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Editorial Team
14 Oct 2020

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The Learning Culture – Why You Need It, and How to Get It

That the right skills are in short supply in workforces is not in dispute. What becomes imperative is the right approach to learning, as the old ways will work no more.

The talent quandary is a tough one to crack. Ask the jobseekers, and they rue the unavailability of good jobs. Go over to talent managers, though, and they say the right talent is just not available. So, what really is this talent shortage organizations are faced with?

Consider these:

  • Soft skills have surpassed digital skills in importance; the latter are still needed, though
  • Skills have a shorter shelf life, with the double whammy coming from a much longer time needed to close a skill gap
  • Intelligent automation could catch many organizations or even countries unawares, given how much of the workforce will need reskilling

Executives in most organizations recognize and accept a talent shortage, but organizations are surprisingly lackadaisical, continuing to employ traditional strategies for hiring and training. Along with disruptions to markets and economies and the force of technology, this has serious implications on the value and availability of and need for workforce skills.

Why do we need skilled workers? Because they are intrinsic to the organizational mission of innovating, delivering value, growing the business, and generating new jobs. They are a significant factor affecting expansion into new locations – 88% of executives in an IBM survey felt labor availability, cost, and quality were key to deciding on growth and market expansion.

And success in the workforce requires not just digital skills but increasingly is dependent on the level of behavioral or soft skills. The balance has over the years tilted strongly in favor of the latter; this, interestingly, is due in part to the former. Technical skill gaps continue to be a matter of concern – their shelf life is now just 2-3 years, according to UB Pravin Rao, the COO of Indian IT major Infosys. Half -lives of professional skills are down from 10-15 years to just 5, with technical skills at even shorter half-lives. What you may learn is more important than what you know already, and asking the right questions appears to be more important than knowing the answers. Organizations are realizing the importance of critical thinking and problem-solving to drive innovation and take data-driven decisions. Creativity, empathy, and quick decision-making are among other priority areas.

Take a look at the following statistics:

  • Intelligent automation (enabled by AI) could compel the reskilling of over 120 million workers in the 12 largest world economies
  • Of the approaches to improve performance, CEOs assign the top rank to investment in people
  • Skill gap closure through traditional training requires more than 10 times the duration it took four years ago, reaching 36 days from just 3

The technological onslaught has made human learning all the more critical. About half of all jobs will be automated within 15 years, according to Edward D Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia. If your employees can learn, relate, and think on an ongoing basis, your workforce quality will be on the up, and you will stand apart from and ahead of competition. And this must be addressed fast, given that the global talent shortage by 2030 could touch 85 million people, suggesting a massive shortage of workers with the right skills.

What becomes really important, then, is to bring in the right learning culture. “Never stop learning” is no cliché – rapidly-changing business environments and new ways of work make it crucial to foster a culture of learning. Train your people – your biggest asset – and set them on the right paths for careers and development, and nothing will be able to keep your productivity or workplace happiness down.

The Corporate Executive Board – or CEB – defines true learning culture as “a culture that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization.” Unfortunately, true learning culture is found in just 10% of organizations. This is what you stand to gain:

  • Sustainable engagement: Culture and the work environment engage employees, and training and development keep them engaged.
  • Higher retention: People tend to switch jobs in pursuit of career and skill growth opportunities, aided by well-defined training opportunities and career paths.
  • Better response to technology: New skills training is essential to learn digital skills, agile thinking, interpersonal abilities, and global awareness, all high-demand competencies.
  • Improved problem solving: Facilitating skills and learning encourages employees to find the answer rather than just list the problem.

To create a true culture of learning, you need continuous measurement, disciplined processes, and countering objections. Here are the steps you need to take:

  • Skills are not behaviors: Recognize the need to teach people not just the What but also the Why, all the more important for behavioral skills. It is important to define target behaviors and design a culture to achieve those.
  • Target KSAs: Knowledge, skills, and abilities (or KSAs) trump key performance areas (KPAs). Encourage the workforce to learn and improve outside of training scenarios too.
  • Rope in top leadership: Convince leaders of the need for a learning culture and the payoff, for which aligning learning goals with business goals is essential.
  • Engage middle managers: Traction on the ground will suffer if managers do not help workers learn and do not follow up after completing learning exercises.
  • Talk about goals: Leadership buy-in will not amount to much if workers do not understand the value for themselves and for the organization.
  • Choose the right platform: Pick a standard, customizable learning platform or invest in something tailored to your specific requirements.
  • Track and tweak: Assessing the results keeps management convinced, and tweaking the approach boosts effectiveness.
  • Offer a choice of channels: Let people learn the way they like, and figure out the right fora to communicate new knowledge.

In summation…

The skills shortage is not going away anytime soon, and education, industry, and the government must collaborate proactively to address this gap. Place skills front and center of workforce strategies, and bring in the right learning culture now!

 




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