The growing skills gap is a problem that affects everyone. Employers are struggling to find the talent they need, with almost 40% telling McKinsey they’re unable to find people with the qualifications even for entry-level jobs, and graduates are frustrated. In a Gallup poll, 12 of adults said they would earn a different type of degree if given the chance to rewind time, and 36% said they would choose a different field of study altogether.

The bad news is that without meaningful change, the problems are only going to become worse. The good news is that there are actions employers can take now to begin moving the needle, including investing in modern learning programs to forge stronger skills.

Here are five steps you can take to understand what your learning programs need to deliver and how to put effective solutions into practice.

1. Gather the Evidence

Before you can develop any plans around how to improve skills, you need to establish the baseline from which you are starting. You can do so by leveraging tools like:

  • Assessment scores or “grades” learners have earned in specific courses or modules.
  • Self, peer or manager assessment surveys.
  • Observational or video assessments.
  • Examples of work, showcased in a portfolio.

Whatever metrics you choose to evaluate, make sure you establish clear frameworks, including rubrics, checklists or relative rankings, for measuring them. A lack of consistency is one of the biggest stumbling blocks organizations must contend with early in their journey to close skills gaps.

2. Undertake a Skills-mapping Exercise

Skills mapping is important, but it’s also an area where organizations tend to struggle, for two main reasons.

First, there’s not a single standard approach every organization can take all the time, though there are common principles you can consider when building a skills map for your business:

  • Start by assessing and documenting what you’re already doing that fits within the skills mapping process. Do you already have measures in place, even on a small scale, to gather skills evidence and recommend solutions if you identify gaps?
  • Establish the baseline by doing an inventory of the jobs that currently exist within your company and the skills associated with them.
  • Use the evidence you now have at your disposal to map the skills data across every level — the individual, the team and the organization.
  • Forecast both the jobs you predict will be retired over the coming years and the jobs that will emerge.
  • Work with partners, especially educational institutions, to develop a language around competencies that everyone can understand.

These recommendations can serve as an excellent starting point, but keep in mind that every skills-mapping experience will look somewhat different depending on where an organization starts from, what it needs to achieve from it and a host of other factors.

The second hurdle that organizations often run into is when information falls out of date because people incorrectly view skills mapping as a one-and-done activity. Instead, it’s an ongoing, iterative process that needs to adapt and evolve as skills ebb and flow over time. Think of your skills maps as dynamic resources that you must feed regularly with current information so they can help your business effectively forecast into the future.

3. Identify Learning Opportunities Geared Toward Closing the Gap

Now that you know where you need to be, you’re ready to take the next step: sourcing and creating the learning content, courses and tools that can help get you there. There are a few considerations to keep in mind at this stage:

  • If you already use technology to curate content of interest, this process is a fantastic opportunity to make those efforts even more powerful, as they bring to light information and resources centered around developing the priority skills you’ve identified.
  • Look for opportunities to make the learning experience social. Soft skills are coming to matter more and more, with 57% of senior leaders telling LinkedIn Learning that soft skills are more important than hard skills. One of the most effective ways to nurture soft skills is by giving employees opportunities to practice and collaborate with each other and give each other feedback.
  • Personalize the experience by creating custom learning paths based on the different areas where employees need or want to improve.

Ultimately, it’s important to make sure your learning program is adaptable. The solutions you use must grow with your organization as its needs change over time and enable you to make the most of future opportunities.

4. Create Engaging Learning Experiences

The key to implementing effective learning programs is making sure that they engage employees and learners in ways that drive real change. Studies have shown that happy employees are 12% more productive than their counterparts and that companies with engaged individuals and teams are 21% more profitable.

You have a variety of tools at your disposal to help you increase engagement, including social learning and assessment, videos, gamification, and online portfolios.

It’s important to emphasize, however, that engaging learning doesn’t need to be over the top. Sometimes, a simple quiz will be more effective than a complex game or interactive scenario. At the end of the day, it’s about designing learning experiences that leverage a combination of tactics to help you meet your goal: providing learners with the knowledge and experiences they need to improve their skills.

5. Monitor Your Progress

You’ve spent all this effort creating your modern learning program. Now, it’s time to measure its effect. Provide dashboards  so leaders can have on-demand access to insights that help them assess performance. Use analytics to track significant metrics and keep your learning programs on track. Create opportunities to exchange information with educators and other stakeholders. You may even need to learn to speak a common language; for example, employers usually talk about skills, while educators prefer to call them “competencies.”

Learning is an ongoing process. Tracking its impact will help you identify what’s working and what isn’t so you can drive real change and lasting progress for your organization and your employees. At the end of the day, that’s what we all want.