86 percent of the respondents in the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report say that the need to improve learning and development is important or very important. It is a widely accepted fact in the academic and business world that “learning agility” is needed to thrive in the future – which includes the ability to learn new skills and update our knowledge continually.
However, despite the recognized urgency, there exists a significant gap between learning and work. HR and L&D practitioners must devise relevant strategies to bridge the gap. Companies are also realizing that just generic learning programs are not going to do the trick. Learning programs need to be aligned to the business needs and well as the needs of the employee.
The evolution of L&D strategies
The L&D function today is empowered with a number of tools to tackle learning – from classroom-based training programs to mobile-based gamified learning tools, there are a number of tools that learning strategists needs to accommodate. Here are some of the things that L&D professionals need to pay attention to while bridging the skills gap:
• Alignment with business: L&D leaders and practitioners realize that the changes in technology, workplaces, and business models have necessitated a culture of lifelong learning. The L&D function has become intricately tied in with the business function – which means thinking about the business relevance of the learning program.
• Shared responsibility: The “opportunity to learn” is one of the biggest reasons why employees are looking for new jobs means that learning is a top priority for both the employee and the employer. Today, employees are more inclined to look for relevant and effective learning programs, both within and outside their organization. In other words, HR is no longer solely responsible for learning and development, and employees are actively participating in the process as well.
• Seamless integration: Traditionally, L&D programs have existed outside the ambit of regular roles and responsibilities of an employee. Today, on the other hand, most organizations are designing learning and skilling programs that are intimately integrated with the typical workflow of their employees. Thus, the advent of personalized learning, which fuses learning with usual work processes seamlessly and allows the learner to take control of their learning journey.
Strategic roles of L&D
In order to design effective L&D programs and intervention, HR leaders and professionals must attempt to understand the critical strategic roles of L&D in today’s business paradigm. According to McKinsey, there are five essentials objectives of the L&D function today:
• Attract and retain talent: Employees are increasingly looking for new jobs due to a lack of learning and growth opportunities within their organization. Consequently, the learning opportunities offered by an organization have become an integral component of the employee value proposition today and are used to attract and retain quality talent.
• Develop present and future capabilities: A sustained investment in updating the skills and knowledge in the next generation workforce and leaders is vital to achieving success and sustainability. Studies suggest that organizations focusing on skill and leadership development outperform their competitors and are more likely to hit their targets.
• Create a values-based culture: L&D programs can foster a shared values-based culture and inculcate a sense of community by reiterating the values and vision of the organization.
• Build an employer brand: L&D programs can boost the company’s reputation by displaying the commitment exhibited towards employees. Most industry leaders have well-recognized and innovative L&D strategies in place that have helped them enhance their employer brand.
• Employee engagement and motivation: Learning is an essential contributor to employee happiness, motivation, and encouragement. L&D can also be used to challenge employees and nudge them to develop their career paths by exploring new opportunities within the organization that are better suited for their skills.
Identifying the right skill requirement
One of the most crucial aspects of bridging the existing skills gap is to identify the right skill set to be developed. Here are a few ways in which this can be undertaken:
1. Assessments and 360-degrees feedback tools: Begin by performing comprehensive assessments using 360 degrees feedback tools and approached to help you understand where your employees are currently and where do they need to be in order to meet future goals.
2. Simulations: Undertake live simulations with your employees to identify existing gaps and prioritize the most critical skills to be developed in the short and long-term.
3. Design learning journeys: Once you know what skills to build, design an incremental learning journey that takes into account learner expectations and objectives. Do not expect courses and training sessions to replace an engaging learning process and understand the learner's viewpoint thoroughly to create a compelling learning journey.
4. Build partnerships with academia: Whether it is through on-site learning boot camps or executive courses, there are several new learning approaches involving academic institutions that can help develop the required skills in employees.
5. Focus on bridging the gap between strategy and learning: The objectives of learning and training programs need to be in-sync with the organization’s overall strategy, vision, priorities, and business goals. As per Bain & Company, a comprehensive and well-mapped training strategy can add real value to the business and help lay a strong foundation in an otherwise disruptive business environment.
6. Iterate and experiment continuously: Continuous learning is like scaling a topless mountain, and there is no one single method or approach that will deliver the required results. You must update and build on existing programs by incorporating feedback and using new approaches.
Companies that work to custom design their strategies as opposed to adopting a ‘spray and pray’ approach of tackling skills gap are going to be future ready. L&D leaders and practitioners have an exciting and challenging opportunity to prepare the workforce for the future of work. The first step in the process is to identify the right skills and develop imaginative yet flexible learning strategies that are effective, relevant, and engaging. As business models change, there’s a need to let go of conventional learning methods and adopt more agile approaches that are in-tune with contemporary learning requirements.
This article is based on a leadership course offered by FLAME University. For more information about the course, click here.