The U.S. business community faces a difficult road ahead: Companies face monumental pressure to retain and create more American jobs under a new White House while at the same time combating huge skill shortages across virtually every industry.
For HR executives, that challenge often translates to an increased focus on recruitment efforts to try and curb those deficits. As important as those efforts may be, however, it's important not to overlook learning and onboarding initiatives in the process — both are key tools for eliminating skill shortages.
Skill gaps and changing technology
In their mission to close those gaps, employers aren't just interested in the usual pool of job applicants anymore. Recently, HR Dive has covered industry leaders who reaching out to students.
Often, the target demographic is college students at the start of their postsecondary careers, but even high school students are being groomed for internship and apprenticeship programs in today's talent pipeline.
What good are these efforts, however, if employers cannot keep up with changing skills and technological advancements that will make some of today’s jobs obsolete in a couple of generations? After all, a recent Oxford University report estimated that 47% of jobs will be disappearing in the next 20 years.
Some of the factors contributing to this demise of some existing jobs and demand for new skills include the following, according to Philip Perry at Big Think:
Computer automation of everything
Already, we are seeing the emergence of computer technology that can replace humans for some tasks. That includes everything from self-service restaurants to retail checkouts to recruitment bots that screen and stay in contact with candidates. Future skill sets will need to focus on tasks that bots and AI can't do.
The broken educational system
For the last few generations, the U.S. K-12 educational system has not been able to produce enough of the right kinds of skills. This is particularly true of STEM career skills, which are seriously lacking. This effect is especially pronounced for some regions and demographic areas of the country.
Rapid exit of Baby Boomers
As older workers leave the workforce in droves, they take valuable knowledge with them. And for those who do remain employed into their retirement years, those skill sets are at risk of becoming outmoded.
Managing learning and skill development with continuous delivery
In an interview Doug Stephen, SVP of Learning Division at CGS, a global provider of business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services, explained how continuous delivery of learning content can have a major impact on organizations facing skill shortages and evolving technology.
The idea is for Chief Learning Officers (CLO) to start thinking more like product managers, embracing an agile delivery methodology for corporate learning programs. It’s what Stephen refers to as ‘minimum viable product’ development.
By repeating this process over and over again, from a small idea gradually rolled out to specific groups of employees, it’s possible to improve a company's learning ROI efficiently and effectively without the need for the huge training programs typical of today’s corporate learning programs.
Why it works
“Learning must be project-based," Stephen said, "and through the continuous development of courses, initiated with testing minimum viable products, which are small self-contained products designed to make the most impact, learning itself is measurable.”
To help illustrate the concept, Stephen gave an example of a telecommunications client that used a minimum viable product to improve customer retention and employee phone skills during ‘win-back’ calls.
The goal was for employees to simply pause for 10 seconds after asking customers a question. This one discreet change resulted in above average retention rates among a test group of employees, and was later added to the main employee training program for customer service agents.
How technology enables continuous learning
We live with powerful technology at our fingertips 24/7; Stephen suggests that CLOs harness these capabilities via continuous learning simply by asking employees to share their insight and knowledge.
“Organizations can retrofit anything they want to by using mobile devices,” he said. Stephen also explained that companies can encourage subject matter experts to record brief videos explaining certain topics pertaining to job tasks and other critical knowledge, which they could then upload to a company Vimeo channel.
Additionally, by using a mobile app like Snapchat, employees can share tiny snippets of what they’ve learned for the benefit of others.
Learning is measurable
The most impactful thing about Stephen’s model on continuous learning is that it’s measurable. Using built-in analytical tools, a CLO could identify the most popular videos and learning content among employees. This information can then be used for later development of micro-learning products that focus on the skills that employees themselves want to learn.
Stephen also points out that there is a certain expectation of organizations to develop monolithic courses vs. incremental lessons. “It’s as if they tie the inches of the training manual to the dollars of the change," he said. One-size-fits-all learning isn't a particularly good way to maximize ROI. Instead, Stephen said, “Take a look at the baseline and start there, don’t build learning for the sake of learning.”
One last thought on this, Stephen said, is to “give people just enough to be knowledgeable, they will pick up the rate via self-paced learning.” This is very true; HR observers have seen how younger generations of employees hunger for new information, a trend buoyed by the fact that many are involved in learning outside of the workplace. This is a trend that’s likely to continue.
How employers can deal with skill shortages
Organizations are trying multiple ways to mitigate skill shortages, with many focusing on recruitment strategies. However, learning can and should be harnessed often to cross-train employees for greater synergy across the organization, so long as it is combined with careful selection and training of new hires.
Stephen gives an important tip for embarking on continuous learning: “Take the time to get baseline on where you are now, define your business objectives, use discreet learning introduction and over time these small steps will make a big impact.”