This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
As technology evolves, the skills gap — the disparity between the skills employers need to succeed and those workers actually have — keeps getting wider. If your company isn't already addressing this gap, start now — no matter how big or small you are, or what business you're in. If you don't, you might be left behind.
To employers, I offer the following solution: Devote 5% of employees' time at work to learning. In my experience, doing so can help you reduce talent turnover by up to 20% and save your company money. Even better, your people will have more of the skills they may need to get the job done.
The Situation Is Dire
The skills gap is like climate change. Most people know there's a problem, but few are doing anything meaningful about it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, today there are fewer unemployed Americans (6.2 million) than there are open jobs (7.3 million). It's entirely possible that if people had the right skills, we could be at full employment.
According to a 2018 report for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, not all industries are experiencing skills gaps, but there are significant shortages of qualified candidates for many high-skill roles such as healthcare practitioners, business and financial operations professionals, computer and mathematics professionals and architects and engineers.
And the issue goes beyond jobs demanding rare or complex skills. The National Skills Coalition says that 53% of the U.S. job market consists of middle-skill jobs, but only 43% of workers have the right skills for these jobs.
Employment Numbers Hide The Truth
The skills gap can hit companies where it hurts: their bottom line. Consider manufacturing: According to a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, a shortage of skilled workers could reduce the U.S. manufacturing gross domestic product by up to $454 billion by 2028.
But many in business don't understand the urgency of the situation. They consider the skills gap a vague threat existing in the far-off future. How could there be a problem, they ask, when unemployment is so low?
Here's how: Official unemployment statistics significantly understate the number of jobless Americans. As reported by Quartz, at less than 63% as of June 2018, the labor force participation rate — which measures the share of employment-age Americans who are working or actively looking for work — is at roughly the same level as it was during the late 1970s, when far fewer women were part of the workforce. This shows that the joblessness problem is far bigger than the unemployment numbers suggest — and that many have likely given up even looking for work. I believe it could be because they don't have the skills required by the jobs that are available.
So What Can Employers Do?
Finding and keeping the right people with the right skills is a must for companies. But as business change accelerates, doing so is growing more difficult. What can you do?
In a better world, governments, universities, companies and employees would all pitch in to solve this problem. But I don't think that elected officials, academics and employees have the power or the will to drive the kinds of policies and practices that are required. Meanwhile, the problem is too important to wait for someone else to take care of it. Do that, and you may fall behind.
You can try to solve the problem by recruiting new talent, but qualified talent can be expensive to source and hire — and there's a real chance that you won't find people with the right skills. Or you could try accelerating the automation of key functions. But that can be risky.
Bridge The Skills Gap By Investing In Learning
I believe the answer is to upskill your existing employees — something that millennial workers, who want more from a job than compensation, are particularly enthusiastic about. To drive employee-learning success, think beyond just offering training options, and take the following steps:
• Enable success by addressing different learning styles. Devote 5% of employees' time to learning — but beyond that, give them a variety of learning options so that they'll engage fully regardless of learning style.
• Get managers at all levels to buy into your approach. Spread the word about what you're doing, and show the business case: Upskilling employees can drive a healthier bottom line by reducing employee turnover and increasing productivity and engagement. Without buy-in from managers, employees are less likely to receive the time and resources they need to learn new skills successfully.
• Make learning an ongoing practice. This way, your people will always be adding new skills — and your business will be better prepared for the changes waiting around the next corner.
• Measure results. To justify your employee-upskilling efforts to management and employees alike, track quantifiable results of your training programs — employee satisfaction scores, for instance, or productivity rates.
Future-Proof Your Business Today
I believe there's far too little urgency around the growing skills gap caused by technology and the acceleration of business. If you run a company, aim to devote 5% of your employees' time to upskilling and development. You'll be more likely to keep your top talent and save money — and your employees can gain the skills they may need to keep your business alive and thriving.
Photo: Creative Commons
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How HR can win in the Skills Economy: Ageas case study
In this 30-minute session, Cindy Canoot, HR Manager and PMO for HR Technology, Processes and Analytics at Ageas will share with you some best practices and ideas to thrive in the skills economy.
The Impact of The Skills Economy on Organisations Today
Spotlight on Electrolux and Ageas: Preparing for and maintaining impactful learning programs
Driving business outcomes from an investment in learning content requires an engagement strategy that makes learning materials available and accessible to employees. Organisations need to launch and maintain learning programmes effectively to ensure they have maximum impact on both employees and the business as a whole. Both Ageas and Electrolux have successfully launched digital learning programmes, each taking steps to maintain and sustain engagement. How did Electrolux prepare to launch its learning campaign? Electrolux manages organizational learning and knowledge management with formal learning networks, Internet-based knowledge, as well as a company-own education facility. Learner engagement is one of the most important aspects for Electrolux to continuously develop talents. Therefore, Electrolux offers a plan for a learner engagement campaign that includes four main steps. 1. Knowing your audience Electrolux conducted interviews with employees to ensure the company’s learning and development strategy would meet their needs. In doing so, the company was able to connect learning content with the right audience. 2. Connecting it to your brand Electrolux believes using familiar, consistent branding helps make learning more memorable to create a long-term impact on its employees' behaviours. 3. Make it relevant and engaging Based on external and internal insights, Electrolux discovered that more frequent quarterly learner programmes cultivated higher levels of employee engagement than one large campaign launch. Employees were also awarded badges for each completed course, with leader boards to gamify the learning experience and motivate employees to participate. 4. Track performance for key insights Electrolux tracked and used metrics from the programme to gain deeper insights about its course completion rates. Using a previous campaign as a benchmark, Electrolux found that the success of their new learning strategy exceeded expectations. How did Ageas build an impactful learning content strategy? Ageas launched its digital learning platform two years ago but has always been conscious not to overwhelm employees with its vast library of learning material available. Ageas adopted a three-pillar strategy to reduce unnecessary noise and guide its people to the right learning content to spur their growth and development. 1. Generate one voice Key messages were planned each month from business, wellbeing and learning perspectives. These key messages were conveyed through links and content shared on Ageas’s digital platform to ensure messaging was aligned and consistent. 2. Make it relevant Ageas created its own competency framework to guide learners and help connect them with the most relevant learning materials. One such framework is “Technical Heroes”, which consists of nine core competencies that employees see right away on the landing page, each with links to relevant materials. By specifying the key areas of development and making learning material easy to access and navigate, learners are able to focus on what is most relevant to them. 3. Weave learning content into the digital onboarding journey Ageas has integrated its remote onboarding processes into the digital learning platform. Leveraging a combination of suggested learning materials (specific to the job or function of the employee) and live induction sessions has enabled a smoother, more consistent onboarding process. The impact of a successful learning strategy Investing in the best learning materials is only half of the equation. If learners are not interacting and engaging with the materials, the investment is not accomplishing its purpose. Learning must be at the core of every business decision, and leaders must inspire employees to take charge of their own development journeys. With a collective growth mindset throughout the business, the opportunities for innovation are vast.