With employees distributed between home and work, and even across the world, learning needs to support a more flexible approach to how people do their jobs. Lex Pedersen looks at why this is essential to close digital skills gaps.
The pandemic thrust the world headlong into an accelerated digital transition that supported widespread remote working, a greater reliance on online interactions and transactions, and a growing trend toward hybrid workforces based on connecting remotely and collaborating digitally.
But to thrive in this new environment, organisations need to take it upon themselves to close the ever-growing gap between the in-demand skills of the future and the abilities of the current workforce.
Accenture predicts that within the next 10 to 20 years, 90% of jobs will require some sort of digital skills. Thanks in part to rapid and widespread digitalisation changing the nature of work, digital skills are now an essential attribute for the modern workforce. Yet 37% of workers in Europe don’t have basic digital skills.
While a gap between technical training and modern business has existed for quite some time, the pandemic made the lack of skills even more evident as businesses took their workforces remote. For some, this change is a permanent one, meaning that the use of digital technology is no longer optional for businesses to thrive.
Gaping skills gaps
The digital skills gap isn’t solely a European phenomenon. Companies worldwide are now feeling the impact of the skills gap, which is projected to get worse. According to McKinsey and Co, 87% of companies said they either have a skills gap currently or expect to within a few years.
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This lack of digital skills can directly – and negatively – impact business. Another study, by consultancy Capgemini, found that over half of companies felt a shortage of digital talent led to a loss of competitive advantage. If the skills gap is not closed within the next three to five years, there will be negative impacts not only on product development, delivery and innovation, but also on customer experience and satisfaction.
On top of that, the digital divide has left organisations with higher employee turnover than ever before as a result of mismatched employee expectations of receiving digital training, and employers’ ability to provide that training. Some are concerned about the cost of providing training, its effectiveness, or the idea that training might take time away from results-driven work.
Fortunately, organisations can counter this trend by rethinking traditional training and instead embracing a culture of flexible learning.
The workforce has become more flexible so now learning programmes need to follow suit. In order to hold onto highly contended talent, companies need to implement training programmes that are designed to fit the individual learner’s needs. This means providing employees with education within the flow of work to minimise disruption and allow them to immediately apply their knowledge to drive real business results.
In doing this, organisations will pave a new way forward that allows employees to receive and apply knowledge at the point of need – something that is far better suited for the realities of hybrid and remote workforces.
Companies looking to tap into flexible learning to for their hybrid and remote workforces can begin to create more intuitive learning pathways – and opportunities to apply their new-found knowledge – by taking several key steps. These include the following:
Start at the top: Learning initiatives that can change the culture of learning throughout an organisation must work from the top down.
Leadership by executive sponsor for learning programmes will give learning and development a priority that can filter down through management to the workforce. This not only improves employees’ skills, but it also helps companies retain talent by creating new career paths.
Fill the gaps: Once the organisation has made a commitment to learning, they will need to identify where their current L&D programmes are failing and explore solutions that facilitate intuitive learning pathways, promote productivity, and upskill and re-skill employees both for the job they have and the job they have the potential to fill.
For example, let’s say a company is building a project to train employees with no technical knowledge to become front-end developers. Or alternatively, a company is training accountants to become data scientists. In both cases, the training must deliver highly engaging and relevant content to bring employees up to speed based on their individual skill level.
This approach benefits both employees and the companies, which train employees to perform the jobs the business needs based on their current working knowledge.
Meet learners where they are: Skills building has become the most sought-after strategy to close the skills gap.
McKinsey has also found that 69% of organisations are doing more skills building now than they were before the pandemic. However, static, A-Z learning programmes simply won’t cut it in today’s working environment.
To get the best return on L&D investments, organisations need to meet learners where they are and provide a seamless experience that maximises the benefits of training
That type of linear learning – which can include online courses, books and conferences built around a specific topic – has its place, but often doesn’t acknowledge that many employees are already conversant with a range of technologies, leading to time wasted going over familiar ground. More importantly, it doesn’t give employees the training they need when they need it.
Research has found that, when employees have the option, about half of their learning interactions are “in the moment of need”, when they can apply what they learn while on the job. And a lot of their additional learning tends to happen on weekends, when they can learn on their own time and own terms, with 20% of it taking place via mobile app.
In the flow of work
To get the best return on L&D investments, organisations need to meet learners where they are and provide a seamless experience that maximises the benefits of training while requiring as little time as possible.
This often means delivering training in the flow of work, answering employees’ questions in the moment of need, and giving them the knowledge and tools to accomplish the next task. Even employees who are motivated to learn new skills can have trouble finding the time to devote to training. An effective L&D programme should provide employees with multiple pathways to learn.
The pandemic forced companies to make digital transformations ahead of schedule and there is now no going back. The reliance on online operations and new technologies will continue to evolve, leaving an even wider skills gap among workers. Closing that gap through flexible learning programmes can make the difference between success and failure for companies trying to keep pace in this fast-moving business and technology environment.
Furthermore, delivering targeted training seamlessly in the flow of work allows employees to develop new skills that can benefit their own careers. This helps employers address employee retention, while also filling a genuine need in the job market – making a flexible approach to L&D essential to business success.