As Accenture CEO Julie Sweet recently shared, one of the most important skills that job seekers need today is the ability to learn. “We know that while we may hire you for a certain set of skills, the rate of change and the need for skills is quite rapid,” she said.
She’s right — Gartner data reveals that 33% of the skills needed three years ago are no longer relevant. But while it’s critical that companies hire people who are quick and eager learners, an organization’s work isn’t done once a new employee walks through the door.
In fact, the onus is on employers to ensure that workers have everything they need to continue to develop their skillset. And forward-thinking companies know that this isn’t just about offering the right learning content — it’s also about creating an environment where skills building is embedded into the workplace culture.
Get this right, and not only will your team members be better-equipped to support your business, but they’ll also be more likely to stick around with you in the long run. Gallup finds that 48% of employees would consider switching jobs for better learning opportunities, 71% say that job training and development has increased their job satisfaction, and 61% report that upskilling opportunities are an important reason why they’d stay at their job.
Despite the clear benefits of helping workers realize their potential at work, new research from Cornerstone finds that just 55% of employees are confident in their organization’s prioritization in developing new skilling opportunities for them. That number is down from 60% in 2020, an indication that things aren’t moving in a good direction right now.
So what should businesses do to boost workers’ confidence and reverse this worrying trend? Let’s take a look at 5 tips that can help guide your company, not only through the global skills shortage but also well into the future.
Tip #1: Build a learning culture
Elizabeth Young McNally, a global leader at McKinsey, says that what’s missing at most companies is a long-term growth orientation that naturally favors learning. “Are [leaders] investing in the types of learning programs, reskilling programs, even being explicit in expectations of time spent on learning? How are they, in what we often call moments that matter — the beginning of a meeting or the end of a meeting — driving a culture and language of learning?”
McNally’s point here is well-taken, as multiple studies have confirmed that investing in skills development is a key driver of overall company performance. For example, Cornerstone’s research uncovered that low-performing organizations are nearly 3x more likely to have stalled their investment in skills development compared to high-performing organizations.
However, McNally’s other points around culture are equally important. Senior leaders and managers need to role model the desired learning behaviors and regularly communicate about the importance of skill-building. They also have to ensure that adequate time for learning is built into workers’ schedules, rather than forcing people to take the initiative on top of handling their other work tasks.
Tip #2: Offer a wide variety of solutions
In a time when people can learn almost anything from YouTube or the internet, business leaders may hesitate to invest in internal development resources. However, Cornerstone’s research indicates that organizations need to offer a wide range of solutions — including in-house tools — to effectively support employee growth and development.
That’s partly because today’s employees expect to have an abundance of options when it comes to their learning experience at work. Case in point: while 39% of workers said they rely on internet research to learn new skills, nearly the same percentage (36%) turn to their company’s skills and development platform. Other key resources selected by around one-third of respondents include managers, internal mentors, and internal career guides.
The most important area businesses should invest in? Skills development content, which nearly 80% of employees said they want more of from their employer. But leaders can’t afford to ignore other forms of support, for example better career guidance and more coaching, mentoring, and career shadowing opportunities. Over 7 out of 10 workers would like to see more of these skills-related resources.
Tip #3: Focus on self-directed learning
One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that during quarantine periods, many people found themselves with extra time on their hands. Research from my company and Oracle found that 93% of people used this time to reflect on their personal and professional lives, while others elected to pursue new hobbies or learn new skills — including skills that could help them advance their career.
This thirst for knowledge and growth has carried over well into 2022. In fact, we discovered that workers’ top career priority this year is to gain new skills and advance their education. But with employees so eager to learn, it’s up to employers to equip them with the right tools to take charge of their own development and growth.
One company setting the example is Generali, an insurance company with over 55 million customers. The company’s We LEARN platform offers thousands of high-quality courses that its employees can access from anywhere in the world. “Our learners can really take control of what they want to learn, as well as how they want to learn it,” their Head of Group HR Digital Processes shared. “The power really is in the hands of our people.”
Tip #4: Align skills development with career progression
Smart companies know that skills development should support and enable employees’ career advancement. That’s why it’s critical that organizations clearly communicate about what competencies workers should focus on in order to progress, whether they’re looking for a raise/promotion, to move into a different part of the business, or even to pursue a career in a different field.
Amazon, for example, now funds full college tuition for its front-line employees — including those who have been at the company for as little as three months. The company encourages its team members to pursue educational tracks not only in fields that will allow them to advance internally, but also in fields (like healthcare) that will eventually lead them to work for a different organization.
Offering this type of assistance is an important way to attract and retain talent, since employees who see how their learning efforts translate into better opportunities will be more likely to stick around. But employers could be doing much more to support their people. In fact, 74% of employees wish they had more tailored, comprehensive career guidance.
Tip #5: Take a holistic approach to learning
Yes, employees need “hard skills” to advance their careers — but they’re also seeking out guidance on how to boost their well-being, avoid burnout and stress, and manage their time more effectively. There’s also a pressing need for workers to learn other “soft skills,” like how to collaborate with dispersed team members or enhance their emotional intelligence.
These are all competencies that can help employees succeed not only in the workplace, but in their personal lives as well. However, organizations may not always understand the connection between these skills and the bottom line. But there’s actually a clear link — one study reported nearly a 28% increase in performance as a result of employees’ acquisition of soft skills.
Perhaps more importantly, soft skills (or a lack thereof) can have a notable impact on retention. For example, LinkedIn found that 89% of recruiters say when a hire doesn’t work out, it usually comes down to a lack of soft skills. And with the Great Resignation showing no signs of slowing down, employers can’t afford to ignore these critical competencies when they bring on new team members.
New times call for a modern approach
There’s no question that skills development is critical for the future success of organizations. However, the pandemic uncovered a need for change when it comes to how employees grow and develop at work. Forward-thinking companies recognize that the path forward will require not only more learning solutions, but also a reevaluation of their workplace culture. They also know that today’s workers expect their efforts to translate into greater career mobility.
Fortunately, any improvements you make to your skills program will be a win-win for everyone. Because when you invest in your people and given them the ability to realize their potential, they’ll invest in you.