The Shared Responsibility of Skills Development

Skills development must be a shared purpose, embraced and supported by employers, employees and society at large.

In the U.S., workers customarily have been responsible for their own skills development and education, whether through a college degree, vocational school, apprenticeship or on-the-job training. This was doable when jobs and tasks remained largely unchanged, or evolved at a slow enough pace that workers had time to adapt. That’s not the case today, where rapid changes to technology, shifting worker priorities, economic uncertainty and political upheaval require a much more dynamic business model.

This issue is coupled with a low talent supply that has many companies introducing different incentives to help attract and retain employees. It may be flexible work arrangements, mental health programs, higher wages, more paid time off or a combination. They’ve also committed to investing in skills training, internal mobility and career pathing. But, progress has been slow and according to a LinkedIn report, only 15 percent of learning and development professionals say their companies have active upskilling and reskilling programs.

The burden should not rest solely on employers

The World Economic Forum predicts the reskilling challenge will cost $34 billion in the U.S. alone. To address this steep cost, it recommends a combination of investment options, including “companies working with each other to lower costs, governments and taxpayers taking on the cost as an important societal investment and governments and business working together.” Even if companies don’t shoulder the entire expense of skills development, they’ll still need to dedicate resources, both financial and personnel, to implement these programs.

While businesses, the government and educational institutions should be the driving force behind skills training initiatives, employees still carry a large amount of responsibility. A company’s investments of time, money and resources should be met with an equal commitment from employees to fully participate in the program. There needs to be a shared purpose between employer and employee if training is going to be effective. The question becomes, how do you identify employees who are truly interested in skills development?

The time to start is now

The good news is 77 percent of employees are ready to learn new skills and 74 percent see training as a matter of personal responsibility, according to a PwC survey. But skills development is not as simple as putting a bunch of employees in a conference room with an instructor and some manuals. These programs must be customized for both specific roles and individual learning styles and employees need to be given the time to participate.

Developing a new skills program can be overwhelming, but it’s important to start making incremental changes now. This is especially crucial when it comes to training entry level talent without prior experience. While these hires are essential for decreasing the low talent supply, it could take up to two years for them to catch up to other employees in the same role.

A primary action item is to gain a true understanding of what skills are absolutely necessary for each role and what skills can be taught. It’s also helpful to look for adjacent skills. These may not be an exact match but share some commonality with the job description. Companies should also consider re-evaluating degree requirements for certain roles.

Data analysis by Emsi Burning Glass found that “degree resets occurred in multiple sectors before the onset of COVID-19 and accelerated as a function of the pandemic, spreading to new occupations.” By prioritizing skills over degrees, including the ability to collaborate, communicate and work on a team, employers can expand their talent pool and train where needed.

Pinpointing the right talent for training

When it comes to identifying candidates for skills development, here are a few steps to help determine which employees have the commitment, discipline and patience to participate.

Start with onboarding. Without a doubt, a rich onboarding experience is incredibly valuable. Zippia research found organizations with strong onboarding processes increase new hire retention by 82 percent and improve productivity by 70 percent. In addition to administrative tasks like paperwork and computer setup, new employees want to make connections and get a sense of where they fit in the organization. One important but often overlooked step is helping them understand career progression opportunities and determining their interest level. An open conversation can help you understand their goals and how those align with opportunities in the organization.

Empower employees. To encourage employees to drive their own career progression, there needs to be a culture that fosters ongoing L&D. This means managers need to be open to allowing employees to not only participate in training, but potentially move into roles on other teams. Collaboration between employers and employees can help ensure the right development programs are developed, increasing interest and participation. One impactful strategy is to create an apprentice or rotational program within the organization that allows individuals to spend a year or two performing different roles to help them determine where they want to go.

Uncover barriers. The most common challenges to skill development for employers are costs, resources and time commitments. But there are other barriers that may not be as obvious, including a lack of transparency about learning opportunities, poorly developed L&D programs and training that doesn’t align with available roles. There are a few solutions to help open up L&D opportunities to interested employees that may be hesitant about raising their hand. Communication is key and technology that includes a talent marketplace can help employees uncover opportunities at their convenience. It’s also important to have a clear and inclusive process so that employees understand what steps they need to take to get into the right learning programs. Finally, open dialogue, surveys and other feedback loops during training will help identify where it’s working and what needs to be improved.

Measure results. The overall success of the program will rely on data that quantifies training effectiveness looking at results from productivity, sales and profits. Equally important is an understanding of which employees thrived in the training and where some may have struggled. Knowing this will help inform future decisions about both the program and participants. It’ll also allow you to provide interested training candidates with a clearer picture of what to expect. Metrics could include employee participation and completion rates, job performance before and after training, the impression of the training including difficulty and commitment levels, interest in future training programs and overall job satisfaction and retention.

In an increasingly complex world, employees need skills that can keep pace with the advances around them, especially when it comes to technology. And, soft skills such as communication, teamwork, collaboration and empathy are more critical than ever before. In order to succeed in this new dynamic, employees need to embrace the concept of continuous learning and employers need to help them navigate the process.

A Deloitte study laid out four scenarios for the future of employer-worker relationships. One was centered around purpose and the concept that the worker-employer relationship is communal, where “both workers and employers see shared purpose as the foundation of their relationship, viewing it as the most important tie that binds them together.” For our economies and communities to thrive, we need a strong, skilled workforce. This means that skills development must be a shared purpose, embraced and supported by employers, employees and society at large.

About the Author:
Pam Verhoff is President and CEO of Advanced RPO. She is an executive leader with extensive experience and is responsible for all aspects of strategic planning, sales and marketing, operations, financial management, and compliance for Advanced RPO.

This article was originally written for and published by Chief Learning Officer here.