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Dismantling the divide: Addressing the skills gap

22nd Jan 2021
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Skills development is one of the most spoken about subjects and it’s also one of the most crucial talent priorities for any organisation right now. It’s predicted that by 2025, machines will do half of all our work tasks meaning a lot of our skills will become obsolete. It’s both automation eliminating jobs, as well as new job creation that has put the emphasis on upskilling and reskilling to stay relevant. Many organisational leaders are increasingly prioritising the development of their people in response, looking at personal skills, proficiencies and capabilities to propel their success. After the 2020 crisis, the first thing that organisations must develop is the trust between employees and employers. While recent research by Cornerstone OnDemand has revealed that 90% of employers feel confident in their ability to develop their peoples’ skills, this optimism is not widely shared between management and people. There is a 30%-point gap between the two with only 60% of employees feeling confident in their employer’s ability to develop their skills. To improve this level of trust and confidence, employers must prioritise skill development and demonstrate their commitment.

Leaders worldwide are beginning to understand the skills of the future are critical to success, but increased investment doesn’t always mean increased results. The steps needed to make learning a priority go far beyond putting the correct technology in place, it comes down to creating an always learning culture and changing mindsets throughout the entire organisation. 

Understanding the divide 

Before leaders can go ahead and implement ways to promote a culture of learning, they must understand the divide between employee and employer confidence in training. For many leaders, this may come as a complete shock that their people feel so differently to themselves – especially if they have invested in providing a number of learning resources. Cornerstone’s research also found that a shocking 40% of people don’t feel enabled by the learning resources provided. And while 87% of leaders believed they were adequately equipped to develop their people, only 62% of people felt the same way. 

Addressing this issue is the first step to fixing it. Having open and honest conversations about training and learning can explain a lot to leaders who are finding the divide hard to believe. For many, just having the solution in place is not enough and autonomy might not be the chosen way of working for everyone. It can be far too easy for people to push training to one side and focus on what they believe is most meaningful for the company. But people must prepare for any future complications by equipping themselves with the skills needed to prosper.

The impact of Covid-19 on learning 

The outbreak of Covid-19 and the changes following have impacted the outlook on work drastically. There is an increasing volatility in the workplace with over three-quarters of people believing their future working experiences will be altered as a direct result of the pandemic. And more than half are concerned about how their current role may change in the future – an understandable assumption in such a time of uncertainty. But Covid-19 has accelerated other areas of the business, and learning is one of them. According to a recent study by Fosway Group, 94% of businesses have had to change their learning and development strategies in response to the pandemic and 2 in 3 are making significant changes to what they do and how they do it. Additionally, there has been an 82% increase in demand for digital learning from senior stakeholders and a 71% increase from end users – highlighting that learning is on the rise and is becoming more important in our increasingly digitalised world. 

With learning becoming a priority for most, the next challenge is creating a workplace culture that facilitates and supports an always learning culture. Here are a few small changes that can help accelerate this organisational change. 

Learning in the flow of work

While there has been a 20% increase in skill development prioritisation, there is more work to be done. For over 60% of respondents to the Cornerstone survey, the most significant barrier to learning is time, or lack thereof. Interestingly, two-fifths of those working from home are working longer hours than they would in the office on a standard day and it is increasingly difficult to switch off from work. With the pressure on, making time for training during the busy workday can feel like a heap of added pressure. 

Constant ongoing training is one way to combat this, and it must involve everyone within the organisation. When everyone, including leaders and management, are undergoing constant training and learning, everyone becomes much more aware of what works, what doesn’t and the time it requires. In addition to this, managers must ensure they are dedicating the necessary time for training, especially during the traditional workday. This can be implemented by blocking out time in schedules for training or even making a set number of hours for training mandatory each week or month. Taking time out of the workday to focus on training is step one. Step two is blending training and working into one function so that learning is integrated into not only the workplace daily routines, but the culture too. 

Encourage feedback conversations – even the uncomfortable ones

To build a learning culture, people must feel like a valuable and important asset to the organisations and being heard is the first step. A clear feedback loop for people to comment on the training they have done will encourage discussions about how it can be improved. In some cases, feedback can be uncomfortable to give directly, especially for a new starter or someone taking up a new role so there should be an opportunity to provide it on a confidential basis to ensure everyone feels comfortable vocalising what does and doesn’t work for them – taking their learning into their own hands. By enabling people to offer their feedback, it allows them to feel like they are doing training that benefits both themselves and the organisation. 

Additionally, by having open and honest conversations, everyone can begin to tailor their learning either through choosing what appeals to them or by management taking feedback seriously and tactically tailoring training. Remote collaboration tools can help people to discuss training that worked well for them (or not so well) and suggest training to colleagues easily. Having conversations about training while working is an important step to embedding learning into the working culture.   

Communicating faster and sharing further

The next step toward a culture of continuous learning is communication. Effective communication is about repetition across the entire organisation from people of all levels. For senior executives, formal communication to signal commitments could be an effective method but perhaps a team leader should communicate on a one-to-one basis.

People feel closer and more committed to an organisation when they understand its purpose, aims and progress towards its mission. With that, people must understand what part they play in the business’ success, be aware when that role may change and how they may need to adapt. Using communication formats like company-wide newsletters, email updates, or even a dedicated social media platform where anyone within the team can comment on organisational changes and ask questions in real time will help get the message heard by everyone. These business changes can be either policies or just general business direction. This helps people to feel involved and allows them to see which areas of the business are evolving at the fastest rate and adapt their skills to the business needs, adding an increased sense of meaning to their overall careers – helping both the business and the individual in the long run.

A final part of communication to consider is how you reward those that are doing well and pushing forward with training initiatives. By rewarding people for their efforts with learning and development, they will continue to push themselves and slowly, the others will follow suit – plus they deserve a reward for doing well. Rewards can be worked into your compensation plans, and while this may seem obvious, Cornerstone research found that only 39% of organisations are currently doing this! 

Create meaningful support systems for all people, all the time

After this year we all want to return to ‘normal’ but we must do better than before. Management must ensure they are not only accommodating and empathetic toward everyone right now but making a continued effort to prioritise employee wellbeing going forward. Many will be dealing with external stressors, sometimes amplified by home working. This can be anything from managing small children, co-working with flat mates, or even just having a dog that needs constant attention. For others, the emotional effect of working and living from home may be minor but could lead to bigger complications such as burnout if unrecognised. In addition to the ongoing stressors of our current climate, many are feeling increasingly anxious about ensuring their skills are current in an environment filled with so much uncertainty. A recent study by McKinsey revealed that many organisations stated skill building was a more effective way to close the skills gap in the next five years than hiring new talent. This is a great opportunity to ensure that your people feel respected and their concerns are taken seriously. When they are feeling their best, they will work at their best – looking out for your people is not only beneficial to retaining staff, but also essential for business continuity. And it must be carried on beyond the pandemic.  


Above all else, there must be a willingness to change as it is far too easy to stick with what has worked previously. Becoming an advocate for work flexibility to help accommodate development, creating experiences to put into practice, exploring new interests, communicating well about the right things and supporting all people are all things that can be done on an individual basis with a big external impact. Skill development should become a core value that helps to influence how leaders lead and how everyone dedicates their time and effort. Learning must integrate with work, not act as a separate function so an always learning culture can be created. These times are uncertain to say the least, but the one certainty in the workplace is that people need skills, skills that last and pass the test of time. Equipping your people can help to bring some certainty and control to help them prepare for the future to feel more confident in their abilities and capable of tackling what the future holds for them and the organisation.  

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