The future of work is filled with challenges, from ubiquitous technology to changing employee demographics to increasing talent gaps. Organizations know they need to “future-proof” their workforces in order to keep up with new skills and the constant pace of change. In fact, according to the 2019 PwC Global CEO Survey, CEOs believe key skills shortages are one of the biggest threats to their businesses. But closing these gaps presents challenges of its own. What are the most effective ways for organizations to ensure they have the workforce they need to succeed?

In a recent survey by Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning and Degreed of more than 700 professionals, 85% of employees said they know what their skill gaps are, and 82% know the skills they need to further their careers. At the same time, 61% of employees noted the most helpful guidance to make learning more relevant to their job or career objectives is assistance in aligning learning to their goals or skills gaps.

The opportunity for learning and development (L&D) teams is great: Creating better learning experiences and supporting individualized learner needs will help cultivate a continuous learning culture that is essential for upskilling in today’s fast-paced work environments.

Remove Obstacles by Making Learning Accessible and Personal

Today’s employees have a lot on their plate and limited time to do it all. As a result, L&D needs to make it easier for employees to find learning programs and make sure that learning is closely aligned to skills. To do so, consider a few options:

Make It Easy for Learners to Find What They’re Interested in

Learners are frequenting personal and social networks before they’re accessing organizational tools, so it’s critical to ensure that learning is more readily available to learners — wherever they may be. The ability to access content easily will prompt employees to be more engaged in learning.

Provide Learning in Multiple Formats

L&D should also understand that while learners want to grow their skill sets, they also want to do so at their own pace and in their own style. By using a multimedia approach to content creation and distribution, you can provide learners with a variety of formats, such as articles, videos and podcasts, along their learning journey.

Relevant and high-quality content is also important; 34% of employees say that engaging and compelling content is the most important element their learning, compared to 15% who said easy and quick to access is most important. If the content is relevant, learners will take the time to engage with it. At the same time, making content searchable by length or duration helps learners choose the content they have the time to engage with in the moment.

Provide Development for All

In the future, much of the decision-making that occurs in a business will happen further down the chain of command. That means your organization’s leaders at all levels need to be connected to strategy and prepared with the key capabilities to make decisions quickly and effectively. Making sure development opportunities are available at all levels not only is aligned to your learners’ needs but also better positions your organization for success.

Whether they are creating various types of content to appeal to different learning preferences or providing more options by giving learners access to content across multiple channels, organizations must work to reduce and remove any hindrances to learning.

Improve the Connections Among Managers, L&D, and Learners

Organizations must better align their workforce with managers and L&D teams to help drive learning success. Employees need some direction when it comes to understanding their skills gaps. In the study with Harvard Business Publishing and Degreed, only 41% of learners said they believe their managers understand the skills they need to move their careers forward, and 30% say lack of direction is a barrier to learning. How do we ensure these connections happen?

Engage Managers Directly in Learning

As training becomes more learner-driven, make it easier for managers to stay part of the experience. Consider having manager briefings and providing tools to help them participate in reflective conversations with their employees. Engage them in ensuring learning becomes a priority among their teams and an important aspect of the team structure.

Encourage More Frequent Check-ins

The survey also found that 61% of managers conduct annual performance reviews with their employees, but even fewer are engaging in real-time check-ins like coaching, providing in-the-moment feedback and more regular reviews.

Help Them See the Impact

There is immense value in having leaders play a teaching role. With a leader-as-teacher model, leaders provide the all-important context for learning by demonstrating how and why learning matters to the organization. This approach also helps increase employee enthusiasm and engagement by, for example, helping managers build and curate content they feel is important to their employees. With predefined and customizable learning pathways, L&D can ensure these learning modules address key business issues and help the organization pinpoint specific skills and areas for growth among employees.

L&D plays a critical role in connecting learning with business impact. When employees see that senior leaders are invested in their development, it helps underscore the value of learning and showcases how their development strengthens the organization overall.

Empower Employees to Take Charge of Their Learning

Building a learning culture is essential to ensuring your employees are continually acquiring new skills and capabilities. As employees take on greater ownership of their personal and professional growth, L&D needs to put the resources in place that help employees make learning a habit, not an occasional event.

Keep Learning Top of Mind

Consider keeping learning top of mind by sending reminders about specific learning goals. Behavioral nudges are a great way to keep employees engaged as they discover and pursue new interests based on their skills gaps. With a daily feed of new resources, learners will be able to see what their peers and groups are recommending and access a rich array of learning resources.

Application Matters

Learning something new can be challenging, especially at first, when employees struggle and make mistakes. The only way to truly learn a new skill is to practice it. By applying what they learn, employees can navigate challenges and adopt new skills into their work life.

Make Learning Social

L&D managers can ensure learning is more social by creating a platform that enables social learning, including the ability to make recommendations, share content, follow others, join groups and collaborate online. As the social directors in learning, L&D can prompt employees to share and collaborate while meeting target completion dates for learning.

Ensuring employees are continuously building the skills and capabilities they need to compete in today’s evolving digital era is key to building the workforce of tomorrow. L&D should continue to work closely with organizational executives to understand their long-term visions for the company and develop learning programs that will help reach business goals well into the future. But learner behavior and expectations must also be a part of that conversation. By fostering ongoing learning experiences that engage learners, address critical skill gaps and connect the organization, L&D remains the pillar that supports the future success of the workforce.