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James McLeod

Faethm AI

VP EMEA at Faethm AI

Read more from James McLeod

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Self-directed employee learning: the key to solving the skills shortage

Flexible, personalised employee learning is the future – but it has to be driven by data to be effective.

Employee skills have a huge role to play in the world of work. The ability to continuously learn and develop both technical and soft skills is an imperative factor if you wish to be successful, no matter what industry you’re in. While some approach learning with the aims of adding multiple strings to their bow and building a portfolio of applicable skills, others prefer to dedicate their time to specialising in certain areas and gaining expertise in a particular field. Whatever way they choose to learn, the value of skills to employees is abundantly clear, and the pandemic has only served to reinforce that fact.

The demand for skills is ever changing, and as technology develops and the requirements of the workplace evolve.

As the workplace evolves and the needs and demands of businesses begin to change amid a backdrop of technological innovation, a number of employees are seeking ways to retain employability and broaden their skill sets. In doing so, many have turned to self-directed learning in an attempt to fill gaps in their knowledge and remain an agile member of the workforce. This positive trend of increased appetite for learning and development among workers is a welcome sight for employers, with the benefits of increased productivity and quality of work that comes from a more skilled workforce.

There are caveats however; while employee learning is a trend to be encouraged, it’s important that the skills they are learning are both relevant and timely to make them worthwhile. As the world of work rapidly accelerates along the path of digitisation and technological development, so does the demand for skills change.

It is up to employers to ensure that employee learning is being steered by future demand, and that the skills being learned are those most likely to be needed in coming years. Doing so will not only prevent widescale unemployment and skills shortage issues, it can also help their employees continue to be retainable, productive members of the workforce.

Supplementing employee aspirations

All good working relationships depend on both parties fulfilling their end of the bargain. For employees, one of the main expectations is that they provide an appetite and a willingness to learn and develop to become better at their role. This trend towards increased self-directed learning shows that employees are doing so in abundance – so what responsibilities do employers have to ensure they uphold their end?

Businesses should recognise this appetite shown from employees and supplement it with committed investment into their learning and development. A willingness to learn new skills is a useful trait, however it is only as useful as the skills being learned, meaning that guidance by businesses is important for employees to make the most of their learning. By using the right resources available to them, employers can help direct employee learning in a way that ensures employees are equipped to face the future demands of the workplace.

Using data as a guide

It’s important for both employees and businesses that a clear path to the future of work is established. The demand for skills is ever changing, and as technology develops and the requirements of the workplace evolve, employees need to be taught the skills necessary to remain valuable. In order to do so, businesses must invest in the right resources to help map out a plan for employees.

Using data analytics can help businesses identify the skills likely to be in-demand in the future, meaning they can create a clearer path for employee learning and development that prioritises these skills. Listening to the data and re-training those whose roles are likely to be at risk in coming years can help to create ‘job corridors’, establishing a route to new roles that are augmented by technology rather than replaced by it. Not only could this help to prevent huge structural unemployment issues, it can also save businesses from the costly and time consuming process of recruiting new staff compared to retraining their existing employees.  

Acknowledging changes in demand

Recent reports such as Faethm’s UK workforce forecast show that up to 1.4 million full-time roles could be automated this year – equal to 5% of the workforce. Whilst these numbers may be alarming, there is an opportunity for businesses to teach their employees how to deal with these changes and ensure that they retain employability as the workplace evolves.

Take an example of someone working in the accountancy industry, a field that has a comparatively high potential for the automation of tasks. If someone in that industry expresses to their employer that they’d like to develop their skills or career further, businesses should take the opportunity to educate them on the learning paths that will equip them to deal with future demand. There are a range of digital, cyber security or analytic skills for example, that accountants can learn quickly that can open up opportunities to transition into technology roles in the near future.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has been awash with negatives, the fact that employees have recognised the importance of a wide skill set to a successful career is a positive sign. Businesses now need to step up and invest time and resources into directing this learning in the most efficient way possible. Placing employees on the correct path and teaching them which skills they should be prioritising to meet future demand will lead to an engaged, well prepared workforce for many years to come.

Interested in this topic? Read How to use self-directed learning when onboarding frontline workers.

Author Profile Picture
James McLeod

VP EMEA at Faethm AI

Read more from James McLeod

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