Is technology closing the skills gap or making us complacent?
Forty-Five percent of the small businesses are unable to find qualified candidates to fill job openings. 60 percent of all employers have job openings that stay vacant for twelve weeks or longer. 67 percent of leavers cite one or more interactions with their managers as having triggered them to look for a new job. The resulting costs of lost productivity and increased recruiting are massive. So, how can this be when the governments world-wide have invested more and more in education and companies have experienced “The War for Talent” before? How can this be when we have had nearly three decades of development and implementation of Learning Management Systems? How can this be when “You can learn anything on the internet?”
Is education the problem?
Many argue that education is still the problem and educational institutions are not producing good candidates – and that may well be true! Indeed, there are many informed voices, such as Ricardo Semler and Sir Kenneth Robinson who clearly point out the flaws in our current education systems. But, even if education is the problem, that won’t change soon. And, it is also no excuse for the employers. Business is about handling challenges and uncertainties. Without challenges and uncertainties, there would be no competition, no winners and losers, no energy or drive. Without them, we would not need leaders and managers; life would be boring and unrewardingly easy.
So, let’s get real and deal with the hand we have. The simple reality is that when the ‘new to the workforce’ arrive armed with their education, the probability is that at least two-thirds of what they learned is already out of date. We, the managers and leaders, are the ones who have to crack this problem. We have to find ways to rapidly, dramatically, and continuously upskill our workforces and/or enable and inspire them to do it themselves. But we get complacent because research apparently points to simple solutions:
• Around 70 percent of anyone’s talent is acquired whilst doing meaningful work: So, let’s explain to employees that they can get most of the development they need on-the-job; they don’t need to go into classrooms to learn anymore.
• Individual attention spans have reduced: So, let’s make learning and development bite-sized.
• Video is the most engaging way of delivering content: So, let’s package “best practices” in short videos.
• Individuals want autonomy and control: So, let’s make the learning videos available on demand.
The simple reality is that when the ‘new to the workforce’ arrive armed with their education, the probability is that at least two-thirds of what they learned is already out of date — and leaders have to crack this problem
Is technology the solution?
Many organizations have already moved to using Learning Management Systems to store and deliver on-demand materials, creating bite-sized learning experiences, delivering short, web-based training sessions, promoting self-managed learning, and seeing technology as the solution.
All of those things are simple … and they can add value. But, even when they are all applied, productivity, engagement, and staff retention data consistently show that such methods are not comprehensive enough or effective enough solutions.
Three critical skills
I started my own career journey well-resourced for an ever-changing world. Maidstone Grammar School in the UK gave me my formative education and equipped me with the ability to undertake an objective self-assessment and work positively with the results of it, make the very best use of my strengths, not let any relative limitations hold me back, and manage my self-development with a strategic goal in mind.
In later life, those skills have proven far more valuable than understanding how to compute a Fourier Series in mathematics and all the other things I had to learn merely to pass examinations! After obtaining my degree, my first paid employment was with 3M United Kingdom who also believed demonstrably in development. There, I quickly learned the importance of innovation and behavior engineering, and that technology is a powerful enabler … but, it rarely provides a comprehensive solution without excellent leadership and management.
From those two sets of experiences, I came to realize that organizations (or those people making the decisions in them) typically undervalue individual development and, when they do invest in it, they frequently simplify it to the point of trivialization.
What do we want from Learning and Development?
So, what are you trying to achieve through Learning and Development? I contend, two things:
- A pipeline of talent that will serve the medium to long-term needs of the organization as it, in turn, seeks to achieve the vision and mission within the constraints of its values and resources;
- Every employee actively seeking to realize their true potential, and most succeeding.
The former demands a strategic approach to recruitment — recruiting based on fit and potential rather than mere immediate capability. This, in turn, demands that the organization invests in a continuous review of what knowledge and skills will be needed, and takes action to ensure that those are acquired (either through recruitment or through development). After all, individual employees cannot be expected to know all of those emerging needs unless they are informed.
The second goal, “Every employee actively seeks to realize their true potential, and most succeed,” is also unlikely to be achieved merely by advising employees that, “We support self-managed learning and development” or by providing “On-demand web-based learning.”
Employees need to see and experience priority being attached to development. This means that development has to be a main agenda item and not the AOB agenda item; delegation needs to be development-focused; and the extent to which an employee has added to their knowledge and skills needs to be given appropriate value compared to the results they delivered.
Agility is also about adding the knowledge and skills that will be needed to respond to the upcoming changes. These are key to achieving an agile organization, capable of responding to the escalating rate of change. Agility is not only about rapidly using existing knowledge and skill to respond to changing demands and circumstances, it is also about adding the knowledge and skills that will be needed to respond to the upcoming changes.
Technology and especially AI will add value … but! Many argue that technology and especially AI will solve the problem. They will certainly add value. Contemporary technology can already, for example:
- Diagnose learning and development needs (by assessing our existing knowledge, skills, preferences and tendencies using operational data);
- Make recommendations for learning options (by monitoring our preferences);
- Make learning available on demand;
- Make learning extremely powerful by deploying gamification, virtual reality, augmented reality, etc.
But this still begs the questions, “Why are we not seeing enhanced productivity? “Why are we experiencing a shortage of the talent we seek?” and “Why are people leaving employers to find greener pastures somewhere else?”
Despite massive advances in technology and associated communications, the quality of leadership and management is still the single most significant differentiator of successful organizations
I believe that despite massive advances in technology and associated communications, “The quality of leadership and management is still the single most significant differentiator of sustainably successful organizations.” With a few notable exceptions (for example, using gamification to help surgeons develop the manual dexterity needed for micro-surgery), the use of technology in all its forms for learning and development merely increases the speed with which knowledge can be acquired (the learning). It does far less to increase capability (the application of knowledge; the development of skill).
Let’s not be complacent
Let’s not be complacent until organizations put the right people into people-management roles, equip them with the skill of managing their own development, make appropriate development resources and opportunities available, hold managers accountable for their own development, and hold managers accountable for the extent to which their staff develop, or else they will continue to experience talent shortages, sub-optimal productivity, and unacceptable yet avoidable levels of attrition.
Let’s not be complacent until individual managers realize that they need to learn how to manage their own development, take control of their own development, develop far more talent inside, than keep trying to recruit it from outside, and encourage their staff to take control of their own development, or else they will remain frustrated by change, overly busy, and constantly fighting in the war for talent.