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The Way I See It… Bridging the Skills Gap


The UK skills gap is a serious problem for many companies. In a recent survey, the CBI warned of UK firms’ growing dissatisfaction with the quality of school leavers. Peter Nicol, EMEA vice president, OutStart, discusses the options.

It’s the biggest business hangover of the decade: the UK skills gap is widening and a recent survey by the CBI’s showed the extent of the problem for employers. One in three firms must now offer remedial training to compensate for perceived failures in the education system - and this is taking up an increasing proportion of an estimated £23bn annual spend on training.

Part of the problem is the education system, but many students are simply unenthusiastic learners. In their rush to enter the world of work, they leave school with under-developed skills and promptly look to their new employers for training and development. There is no doubt that many employers do have these programmes on offer, but the basics are often missing.

Core skills
So, we are increasingly relying on a skilled and unskilled workforce to push forward our knowledge economy, at the heart of which sits a need for well developed IT, lateral thinking, analysis and dissemination skills. These skills will define the knowledge worker as we move forward. But its not only school-leavers who may pose a problem - increasing numbers of graduates are struggling to make an impact in their first few years of employment too.

Improving core skills at GCSE and A Level will go some way to help solve these issues, but any change will take decades to filter through to businesses. The demands of the knowledge economy also mean that it is simply not enough to adopt a static approach to learning and development. The learning organisation is what businesses need to be working towards - a constantly evolving learning culture that ensures the workforce is adaptive, focused and thriving in an environment where we learn from each other, success and failure.

In the first instance, we need to motivate staff and create a thirst for knowledge. Organisations don’t always give learning and training the attention it deserves, and during difficult times, it is usually the first activity to be curtailed, despite gaps in the skill base. This approach needs to change. When new recruits join they need to be given the opportunity to learn skills and gather knowledge via the medium that suits them. This is where e-learning can really make an impact.

Younger employees have grown up with PCs, mobile devices, the Internet and instant messaging and use them regularly in their personal lives, so harnessing this technology for learning is a natural next step.
There is of course a level of cynicism towards e-learning and high profile ‘failure’ cases such as the Government-backed UK e-University (UKeU) stays in people’s minds. But e-learning is no longer a fledgling market. It is possible to measure your team’s learning intake to ensure they have learned something, as opposed to the classroom scenario of 20% retained information. Plus, learning technologies which enable interactive knowledge transfer have moved away from the online ‘Victorian style classroom’ solutions they once were, to a blended learning approach complementing knowledge working.

Learning mediums
Blended learning - providing a mix of classroom training along with current, just in time, personalised, online learning - is a powerful way of receiving knowledge, especially for young employees.

For employees who found the school classroom a difficult learning environment, such an approach gives them the opportunity to work with a range of learning methods and choose the medium which best suits them - as well as learning at their own pace, which is a critical aspect of development.

We know we can use an array of interactive mediums to inspire learners, but what about the content for those mediums? The medium is only as good as its message and content developed for training purposes needs to be of a high standard. This can involve multiple tools and versions of the same content, and is a huge challenge for organisations wanting to provide blended learning cost-effectively.

Yet organisations still need to ensure that content and company know-how is captured effectively and kept up to date. Workplace teachers need to create consistent training content based on working life examples so that young employees can develop skills in relation to their job, and organisations get the best return on their investment. This experience can be coupled with a review of the basic skills needed at all levels, to really close the gap.

But subject matter experts or workplace teachers should only have to create learning content once, so they have the ability to re-use it for elements of future courses and can save on the time and money associated with creating content each time. This content should also be easy to update.

Simple authoring tools enable workplace teachers to add their knowledge to a single, searchable knowledge repository in an easy to use drag and drop environment, without having to run to the IT desk for help every five minutes. Moreover, many authoring tools are fully compatible with everyday applications in the Microsoft Office suite, including Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, enabling workplace teachers to share their wealth of knowledge with new recruits using the tools they are familiar and comfortable with.

This single-source strategy ensures that companies can develop learning content once and then deliver it to various media such as the web, CD, print, PDAs or presentations, guaranteeing that young and new employees receive the training they need when, where and how they need it.

These solutions may not compensate for incomplete schooling, but developing interactive learning strategies can help sharpen the skills of a developing workforce and reduce the pain of the ever-present skills gap.


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