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Skill development needs to be a long-term commitment

Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA, Pluralsight


Why skill development needs to be a long-term commitment from businesses, not a token gesture.

Each year, we all make new resolutions for ourselves. For many, this means reaffirming goals or habits that we have tried to stick to before, but there is a reason why we return to them year after year — typically, they don’t last.

Looking back

Over the last year, with swathes of the population forced to stay at home, including many on furlough, the trend of ‘lockdown resolutions’ has begun to emerge. From cookery to a new language, it’s clear many are keen to learn new skills at home. And as people strived to remain productive while working remotely, there has also been a huge appetite for career-enhancing skills in areas such as software development, DevOps or cybersecurity. In fact, when Pluralsight offered its full course library free of charge throughout April, more than a million people accessed it within that month alone.

This willingness to learn posed huge potential for businesses to engage employees in upskilling opportunities, equip them to take on new roles and work with new technology. However, in many cases, it has been something of a missed window. In fact, Pluralsight’s recent research found that nearly a third (31%) of employees felt they had not been offered any skill development opportunities from their employer during lockdown. This was most apparent amongst Generation Z, with a staggering 84% wishing that they had been offered some form of skill development during lockdown.

Going forward, businesses must capitalize on this desire to learn, ensuring that upskilling is ingrained in the company culture — rather than simply a token gesture akin to our New Year’s resolutions. To support this effort, I have identified three ways to ensure that skill development is implemented effectively, and most importantly, on an ongoing basis.

Map skill development to business priorities

Understanding the most in-demand skills across the industry more broadly is a first step to ensuring all employees have the necessary skills to apply the most up-to-date technology. This in turn can help to serve customers effectively, thus fending off competition and driving business success in the process.

Pluralsight’s research found that employees feel the skills their organizations will most need in the years to come include cybersecurity (19%), data analytics (19%) and cloud computing (19%), particularly as more of us work remotely going forwards. These areas may be a good starting point to investigate to determine current skill levels.

More than ever, owing in part to the ongoing pandemic and the shift to remote working, cloud and cyber skills are tied closely to business priorities. As a result, organizations are allocating significant budgets to ensuring business continues to operate safely and securely. In fact, research has found that 82% of business leaders invested in security and privacy to support remote workers, and 72% invested in cloud infrastructure.

While all IT and tech teams will have a certain amount of knowledge in this space, gaps in specific expertise, perhaps surrounding new and more advanced systems, may exist and these should be closed.

Beyond the technologies that every organization requires, individual companies will also have unique skill requirements based on their goals and ongoing projects. For example, Nomura Bank had plans to build and migrate to Nomura Private Cloud, so needed to focus on developing cloud skills at scale. By assessing which skills already existed in the organization and offering tailored training courses to equip employees with the skills needed to deliver the project, a critical business objective was met effectively.

Embed learning & development in company culture  

To make this stick, you have embed learning into the culture of an organization. It must be encouraged by managers and senior leaders, with employees safe in the knowledge that skill development is an important part of their role, and that their progress is facilitated and supported by their employer.

Offering rewards, encouraging teams and peers to work on learning challenges, and allowing people to develop outside of their day-to-day role can also help to make learning more effective, as well as learning on the job. Many employees say that they learn most effectively when being exposed to new technologies or systems during their working day and learning with and from other people in the organization. In addition, being given the opportunity to deepen a passion or build on a strength that their role doesn’t necessarily offer, can lead to effective skill development.

Offer a tailored, on-demand learning experience

If you are to successfully embed learning into the culture of the organization, you have to consider how you make learning opportunities available. Critically, it’s important to offer employees the right learning opportunities for their own role and career pathway. A blanket approach to training and upskilling, with mandatory classroom-based sessions for all employees, is often ineffective and irrelevant for some. Instead, having the means to collect and analyze data about individual employees’ skills levels – and gaps – means managers can create a tailored plan for each person.

Being able to monitor an individual’s progress, modify their learning pathway accordingly, and offer training that can be done in bite-size chunks at a time that is convenient to them is far more likely to keep employees engaged and motivated. It also proves that employers are committed to employee development, rather than a one-size-fits all approach to learning.

Looking ahead

Upskilling your workforce is a fool proof way to set yourself apart from the competition. It need not be complex to deploy and, while furthering the needs of the business, it has the added benefit of motivating employees. Following a year of uncertainty, there is an undisputed yearning for structure, and setting the wheels in motion now will stand a company in good stead when the world eventually returns to normal.