Skill gaps are a domain that nobody nor company can escape.
We’ve all come across someone who’s used the phrase. Perhaps you’re guilty of saying it, or laughing it off with colleagues?
Whether it’s a matter of projecting confidence to compensate for a lack of expertise, authenticity, or simply not having the skills to perform certain tasks and hoping you can figure it out along the way, the expression points towards a worrying workplace mentality.
Sure, professional requirements for some jobs have more at stake than others.
For instance, a pilot couldn’t ‘fake’ knowing how to land a plane, in the same way that a doctor would surely lose their medical licence if they failed to suture a wound.
But a surprising number of people exaggerate competencies for tasks that fall outside their core job descriptions, or rely on self-taught methods to up-skill rather than admitting to their bosses that they might need help.
This begs the question:
From an employee management perspective, how can we better address the apparent skills gap?
These kind of short-term goals do not add long-term value. However, at least in terms of employee retention, this is one of many reasons millennials choose to work at startups instead.
Unfortunately this is the sort of business environment we inhabit.
C-level executives must think in terms of what will generate immediate economic value, rather than investing in less tangible training initiatives that will convert down the track.
Some figures point towards an average spend of about $1,000 (USD) a year per employee on training compared to an annual snack budget, for instance, estimated to exceed $3,000 in larger companies…
This disproportionate spending exposes the real problem with organisational priorities these days. Few employers recognise the correlation between better training and better performance, or will account for this short-term expense in their long-term projections.
Therein lies the challenge for companies;
How to identify and target areas that need improvement, then implement strategies that nurture this sort of growth?
When it comes to companies that do set money aside for training programs, it’s not uncommon to see a prevailing “trickle down” approach. This means the top tiers of management will benefit most from the funding, as opposed to mid- or entry-level employees.
Obviously an acknowledgement of leadership training trends has its place within a successful corporate structure, but to say it should be the sole focus of in-house training efforts would be a short-sighted view.
Even though these companies have technically invested in training, this sort of budget allocation can have a counterproductive effect.
By focusing too much on one group, it can remove both the incentive and professional capacity for employees to learn, try new methods and, ultimately, drive stronger results.
It also fails to recognise the contributions of others towards company-wide success and can undermine employees with potential.
Instead, companies should spend in a way that extracts more tactical gains on an employee level. As previously mentioned, this being typical in startups has led to massive growth and the advent of unicorn startups in certain tech industries.
Despite companies being generally reluctant to spend large budgets on training, though, the opposite can be just as problematic.
Throwing money at an e-learning platform without properly targeting the modules or considering their integration with an existing HR system can limit the program’s effectiveness - making training seem like nothing more than an afterthought or token gesture.
Similarly, there needs to be some consideration given to how you convey certain information.
Do you want to upload written and visual materials?
Could you share it in a more personal format, such as video?
Will you enable interactive elements on your post to gauge company-wide sentiment?
All these decisions will have implications for how well your training is received.
For a long time, workplace training has followed a traditional model (think: one-on-one mentors and classroom-style lessons).
In fact, in-house instructor-led courses are considered the most popular method of training in an estimated 78% of workplaces, followed closely by peer-to-peer coaching.
Sure, you might get the benefit of someone else’s expertise here, but how is this conducive to inspiring creative ideas that go beyond the scope of theory?
How can staff truly be equipped with new skills if they can not put them into practice?
The truth is, this sort of approach has become rapidly outdated.
Collaborative, online platforms have now expanded the number of training options at employers’ disposal. The challenge has become not just how to stay current, but how to gain a competitive advantage by harnessing the affordances of modern technology, and this is a source of innovation within modern corporations.
On-the-job training can come in many forms, and will vary depending on the size of the company and the industry in which you find yourself.
For small companies (with less than a thousand employees) the focus is on honing “hard” skills, or those that are required to perform a specific technical function, while larger companies (with over a thousand employees) will concentrate more on developing “soft” skills that are less task-centric and more people-oriented.
Construction workers might find themselves engaging in simulators that imitate real work experiences, while those in affiliate marketing management services and finance may rely on online forums, where they’re encouraged to post questions and seek feedback from colleagues.
In the goods and services sector, individual knowledge is more closely monitored through gamified online quizzes concerning new products and store procedures.
In any case, the ability to reach, engage and track digitally presents a win-win situation. Now it’s never been easier for employees to keep up with the required training, and employers have an unprecedented level of insight to benchmark both individual and group performance.
Just as all the other facets of our lives have changed at the hands of technology, it’s fair to say that the execution and outcomes of training are also in a transformative period.
These days it’s no longer a matter of preference either.
By incorporating desktop or mobile training into everyday work practices, employers are tapping into how a contemporary workforce expects to be communicated with.
Take IBM for instance. They are a tech-based company who were obviously quick to get on board and start experimenting with tech-based training methods in the 1980s, and who saw the proportion of their digital training grow from 5% closer to 75% by the year 2000.
Any sort of training requires an investment of time, money and resources, but this sort of e-learning has proven to be more cost- and time-effective than its classroom counterpart. In some cases, condensing week long training courses into a matter of hours.
Multi-device, on-the-go accessibility has undoubtedly contributed to this mobile training revolution, but the ability to personalise training modules based on employee needs is another equally compelling factor. Each course can be tailored for individual strengths and weaknesses, rather than presenting a “one-size-fits-all” solution to corporate compliance and education.
Going digital has also allowed for the inclusion of more gamified elements as a way of boosting participation rates - promoting healthy competition between co-workers to finish the most modules or achieve the highest scores.
This is often incentivised by unlocking different levels or status points, with real-time feedback facilitating more adaptive learning.
A lot of companies have recognised the disruptive power of new technologies and the need to address multiple audiences, but now there is a renewed push to supplement Human Resources (HR) departments with Learning and Development (L&D) personnel.
Although the two perform varied functions, there is still an overlap when it comes to ensuring workplace wellbeing - including fostering a more inclusive work culture where staff feel supported on a day-to-day basis, as well as in terms of their overall career progression.
The main point of difference between these departments would be that while HR focuses on talent acquisition, L&D invests more in developing that talent within a company.
Interestingly, close to 70% of L&D professionals say talent is a top priority for their organisation while only 27% are expecting a budget increase this year.
While the calculating return on investment of L&D programs can be hard to quantify, employers have been well aware of the costs of employee turnover for some time. We think it to be highest in construction, retail, and customer service industries where staff are employed on a more casual basis and have less company loyalty.
The latest labour statistics suggest losing a mid-range employee would have a hit of up to 20% of their annual salary on company revenue. That means if they were earning 250,000 a year, you could foot the bill for 50,000 in miscellaneous expenses trying to replace them.
This entails the upfront fees of advertising the job vacancy, as well as the hidden costs such as lowered productivity during the interview process, lost knowledge and client contacts, as well as the strain placed on remaining staff who have to assume more of the workload than before.
Here we should caution you not to fall into the trap of viewing staff churn as a reason to avoid training. It is a common misconception to think that it is a waste of money because staff are inevitably going to move on.
Consider: “What if we train them and they leave?” versus “What if we don’t and they stay?”
In reality, you are more likely to boost employee retention when your company shows a genuine interest in their futures at the company.
If done properly, it shows a commitment to getting the best out of them and will translate into better product knowledge, customer service and industry representation - meaning employees feel more confident in what they do and will be less likely to leave.
Building on staff’s existing competencies has the dual benefit of empowering a more skilled workforce that can not only do more for your company - but also want to do more because you are actively aware of their workplace satisfaction.
Of course, training shouldn’t exist for the sake of training.
It’s important to systematically evaluate the effectiveness of these sorts of programs, and when doing so, break down into more specific categories.
Surveys and comment fields can provide more qualitative measures of happiness and workplace satisfaction.
How are staff feeling this month compared to last month?
Does this point towards more generalisable trends in the workplace?
Engagement can also be tracked through open rates, click rates, and watch through rates.
This determines how many employees are actually receiving your information, engaging with it in some way or another, and using this information to inform their approach to work.
On the other hand, you can identify gaps in understanding or see where employees drop off and use this data to rethink how your strategy could improve.
To take a more holistic view, you can measure the positive or negative effects of training by tracking sales figures and attendance rates over a few months.
Untrained staff are typically less motivated and will make more mistakes because they don’t have as much pride in their work; whereas trained staff and unicorn employees engage and perform, therefore are more inclined to put in the hours to better results.
Training should not just be a matter of functioning in the workplace, but rather, a way to challenge staff, promote innovation and, ultimately, ensure people thrive (for your benefit as an employer just as much as their own).
By offering training on a regular basis instead of running sporadic sessions here and there, you are showing an investment in your staff as a company resource - in the same way you would invest in product development or advertising campaigns.
The costs of implementing a training program are negligible compared to the costs of poorly trained employees… So perhaps the question is not whether you can afford to have a training program, but whether you can afford not to?
Dimitar Karamarinov is an award-winning digital multi-instrumentalist coming into practice as early as 2006. Over a decade of audio, graphic, visual design, along with versatile know-how of business, marketing and communication. Dimitar grows experience with Entrepreneur Franchise 500, Inc 5000 and multi-continent brands under his belt.