption of learning increased exponentially, and new topics emerged as not just popular, but mission critical.
The good news for learners, learning professionals, and the learning industry is that regardless of when and how we emerge from our current situation, work has changed irrevocably — and that means there is a very real need for learning.
Personal flexibility and autonomy won’t go away. Skills will remain more important than traditional roles. In fact, it’s becoming more and more challenging to hire for the skills needed today — and virtually impossible to predict and thus hire for the skills needed tomorrow. And traditional recruitment methods aren’t sustainable. And, finally, digital transformation isn’t some far-off goal; it’s here and it’s now, accelerated in large part by the pandemic.
Learning will continue to play a pivotal role in building a future-fit workforce ready to respond to what’s next — whatever “next” looks like.
How can L&D leaders help the workforce cope from the rapid disruption and ongoing uncertainty?
Learning and Development is evolving:
• From managing required compliance training programs to igniting a culture of continual learning.
• From a process focus to a people focus.
• From managing performance to enabling individual and organizational growth.
• From an adjunct of HR to a singular, strategic partner at the heart of the business.
Today’s L&D leaders are becoming the voice of the workforce and the architects of company cultures that value, reward, and benefit from ongoing learning and development. They champion the democratisation of learning, making reskilling and upskilling a priority for their organisations.
Charged with helping learners, employees, managers, and organisations reach their full potential, L&D professionals are redefining how to fill the skills gaps. In fact, they’re leading a skilling revolution. And, they’re discovering new ways to motivate, inspire, recognize, and reward achievement and excellence.
What skills do the organisations need to focus on?
There are really two sets of skills that organisations need to focus on today.
The first are role-based skills, specifically those that can address the growing skills gap. According to Burning Glass Technologies’ report “After the Storm,” the post-pandemic economy labor market will result in between 15 to 18 million of new jobs created over the next five years. These are roles that currently make up 13% of demand and only 10% of employment (so there’s already a shortage). A growing shortage of talent in these fields could set back broader recovery if organisations can’t cope with these demands. Consequently, reskilling and upskilling for these specific roles will remain a mission-critical countermeasure.
The second set are power skills. Because there is also a gap in what the industry used to call “soft skills,” competencies like communication, empathy, resilience, change management, agility, and emotional intelligence. Companies like our customer Delta Dental, the U.S.’s leading provider of dental insurance, recognize these “power skills” as essential to their business.
As you might expect, customer service is an important focus for Delta Dental. In the past, call center performance was judged based on first-call resolution success. Customer service representatives were trained for a lean and efficient business process. But providing as quick an answer as possible didn’t satisfy all customer needs.
According to Ben Sieke, Director of Talent Development and Learning for Delta Dental of California and affiliates, Delta’s in-house learning and development team worked to add power skills training to the roles-based training that was already in use. Representatives learned how to build stronger, more supportive relationships with callers. By introducing, building, and nurturing power skills, Delta Dental was able to change company culture.
The most fruitful learning encompasses the whole person, not just the job description. In order to be fully present, mind, body, and spirit can be nurtured through learning. And that often means a customized blend of role-based skills and power skills. The two complement each other.
Role-based skills help you do things right, while power skills help you do the right thing.
Learners — and leaders — must continually find motivation and inspiration to nurture both types of skills.
How are leaders rethinking their capability-building approach?
Hiring to fill vacant positions and new skills needs is not sustainable anymore. Business — and especially technology — is simply moving too fast.
Our customer Comscore is addressing this through a hybrid prescribed/self-directed model. As Beth Teixeira, Comscore’s Director of Learning explains, the organization’s leaders know what capabilities are needed, so they select specific tracks in the company’s Gold Star Learning Program. “Learners then choose which of those tracks they wish to complete. This increases overall workforce capabilities. Since it’s not prescribed at the individual level, the workforce is more flexible, and individuals are used where they are needed — applying the skills they chose to develop.” Comscore’s approach makes sense and is well-suited to human nature.
When it comes to skills-building, people learn when they find something interesting. So let them decide what interests them based on a curated selection of topics. This keeps development flowing in the desired direction while still allowing for autonomy.
How can the use of data enable leaders to make more impactful L&D strategies?
The skills gap is pervasive. In a recent study, conducted by Global Knowledge, a Skillsoft company, IT Decision Makers confirmed the challenges that the current skills gap presents:
- 56% say hiring is somewhat difficult or extremely difficult
- 57% report not being able to fill 2-4 positions in the past 12 months
- 35% had one position they were unable to fill in the past 12 months
The same study identifies the top-paying IT functional areas as: Risk Management; Cloud Computing; Cybersecurity / IT Security; and IT Architecture and Design. Some of these are functions that didn’t even exist ten years ago and hiring for them can be difficult if not impossible.
The answer is committing to a learning strategy (and company culture) that embraces reskilling and upskilling. Learning is extremely important as more functions evolve in the future. It’s a win-win: the workforce has the opportunity to stay relevant, in-demand, and gainfully employed. The organization improves employee satisfaction and retention, turning its workforce into a competitive advantage.
Comscore is also committed to acquiring and using learning data, as Beth explains it, “looking back and looking forward.” They measure business impact so that leaders can gauge the effectiveness of past learning decisions. And they measure the effectiveness of the learning itself to determine where to modify learning methodologies to achieve greater impact going forward. By accurately measuring the need for specific skills, leaders can better plan their learning strategy. They can proactively reskill and upskill, and stay ahead of their evolving needs.
How can organisations leverage learning technologies to support skilling at scale? What should be the three key focus areas for all L&D leaders for the next one year?
One positive thing that came out of the eighteen-plus months of disruption we’ve lived through is that more organisations now recognize that the workforce can perform and produce with more autonomy, less supervision, and in non-traditional workspaces. This ties in perfectly with the way learning technology has developed and evolved. organisations can feel confident providing guidance, content, and a digital platform that enables learners to drive their own learning experiences, on any device, at any time, from anywhere.
The three key focuses should be:
The events of 2020 and 2021 forced most organisations to accelerate digital transformation. But our research with Brandon Hall Group demonstrates that most organisations were not prepared for it. In a study of more than 160 organisations, 75% of respondents were either “not at all” prepared for remote work or did not have a plan for remote work at this scale. And 45% realized that they would have to increase their investment in technology to handle change in the future.
Reskilling to fill the skills gap
The skills gap was predicted before COVID, but the pandemic has widened it. In a study three years ago (and two years before we started wearing masks and social distancing), Deloitte predicted staggering numbers over the next ten years: nearly two and half million unfilled positions, representing $2.5 trillion in economic impact. The sheer volume, not to mention the number of new roles and skills emerging every year, argue for programs that fill these needs with re- or upskilled existing workers.
Power skills like agility, resilience, innovation, communication, and adaptability became more important than ever during the pandemic, as did each contributor’s ability and willingness to manage his or her own time, work, and learning. This is not a trend that will disappear. Whatever the future holds, organisations with a workforce that has acquired finely-tuned power skill competencies will be in a better position to survive and thrive in the “next normal.”