How business leaders should weigh the benefits of upgrading the skills of their workforce


As skills upgrading and retraining are increasingly part of the conversation in the workplace, business leaders need to approach these programs as much more than short-term campaigns with benefits to attract employees to the workplace. a tight labor market. Improving employee skills should be viewed through the lens of their business goals. When leaders can see a clear return on investment (ROI) for skills improvement and retraining, outside of recruiting strategies for a competitive marketplace, their commitment to learning and development (L&D) will become multi-layered of magnitude greater than what we see today. .

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Development efforts are slowly gaining ground. Amazon recently said it was building skills for its employees, with three additional programs that could open doors to jobs in data center, IT and user experience design. Nine existing development programs that have trained more than 70,000 employees since 2019, Amazon said. Other large employers, including Verizon, Bank of America, PwC, Accenture, JPMorgan and AT&T, have launched development initiatives in the past two years.

These programs, however, are just one hurdle compared to the mountain of training and development needed to accelerate dynamics in a rapidly changing workplace. Business leaders should shift their attention beyond the short term and move away from education offerings that are akin to public relations stunts to improve their image of social responsibility.

Effective and meaningful training and development must be comprehensive, including not only technical capabilities, but also skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity – all of which are increasingly important in the 21st century. But perhaps most importantly, the training should support a growth mindset – “learning to learn” as an ongoing effort.

Learn to learn

I witnessed a change in mindset around learning many years ago, when I was in medical school in Denmark and often came home on weekends for dinner with my kids. parents, both of whom were educators. These were formative conversations for me, later influencing my career change to education. In a conversation, my father explained the setback he encountered as he traveled through Denmark, training teachers on a new learning management system – and now the country was changing again – to the third LMS in just a few years.

I asked him, “Dad, have you ever taken a step back and tried to understand your frustration?” Your ability to learn this new system is different from the first two systems, which may change two more times before you retire. My comment hit my dad like cold water in the face, but in a good way. He began to shift training from learning something specific to embracing the concept of meta-skills and the ability to learn more effectively.

Likewise, business leaders need to go beyond training to teach people the “buttons” of their latest software or the steps of a new business process. Instead, they should approach it as a way to promote a mindset among workers to welcome new challenges and learning opportunities.

Weigh the costs

As business leaders assess their commitment to development and retraining, it must be recognized that devoting more resources to training and development comes at a cost. Some industry figures suggest around $ 1,100 per employee, but that number may need to be considerably higher in the future. Yet it can be much cheaper than the lost productivity that results from a lack of workers with the necessary skills and increased turnover, as employees burn out when they have to catch up on vacancies. These costs are measured in missed sales opportunities, errors, and lower morale. Considering the choice of the two, the cost of workplace education is preferable as it pays long term dividends with a more skilled and tech-enabled workforce.

As McKinsey observed, “This dynamic goes beyond remote working, or the role of automation and AI. It’s about how leaders can retrain and upgrade the skills of the workforce to deliver new business models in the post-pandemic era. “

The solution, however, is not just any training. The $ 366 billion global training industry has mostly produced largely disappointing results. Rather, employers need to change their approach to learning and development to meet people where they are – regardless of background, skill level or experience – and provide resources that can help them get through. the threshold and access interesting jobs. Instead of consistent and ineffective training, employees would receive personalized education (mostly computerized) that evolves at their own pace with the support, resources, and reinforcement that each person needs to become competent.

It doesn’t matter whether someone learns quickly or slowly; all employees can benefit from the same learning opportunities. Time – and not skill – then becomes the variable. It’s the best way for employers to close the skills gap between new hires and existing employees – and seek a return on investment on training that matches their long-term business goals.