It’s no secret that attracting and retaining appropriately skilled staff is critical to achieving strategic business objectives. As employers face a mixed bag of challenges such as high turnover, an accelerating pace of technological innovation, shifting workforce demographics and the lingering impact of changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, developing staff to meet these challenges is key.

Evidence of this evolution is seen as 87% of companies already have skills gaps or expect to have within a few years. It is estimated that up to 40% of the workforce will need reskilling by 2024.

Not only does the modern business environment demand continuous skills growth; workers do too. Over half of employees say career growth and development are essential parts of an exceptional employee experience, with 41% of employees having quit their jobs because they were unhappy with the lack of development opportunities.

As learning and development (L&D) and employee training is, without doubt, a strategic business function, human resources (HR), employee development and training leaders must possess an almost super-human agility in identifying complex and evolving skill set needs and in delivering targeted training content, especially on demand. Here are three steps leaders can take to improve their development speed.

Identify Gaps

You can’t fix what you don’t know. Start by conducting a skills gap analysis to identify specific skills required for each job role. This should include:

  • Regulation knowledge/skills training — OSHA, DOT, EEOC, etc.
  • Sector/job specific skills — how not to burn down the restaurant kitchen or requirements to keep the computer network humming.
  • Employee development skills — management skills, workplace conduct and how to effectively interact with other humans.
  • Safety regulations — health, safety and equipment guidelines, and what to do when suddenly thrust in the midst of an emergency.

Gather empirical evidence to evaluate your employees’ baseline knowledge through performance evaluations, skills assessments, work product quality and consultation with direct supervisors. These indicators of skill gaps will help you provide more comprehensive, more focused training.

Your training needs analysis must also forecast the skills required for upcoming projects and for scaling up production or service delivery. Consider the company’s overall strategy in terms of growth, new market expansion or new product launches, and determine the skills required to get there. This is a great opportunity for learning professionals to play a key, strategic role in ensuring the organization is effectively staffed as a part of their human capital management (HCM).

It’s normal for any company to have skill gaps or disparities between expectations and outcomes. By integrating the gap analysis process into training systems and procedures, companies can not only continuously identify gaps, but also better align training with organizational needs. With the right training content and platforms in place, employees can learn and apply required skills quickly. “Skills development must be relevant, fast and effective,” says Sari Wilde, managing vice president at Gartner. “That requires HR to ensure employees not only learn the right new skills — for their personal development and the benefit of the organization —but also apply those skills.”

Remember to ask your employees and managers what training topics they need to help them be more successful. By identifying their career goals and aspirations, the organization will generate buy-in and avoid wasting time on skills training they may never use.

Deliver Targeted Training

Develop an agile, responsive and targeted training program by using a mix of formal, situational and online learning delivery options linked to a compliance management platform to document progress as you close specific gaps. A well-planned, intentional training program is much more effective than a smorgasbord approach that offers the learner a buffet of options with no clear sequence or connection. With the potential to boost employee productivity by as much as 10%, providing the learner a path to identified outcomes can bring a strong return on the investment. Consider cultural diversity, 24/7 content availability, and targeted topical playlists at the individual, department, region and organization-wide level to provide guidance to learners through flexible platforms.

Do you have the content, staff and delivery platforms to fill the gaps you’ve identified? If not, partner with expert topical training consultants or ready-to-go content resources. Implement a learning management system (LMS) with compliance tracking and management integration processes that capture online, blended and instructor-led course metrics.

Individuals learn in different ways and have different learning preferences. For best results, utilize a variety of media and delivery methods to meet these varied needs by offering a mixture of instructor-led onsite or virtual instructor-led training (VILT) programs, eLearning, video, interactive modules and microlearning techniques. Work with employees and their managers to create personalized learning journeys to close skills gaps, support individual career goals and cultivate a learning culture within the organization.

Technology is now an essential component of any robust training program. By leveraging technology, learning professionals can track employee participation, key metrics, performance or safety. Real-time analytics not only help training managers understand how individuals are performing, but also identify operational strengths and weaknesses, enabling managers to become agile at adapting programming to truly maximize implementation, retention and outcome.

Embed Continuous Learning into the Company Culture

To maximize the investment in your team, make continuous learning an integral part of goal setting and performance management, promotions, career planning and compensation. For learning to be fully integrated into the organization culture, L&D programs must provide ongoing development with continuous application, delivering relevant, up-to-date content that is accessible as needed.

Deploy a platform that automates training management and delivery to ensure L&D and workforce development leaders stay on top of gap analysis, skills-building and compliance training needs. By sending automated alerts to employees notifying them of assigned content, training due dates, new hard or soft skills training opportunities as they are launched, and tracking individual and group completion status, these platforms not only make sure no one falls through the cracks, but also empower employees with the autonomy to grow their skills on the schedule and cadence that works for them.

Final Thoughts

As retraining today’s workforce to fill skills gaps becomes a top priority, it’s essential to make continuous learning a central component of the company culture. That requires HR, learning and development and training managers to take a more proactive, strategic approach to identify needs, engage the workforce and deliver the targeted training required. By cultivating management and executive buy-in and participation and by delivering valuable, efficient programming, training teams can ensure continuous learning becomes embedded into the mission of the organization, creating a competitive differentiator for market innovation and talent acquisition and retention.