Does your company discuss digital transformation and emerging skills gaps as though the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is months, or even years, away? It is time to change the conversation: 4IR is here, and new skills are already in high demand. The search for these skills drives today’s labor market, and to beat the competition, you must take a fresh look at existing talent and use a skills-first approach to your learning and development (L&D) program.

McKinsey Global Institute estimates as many as 375 million workers will need to master new skills by 2030. However, before you launch an expensive, challenging campaign to recruit and hire talent, take a look around. Deloitte cites a study by Josh Bersin and General Assembly that found that organizations can reskill an internal employee for as little as one-sixth the cost of hiring an external candidate. In other words, the solution to your skills gap might just be sitting next to you.

3 Steps to a Successful Reskilling Initiative

1. Conduct a needs assessment.

Begin by assessing the specific needs of your organization. To establish an embedded culture of analytics through its L&D program, Exelon Utilities (a Coursera customer) created data-supported learner personas that addressed skills gaps while helping employees easily chart their learning paths. Your company may already have access to informative data for identifying skills needs, but if not, there are resources available to assist you. Also, consider what your L&D program must achieve in order to be successful, and be sure to secure leadership alignment; PwC reports significant C-level investment in L&D efforts, as chief executive officers globally view the availability of key skills as a top-three business threat.

2. Consider Tuition Reimbursement

You may also consider directing tuition reimbursement programs to fill strategic learning gaps. Willis Towers Watson estimates that around 90% of midsize and large employers offer tuition reimbursement in some form, but for reasons spanning lack of awareness to insufficient time and financial resources, fewer than 10% of their employees actually use the benefit. More importantly, few companies involve their learning leaders in these programs or proactively suggest high-quality programs or fields where employees’ use of tuition reimbursement programs could also address strategic talent needs of the company. A successful example, global health care company Novartis (a Coursera customer) grants all eligible employees free tuition to earn master’s degrees, enabling employees to build mastery in core skills like machine learning, computer systems and natural language processing.

3. Promote the Program

After laying the groundwork, establish your reskilling program and spread the word to encourage adoption. Send consistent communications to employees about the program, and help them work with their managers to set achievable professional goals for inclusion in performance reviews. For example, Novartis recently launched an L&D program encouraging employees to spend 5% of their time, or about 100 hours each year, acquiring new skills. Setting expectations with employees can help fast-track the adoption of your program, positioning your organization for widespread reskilling success.

3 Ways to Measure Success

You cannot define success by employee participation alone. Measuring actual skills development is essential to identifying opportunities to improve L&D and communicating progress to stakeholders. Here are three key metrics to keep tabs on:

1. Level of Skill Mastery

Benchmarking learners’ levels of skill mastery (e.g., beginner, intermediate and advanced) for your priority skills is a particularly powerful return on investment (ROI) snapshot for stakeholders. It can help you understand skills opportunities within your organization, not only by role but by entire functions or departments. This metric can help you pinpoint areas of immediate need, so you can more strategically focus L&D efforts on the skills that require the most advancement.

2. Hours to Skill Mastery

Visibility into the median number of hours it takes learners in an organization to reach the next level of skill mastery helps your organization understand exactly how much time is involved in developing a specific skill to a certain level of proficiency. This understanding can streamline the process of determining how much time to allot employees for learning and development.

3. Skill Mastery Over Time

Track how many learners have reached intermediate and advanced levels of mastery, by skill, over time. This metric can help you determine whether learners are tracking toward mastering the skills they need, as well as the effectiveness of your L&D strategy, then course-correct as required.

These metrics have proven essential for telecom leader Axiata’s (a Coursera customer) efforts to nurture a future-ready workforce and become a data-first company. The organization’s L&D program links closely to its business goals of boosting depth and breadth of data skills, and measuring employee progress is essential. Axiata tracks level of skill mastery for data analyst, data engineer and data scientist tracks, aligning career mobility and promotions to employee participation and performance in the program. The data says it all: Axiata learners have advanced proficiency levels in data science compared to global benchmarks, and, with over 19,000 learning hours completed, employees in the program are already delivering cost savings through automation and improved productivity.

These three metrics will help you ensure that learners apply new skills to their individual roles, not just learning and forgetting them. Including skills development as part of performance conversations can be an helpful way to hold employees — and your organization’s L&D program — accountable. After all, in 4IR, it is your workforce and its skills that will ultimately determine your company’s success in this changing economy.

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