Learning & Development, Talent

Closing the Skills Gap Starts with Enablement

The growing skills gap, despite many other important concerns this year, is something leaders should pay serious attention to. Increased job automation, disrupted talent availability, and the rapid shift to a more digital workforce have led to an abrupt need for companies to support continuous reskilling. Staying competitive in the near future and beyond means finding effective ways to reskill existing employees now. The problem is most companies are no good at it.

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A recent PwC survey found that although the majority of CEOs agreed that significant upskilling was the most important way to close a skills gap, only 18% believe they made significant progress a year later. If developing employees to advance in their skill sets is recognized as a strategic imperative, why is it that so many companies struggle to get results?

The same survey found that motivating employees to learn was the number one challenge their reskilling efforts faced. Perhaps that lack of motivation is a symptom of traditional learning, training, and performance programs failing to adapt to the needs of the current employee experience.

Today, workforces are being asked to take on new challenges under new circumstances and with more distraction than ever before. It should be no surprise that clearing gaps in available skills should be met with clearing gaps in the systems and processes that companies use to develop their people. Those development gaps are exacerbated when business leaders fail to connect the dots between performance reviews, engagement tools, and talent management platforms to progress toward company goals.

For reskilling efforts to be effective, and employee performance to be maximized, developing employees must start with a business strategy focused on enabling people holistically—and using integrated technology to execute that strategy.

Why Reskilling Approaches Have to Change

Enabling employees to learn and apply new skills requires companies to approach reskilling frameworks in an agile way. In reality, this has always been the case. But checking the box on performance metrics with annual reviews and investing minimally in training were less of a business risk in pre-pandemic times. With the unique environments employees are working in today, and added pressure to continue collaborating and innovating, developing new skills comes with new challenges.

Managers are still responsible for clearing obstacles, but they can’t count on the ability to check in on team members in person. In many instances, we’re even seeing new hires who have been working for months who haven’t met their supervisor.

Employees are challenged to stay productive and collaborate online while needing flexible schedules to care for children at home. Add to that the barrage of distractions that are more and more present in the flow of work, and you understand why bolstering learning resources alone doesn’t move the needle.

Instead, companies need to think about how all aspects of their employees’ day-to-day lives have changed and how to match their needs to the needs of the business. Once people are aligned, reskilling can become a focused effort that improves performance at every level. The next step is simple: enabling individuals to be successful in skills growth. This is where the motivation to learn, and everything that follows, comes into play.

Enablement Creates a Culture of Learning

Employees are eager to learn. Gaining new skills provides confidence, personal value, and a level of certainty as to how an employee’s contribution impacts the organization. But that eagerness will fade if the opportunity is hindered by a disconnected effort to enable them.

Giving employees a true sense of direction and purpose takes shape when they have the tools to tie in their learning and development with company goals, manage their growth with feedback, and connect teams to perform together—all in the same platform.

If your people are not engaged, they are not aligned with the company mission and won’t be motivated to learn and apply new skills. Your new training program stops here if this is the case. To get people on board, leadership should employ frequent conversations to understand what blockers employees have or what they’re struggling with. From there, they need the ability to pinpoint aspirations and areas of interest. How does building a new skill impact an employee’s career desires? Be transparent about why it’s a need for the company.

When there’s alignment between employer and employee on the skills to be developed, reskilling can begin by providing employees with resources for learning. Access to a learning management system (LMS) that gives talent leaders the ability to easily add learning and training content that supports employees’ goals is key. When everyone can take courses and share knowledge, new hires get up to speed faster and senior employees will grow in their roles, get promoted, and stay longer.

When a culture of learning has been created, companies need visibility into how individuals are tracking toward goals. True performance management technology must be equipped with detailed analytics capabilities to give leaders the big picture. Otherwise, the organization will lose sight and become part of that 18% of companies that reported little progress. But the journey doesn’t stop there.

Don’t Stop Me Now

If employees see a dead end to their growth, they’re gone. This is where access to mentorship and coaching makes the difference.

Reskilling is about developing talent, and the best way to retain talented people is to mentor them. This aspect of the reskilling journey is increasingly important as workplaces become more digital and relationships that promote performance are harder to maintain.

Although reskilling an entire workforce effectively is a complex problem to solve, the strategy and technology supporting it should aim for simplicity. When employees are supported in a holistic way, reskilling becomes unstoppable.

People are struggling to keep up with their daily responsibilities as it is. The need for reskilling only adds to the pressure. To stay competitive, business leaders need to take a new approach to remove performance barriers. Otherwise, employees will just have another reason to lose motivation. With integrated technology that engages and allows employees to grow, companies will enable them to effectively gain new skills—and keep gaining them.

Srikant Chellappa is a passionate entrepreneur and leader in building high-performance organizations that care about their people.

He has spent over 20 years in leading organizations in software development and consulting in the United States. With a unique background in technology; people management; health; IT; and film writing, directing, and production, Chellappa brings a diverse set of experiences across industries and specialties to build high-performing, highly engaged organizations.

Chellappa is also author of the book The Black Book of Agile Project Delivery with Distributed Teams and the writer/director/producer of six feature films distributed theatrically and via Netflix, NBCUniversal, Fox International, Showtime, Amazon Prime, Sky, and various international channels. For more information on Engagedly, visit Engagedly.com, and be sure to connect with Engagedly on LinkedIn.

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