Skilling employees at scale: Changing the corporate learning paradigm
Skilling and re-skilling had been a global priority for businesses even before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted our world. The nature of these disruptions, alongside the rapid changes in how we work, has forced organizations to prioritize skilling their workforces at scale in order to thrive during and after the pandemic. Industry leaders have long opined that a country like India, with a massively under-skilled workforce, requires skilling programs at scale to succeed.
In this article, we decode the fundamentals of skilling at scale and how skilling approaches vary between hard and soft skills. We also look at how organizations like Vani.coach are creating hyper-personalized learning solutions using the right interplay of technology and human factors.
There are essentially three aspects to understand skilling at scale:
- Learning experiences: The design and experience of learning programs suited for individual learning journeys
- Learning outcomes: The measurable and visible improvement in everyday job performance
- Learning operations: The tools, mechanisms, and processes deployed to ensure cultivating sustained learning practices
Hard skills vs. soft skills: The difference in skilling models
The skilling needs for techno-functional competencies are primarily driven by subject knowledge, expertise, and learning the application of theoretical concepts. The knowledge transfer here is disproportionately important, as there is a need to sometimes impart the skill from scratch. For example, if someone wants to learn the coding language Python, they must understand the basics of software development. However, when it comes to soft and people skills, the reverse is true. The focus shifts from giving knowledge and information to continuous practice, building the right attitude, and inculcating the skill subconsciously in daily behavior and routine.
The other difference between soft skill training and hard skill competency building is the uniformity of the learning journey. Two individuals who do not know a particular tool/concept are likely to experience the same learning journey and experience as they begin from the same, or similar, baseline. This is not the case when it comes to improving a soft skill, say communication; because, two people hardly ever have the exact same starting point. We all have different levels of proficiency in soft skills like communication, creativity, or collaboration.
For these vital reasons, learning journeys and experiences for soft skill development need to be hyper-personalized to ensure success and tangible benefits. In the process of learning human skills, the learner’s journey and progress become more important than course curriculums, theory content, or tests and assessments. Divya Garg, Head of HR, INSA, Uber, explains, “It is no longer about filling a ‘skill’ gap, but radically transforming the way we operate. In the era of artificial intelligence, while uniquely human attributes continue to be valued, we cannot deny the need to operate and co-exist with the ‘machines.’ Let alone all else, advances in AI have presented the need to skill our talent at both scale and pace. Learning efforts to enable us to pivot to the "new normal" have to be agile, scalable, hyper-personalised and eventually be able to activate behaviour change.”
Changing the paradigm of corporate skilling
Corporate skilling programs have been founded on frameworks and models from the world of academia. Even when we have moved to digital learning platforms, the core tenets of these programs tend to remain the same. There is a standard course with finite learning material, a uniformly structured progression to navigate the learning, and the exact same assessment tool to measure progress. This uniformity and standardization have been the only approach for organizations to skill their employees at scale.
As a result, organizations made a trade-off; content-heavy learning solutions which focus on knowledge dissemination but offer no way to measure the benefit and are limited to vanity metrics (like engagement or completion rates) have become the norm for training the workforce at large. On the other hand, one-on-one coaching programs that promise results are exclusive only to the top one or two percent of the workforce, usually reserved for high-performing or high-potential employees. This is because such programs have a clear, measurable, and direct impact on behavioral change and job performance.
The problem is that this approach is simply no longer sustainable. Organizations cannot afford to build soft skills only for a small portion of their workforce; but, hiring personal coaches for every employee isn’t tenable either. While a personalized and focused coaching framework is naturally better than the cookie-cutter approach, it comes with the challenge of high cost and lack of reliable coaches. Ashish Kumar Jha, Co-founder and CEO, vani.coach, says, “There has been a tectonic shift in the skilling requirements we have been receiving over the last two years. From focusing on the 'High Potential' to skilling the entire workforce at the enterprise level. This democratisation has led to a 100x jump in the scale of how skilling is undertaken. The good news is that with affordable tech, and the advances in behavioral science, outcome driven skilling at scale is now possible.”
Decoding the elements of skilling at scale
Personalized and effective coaching at scale is the function of using the right technology, trainers, and learning experiences. Each of these elements needs to be addressed with the right mindset:
- Digitization: The application of the right tools and solutions can significantly increase the scope and reach of coaches and trainers. By using app-based personalized solutions that cultivate a daily practice, coaches at Vani.coach, a personalized and outcome-oriented learning platform, have reduced the amount spent on personalized coaching from ten hours per month to one hour per learner.
- Gamification: Creating the right incentives, nudges, and support, digital tools can be used to positively influence behavior and embed learning in everyday practice. Vani.coach, a communication fitness solution, has used this approach with extremely encouraging results.
- AI-based tools: Smart tools and solutions can offer a data-based personalized learning experience, offer feedback, and essentially optimize the learning journey.
The human element
All these aspects of technology require human oversight to forge connections, offer guidance, provide support, and essentially bring together the entire learning experience. With a lack of coaches to undertake this role, the most obvious solution staring at us is lowering the barriers for becoming a coach and creating readiness programs to turn employees into coaches for their colleagues. This approach is being adopted by several leading organizations and there is plenty of proof that it works.
For example, Coacheque, by Vani.coach is an eight -week intensive soft skills learning program for cultivating coaches that consists of 72 hours of experiential learning and 100 hours of self-learning. Once a learner completes the certifications and assessments, they become a part of the coaching pool, akin to a gig workforce of coaches. This multiplies the impact and outcome of the delivery as each person trained under the program can in turn train several other employees. This is an effective way to lower the cost of coaching programs and simultaneously create an army of competent coaches and trainers. Vani.coach aims to train 20,000 coaches through Coacheque over the next two years, who are then expected to train ten million people.
Skilling at scale: Taking the first step
Heather Saville Gupta, Global Head - Culture and Employee Engagement, WhiteHat Jr-Byju’s Future School, sums up, “Developing skills is more important than ever today, as we reorientate ourselves and our organisations towards the challenges happening right now, all around us. Agility and scale in skilling will be critical given the speed of change and the uncertainty which we are all grappling with.”
Organizations that invest in holistic skilling have an edge over their competitors, and the results of these efforts are already visible in the tech industry. But in order to skill their workforces at scale, we must change the academic-oriented training programs to a more dynamic learning process, like coaching for sports. Athletes and sportspeople get exclusive attention from their coaches, have personalized training routines and diets, and maintain consistency and focus by relentless training. That should be our inspiration when we design corporate programs: personalization, practice, and professional development. Similarly, promoting employees to coaches and trainers is the most effective way to ensure the implementation of focused and dedicated learning interventions.