Employees are craving support for skills growth; here’s how to help

A World Economic Forum report released just before the start of the pandemic last year accelerated already-growing conversations around employee skills. Researchers predicted that, by 2025, half of all work tasks would be automated. While it suggested 87 million jobs would be eliminated because of this, the shift would also create 97 million jobs.

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As this transformation happens, employee skills are at risk of “atrophying,” Mike Bollinger, vice president of strategic initiatives at talent management system and software company Cornerstone, said Thursday at Spring HR Tech. The WEF report bolsters that idea: The two most in-demand skills in 2020–analytical thinking and innovation, followed by active learning–weren’t even on the top-10 list two years previously.

“That’s how fast things are moving,” Bollinger said.

Cornerstone’s own research suggests a path forward for building employee skills. Its People Research Lab conducted a global study last spring–just as the pandemic was forcing lockdowns around the world–of 500 business leaders and 1,000 employees, analyzing the state of skills growth from both perspectives.

Related: Read more Spring HR Tech coverage here.

Among the takeaways was a significant “confidence gap”: Business leaders felt like they were making an effective investment in employee skills and that employees have the capacity to learn, but employee views weren’t in line.

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“There was a difference between ‘I’m making an investment’–the employer–and ‘I’m not sure I can consume that investment’–the employee–and it was a very, very pronounced finding and something that put my ears up and that I think we can all … address in the future,” Bollinger said.

Drilling down into the data, Cornerstone found that employees reported their reskilling or upskilling was lacking for a number of reasons: The majority (61%) said they didn’t have time to learn new skills, while other common obstacles were a lack of money, that they didn’t know how or what to learn and that they didn’t have access to learning content.

“ ‘I don’t have time’ might be a red herring for ‘I don’t know what to do next, I don’t know what skills I should focus on, I don’t know if I have the right resources in the right place and I don’t have time to find those resources,’ ” Bollinger noted.

Aligning with that theory is the finding that employees want direction from their employer on building their skill sets: When employees were asked how they identify the skills they’d like to grow, the top response was that they want their manager to help them identify them, followed by their organization offering career resources. “There are organizational expectations on behalf of the employee,” Bollinger said. “That’s good for us; that’s an opportunity for us.”

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HR needs to address that skills confidence gap and the expectation for employer support, he said, by layering more on top of the classic foundation of learning strategies:

  • Create modern, personalized and ubiquitous resources;
  • center skills in your learning strategy;
  • and bring learning into the flow of work.

“If you present to them at the right time with the right set of skills and clarify on their behalf that that’s what you’re doing–that’s an important component in your communication strategy–and then bring personalization, skills at the core of your learning strategy and learning in the flow of work to bear as a strategy, it’ll yield the results you’re looking for.”

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].