Closing the skills gap

How the latest in e-learning technology is driving business performance and helping people achieve their fullest potential

A few months ago, I met with a young professional, two years into a career at McKinsey, who was considering jumping ship to start his own business. To someone of my generation, the idea of walking away from the experience provided by a blue-chip company, at such an early stage in one’s career, seems very strange. But it’s not atypical of the latest generation entering the workforce. They’re eager to make a difference and impatient to learn – and they don’t necessarily see the corporate environment as the best place to do either of those things.

This nicely illustrates the first of three trends that are combining to make the development and retention of skilled personnel one of the most pressing issues on the corporate agenda:

Employees are increasingly managing their own careers and taking control of their own training and skills development. 

  • They know what they want to learn and they’re seeking out the necessary experience and training wherever they can find them. If you’re not providing what they need, or not giving them what they perceive to be the right opportunities, or if they feel the experience they’re gaining is not useful to them – then they will look elsewhere. 
  • Having grown up in a consumer-led world where everything, from music to films to video-games, is available to be streamed wherever and whenever they want, they don’t feel constrained to wait for the corporate learning and development programme to play catch-up. 
  • If they want to learn to write python script so they can develop their data analysis and visualisation skills, they will find a way to do so – and if someone else offers them a job doing this, they’ll probably take it! 
  • Moreover, they are acutely aware of which skills are in demand and which command a premium in the market, which brings us on to the second trend..

There is increasing competition for scarce, expensive skills – and it’s a constantly moving target. 

  • This is an issue familiar to every CIO, as it’s particularly acute in the technology sector, where software engineers with the latest skills are in extraordinarily high demand. Some of this is simple supply and demand: the US Department of Labor has published statistics showing that 58% of new STEM jobs are in computing, while only 10% of STEM graduates are in computer science. 
  • But it’s also a consequence of the fast-moving technology landscape. Everyone’s racing to keep up with developments in AI, machine learning, conversational interfaces, data analysis, intelligent automation, cyber-security, cloud-computing, IoT … the list goes on and the precise skills needed seem to change on an almost daily basis. 
  • As the cartoon above illustrates perfectly, it’s frustrating to have to pay a king’s ransom for the one person you’ve managed to head-hunt … only to have them up and leave as soon as the next opportunity comes along. 
  • This fast-moving job market, fed with the young people who understand the very latest technology, also gives rise to the third trend, which in itself is something of a paradox.

Innovation requires a blend of these new skills in emerging technologies AND hard-won, real-world experience and industry knowledge.

  • By way of example, I spent time recently with an applied engineering start-up that’s bringing data analytics and machine learning to the agricultural sector. One of their key areas of R&D involves the training of neural networks to recognise problems in growing crops – so they’ve recruited people with the necessary skills (in programming neural networks) to work on this. 
  • But what they’re finding, is these highly skilled individuals, fresh from academia, have little or no experience of real-world process automation – what’s really needed is people who know how to improve processes and also know how to train neural networks – which you’re unlikely to find. 
  • Anyone who has been around long enough to build up a wealth of practical process automation experience and, at the same time, keep themselves fully abreast of the very latest technology to the point where they can develop AI systems, is going to be very expensive indeed. 
  • You either have to retain your young star-technologists long enough to train them in the real-world applications of their art – or you need to reskill your experienced process engineers in the latest technologies. Either way you have both a training problem and a retention problem. 

In summary, these three trends are combining to exacerbate the skills gap and keep it at the top of the corporate agenda – which begs the question, what can you do about it?

Well, at least part of the answer is to ensure your company is approaching skills development in the most effective way possible and in the way which best serves the needs of both your employees and your business. 

The good news is this is precisely what the latest generation of e-learning platforms are designed to do..

The latest e-learning platforms drive business performance and help people achieve their fullest potential. 

The last ten years have seen a revolution in the way learning and development are provided. While many organisations still focus on developing and delivering structured content through a mixture of classroom and computer-based-training modules, the more forward looking are increasingly deploying employee-centric e-learning technologies which:

  • Are modelled after consumers’ online experiences, with interfaces that look more like content streaming services than learning environments.
  • Enable your employees to choose when, where and how to access learning content, and provide that content in easily digestible (15 min or less) chunks.
  • Support your employees in managing their own career journeys (e.g. from data analyst to data scientist) and support independent accreditation by industry bodies.
  • Provide a mix of independent, third-party content and your company’s own training material.
  • Apply the latest research and understanding of how people learn – making the learning experience far more effective and increasing knowledge retention. 
  • Enable employees to pursue their own learning objectives, while at the same time enabling your L&D professionals to curate content, set learning objectives and target key skills gaps. 
  • Provide access to point-of-need training integrated into the employees normal working environments. 

The benefits of these new e-learning platforms are rapidly apparent in employee engagement and satisfaction. Their previously unmet need to learn what they want, when and where they want, is now being fulfilled by a familiar learning environment – they can build their own playlists and access them at will. And the effectiveness of their learning is greatly increased, with improved knowledge retention and better pass rates on accreditation and certification exams. 

And from the company’s point of view, e-learning platforms are highly effective in closing the skills gap and supporting the development of flexible career paths – allowing employees to “skill-up” in areas adjacent to their primary job roles – and allowing companies to focus effectively on developing the skills of their existing employees, rather than always having to go out to the expensive job market. 

If you would like to learn more about the power of next-generation e-learning platforms, or share your own experience of using them, please do let us know by reaching out to us here.

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