This last article in our series on learning cultures, but by no means the least important one, addresses skills as a top, strategic priority.
Skills gaps are endemic. Industry research consistently shows the same thing: There’s a massive and growing shortage of in-demand skills. Take McKinsey’s 2020 global survey, for example, which found that nearly nine in 10 executives and managers surveyed report that their organizations were either suffering from a skills gap or would be in the next five years.
That’s the global picture: What about the U.K. specifically? According The Open University’s latest Business Barometer report, 63% of organizations in the U.K. are struggling to find candidates with the skills they need. And like the executives and managers in the McKinsey survey, they don’t expect the situation to improve much in the near future: 24% of respondents think that skills shortages will be their biggest challenge for the next five years.
Where are these skills shortages? In short, they’re everywhere. Every industry is reporting skills gaps and at every level, from senior level positions through to entry-level roles. Accounting, information technology (IT), warehouse and logistics, engineering, teaching, health care, social care, sales… no industry is untouched by skills shortages. And it’s not just new digital skills that employers are lacking, either (although they are in very short supply). Organizations are in desperate need of a whole range of skills, with an increased need for soft skills, in particular. Organizations need people with the ability to lead and manage through change and uncertainty, to communicate effectively and to operate collaboratively in a hybrid workplace.
What Can Employers Do About the Skills Shortage?
It’s clear that the skills crisis is not going to solve itself. Employers need to be proactive about developing their workforce to ensure their workers are equipped with the necessary skills. They need to create the right environment for learning to flourish throughout the organization, and that means having a learning culture.
In a learning culture, skills are always being topped up and refreshed because learning happens every day, in the flow of work, as well as through more formal learning interventions. In a learning culture, employees are empowered to learn new skills and are trusted to seek out the learning they need to do their jobs better. We’ve talked a lot about empowerment and trust in previous posts in this series on learning culture. We’ve also talked about leadership and employee engagement and the employee experience, because these factors are all central to achieving a learning culture.
In a learning culture, leaders are also engaged with learning and self-development. Gone are the days when senior managers can complete a couple of leadership training courses and then coast through the rest of their careers. Everyone has to keep learning new skills and refresh their knowledge base in today’s business environment … even those at the very top.
The good news, according to McKinsey’s most recent global survey, is that attitudes might have evolved since that 2020 survey was conducted. According to the latest survey, employers are not just being reactive and hiring employees with skills they need, when they need them, anymore. They are taking matters into their own hands by developing their existing workforce with the skills they need now and in the future. This research indicates that skills development is now high on the agenda for a lot of organizations, with 58% saying that closing skills gap has shot up the priority list during the pandemic. As a result, 69% of respondents claim their organization conducts more skill building now versus pre-pandemic.
What’s L&D’s Role?
What can learning teams do to foster a learning culture and ensure their organization has the skills it needs? First and foremost, learning teams need to talk to employees throughout the business and find out what their skills needs are, where the gaps are now and what’s on the horizon. It’s essential that learning teams do “horizon scanning” with and for the business so that everyone knows what skills they need to acquire. L&D teams also need to know what the business challenges and objectives are, and what skills are needed to address them. These conversations will help form the L&D strategy moving forward.
Solving the skills crisis is not something learning professionals can do on their own, and nor should it be. It involves everyone in the organization taking responsibility for skills development: Managers keeping up with their skills needs and ensuring their employees are doing the same, for example. All employees need to be committed to the skills agenda and to their own development.
In order to achieve a learning culture, employees need to have the right attitudes, tools, content and resources. They need to have access to a mix of learning solutions – digital, just in time options that facilitate learning in the flow of work, but also more structured and formal learning programs for in-depth learning. This is where learning teams can really prove their worth by making sure that employees can access the learning they need, when they need it.
While the McKinsey research is reassuring in that it demonstrates that employers are being more proactive about skills development, the reality is that they have to be. Industries, job roles and skills are changing all the time, all driven by technological innovation.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), 85 million jobs could be displaced by 2025 because of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, while 97 million new roles may be created. The WEF research also found that 50% of the workforce will need reskilling by 2025. Reskilling one-half the workforce is not going to happen overnight, which is why a culture of continuous, lifelong learning is so imperative.