Jay Titus is vice president, workforce solutions group, at University of Phoenix. Views are the authors' own.
Corporate training and development used to be pretty straightforward. Large employers would send their most promising managers off to MBA or other specialist degree programs. Other skill needs were met through external certification programs, professional development or by gathering people in a conference room or off-site location to go through off-the-shelf training material with an instructor.
The changing nature of technology and the workplace was already forcing employers to question and tweak that model before the pandemic came along. Now, COVID-19 has blown out of the water many of the old assumptions about how to address skill gaps through "normal" training and development.
Almost overnight, many managers had to come to grips with entirely remote work forces, a shift that demands new and challenging project management skills. Any notion that this would be a temporary arrangement has faded, with many companies planning to go either fully or partially remote on a permanent basis.
Companies and educational institutions have recognized for years that the future of training lay outside traditional degree programs. The pandemic and the associated fallout means they can no longer hesitate in putting that into practice.
The accelerating pace of change means that employers need training options that are readily available and that teach material directly relevant to jobs and the company culture.
That doesn't mean that company-sponsored MBAs or project management certifications are dead, but we also need alternative forms of learning that are quicker, more flexible and targeted than traditional programs.
A big incentive for employees to take traditional courses outside of a degree is to add a "credential" to their resume, to get a certificate with their name on it. That has its place but increasingly, employers just need workers to be trained quickly in skills that have a direct and immediate impact on their job, without needing to go through a whole course and exam. Companies need to find ways to balance their own needs with their employees' development goals.
For example, a company may have identified a group of managers as strong in their functional areas who it wants to invest in for the future — but who it isn't ready to lose for two years to an MBA program. Many of them may already have a master's degree. A more practical solution could be to find short-burst learning options that home in on the practical skills needed, such as finding one's way around a complicated P&L sheet.
The accelerating digitalization of work and the abrupt shift to remote work has created a big gap in practical project management skills. Many middle managers need quick training to help them understand how to manage performance in the remote-work world, how to address the effect on company culture, and how to navigate fast-changing IT demands.
Ultimately, employers are the ones who can see and feel pain points and training needs. But there are several essential criteria that companies should bear in mind when looking for partners to help implement training needs.
First, it's advisable to choose partners that have established track records in education and training. Colleges and universities aren't the only option, but they can be valuable collaborators and have a record of success in education and training.
Second, it's important to select training courses that have a strong assessment element to them. The coursework needs to be designed in a way that ensures genuine absorption of the material rather than simply participation and completion, which is too often the case.
Third, employers need to select providers who genuinely understand their business needs. Every organization has unique development needs, which won't be properly met by a uniform approach. Rather than "one-size-fits-all," employers should look for providers that can provide more of a "one-size-fits-one" approach.
The need to flip the switch on training in this way is only going to get bigger as the pace of business and technology change accelerates. Organizations that can assess needs, quantify them and roll out the right training mix — either in-house or by partnering with third parties — will emerge stronger.