The new skills imperative: Reconnecting work with the workforce
Are today’s newest employees prepared with the skills they need for 21st-century jobs? Are employers successfully equipping their workers with such skills?
In the dynamic environment of today, organizations spanning all sizes and industries need highly skilled workers in order to grow and continually improve their business. The inability to find, develop, assess and retain the critical skills an organization requires significantly impacts its ability to compete in a constantly evolving global economy.
Further, “skill” in the erstwhile parlance would simply mean having the ability to do something well and being an expert. But today, the organizations need people to also have skills to be disruptive, innovative and agile, in order for them to be able to respond to volatile market forces.
To achieve long-term success and sustainable competitive advantage, an organization must build an evergreen source of talent by developing people from within the organization, building on their strengths, and by providing them with opportunities to innovate and advance their careers. And it must reconnect work with the workforce, and plan and execute talent strategies in a way that is attuned and responsive to its economic realities.
If only one thought that hiring was an answer to all this!
It’s now on the shoulders of the organizations to find ways to leverage the people they already have, which, in many cases, includes upgrading skill levels and training people to move into roles with different capabilities. The organizations need to transform into an enterprise learning team—connecting people in ways that result in innovative ideas—and turning the best practices of internal and external experts into their knowledge base.
Ongoing employee learning is now essential to core business strategy. Training should not be something offered simply to provide basic skills to reach initial job competence or as an occasional perk thrown at workers in piecemeal fashion. The nature of work itself—and, therefore, the types of skills needed to succeed at that work—is changing quickly, and companies need to retool their enterprise learning strategies at a more fundamental level. Organizations must identify latent talent in employees and bring that talent to life. There is an important social value here, as well: employers have a responsibility to offer enterprise learning not only to help their companies succeed in the long term (by providing their workers with the skills the business needs) but also to ensure that new generations of employees can contribute to the overall growth and health of the economy.
These are very exciting times in the world of learning. In fact, given the learning field’s potential to deliver consistent, expert-driven, capability-based training to critical workforces, combined with new social media and collaboration technologies, the time has actually never been better for bringing relevant skills to the workforce while also encouraging the interactions that generate innovation and increase your organizational brainpower.
Most employees recognize that much of what they need to perform better, improve their skills and gain more knowledge, is around them all the time: learning by observing colleagues, receiving coaching from a supervisor, having access to proven ideas and best practices, as well as simply getting on-the-job experience every day. The challenge for companies is to transform the inherently ad-hoc nature of this informal learning into something with more structure and rigor. That’s where social networking and collaboration technologies are now beginning to create learning opportunities.
Organizations are turning to digital and connected learning to make the business worker learn sufficient skills. These learning initiatives enable companies to democratize their learning. Any employee can learn, and during periods most convenient to them. Sometime ago, we at Accenture started an initiative to create digital learning boards covering primarily technology topics — areas like high performance analytics, advanced data visualization, Java architecture. Many of these are videos of expert explaining the concepts and you can view them on mobile devices. We have 750 of them and new boards are being introduced every day. Employees can choose to follow a board, rate them.
However, everything said, when it comes to a talent advantage, it’s not just about who employees are when they join an organization. It’s about who they become over time.
Create responsibility for learning among employees
It’s also vital for employees to understand they cannot be merely passive recipients of training. They need to be proactive participants in their general career development and start taking ownership of their learning, especially in any specific re-skilling they may need or be interested in, owing to changes in demand for the skills and the value organisations place on such skills.
Of course, the organization needs to support employees and harness their energy as they work to upgrade their skills, helping them develop learning plans and providing them with access to expertise, often through some of the tools discussed here.
Talent has gone digital
The usage of mobile, social and analytical tools is permeating the length and breadth of every function across the organization.
Digtial media has an inescapable presence today. It would be hard to find a major business that’s not asking people to follow it on Facebook, or that isn’t tweeting regular news about its products. But it’s one thing to leverage the enormous popularity of social networking to reach customers and manage brand awareness. It’s quite another to integrate social media into a core capability such as learning. Sound easy? It’s not.
Mobile learning is here—and here to stay. This is yet again another platform that companies are exploring extensively. As smartphones and tablets become a near constant presence in our lives, almost every type of company is considering how best to use mobile devices and applications to enrich their organizations’ talent development capabilities. By incorporating mobility into their learning strategy in the right way, companies can multiply the benefits of talent development—helping employees and the entire organization perform at higher levels. They must refresh digital skills of their employees more frequently if they wish to stay relevant in this rapidly changing digital environment.
How does the future look
There are three aspects to consider if you are embarking on a journey to strategize learning for your people.
The first is the importance of grounding learning strategy which gives employees an opportunity for “learning all the time” and purposefully brings them together for “ time away to learn” with a focus on current and future skills that power the company’s Business Strategy.
The second is endorsement of the new learning direction by leaders at the very top. A successful learning strategy requires targeted investments in physical and technical infrastructure.
Finally, there is great power in harnessing the inherent expertise of talent within the organization. Solutions enabled by digital technologies and built on human centered design can go a long way in achieving this.