The seismic shift needed to tackle skills shortages

As this is a December post – I was reflecting on themes for this year.

The most dominant theme, I feel, for anyone in the L&D space, is dealing with the constant change and turbulence thrown up by the environment in which we are operating in.

In a post-lockdown world we are still grappling with hybrid working and the impact that has on workforces, plus the malaise that has inflicted individuals (the quiet-quitting phenomenon), and the severe staffing shortages that are unlike anything that most of us have seen.

I was pondering on these elements, and the triple-whammy effect that these have on how we as L&D professionals should be operating.

It’s hard to step back far enough to see the implications, especially when we have busy deadlines, high deliverables, and disquieted workforces to appease.

But stepping back is crucial, as only then will we really see the areas that are not just urgent, for the here and now, but importantly, to make a real difference longer term.

There are skills shortages ravaging many sectors (I’m in the Netherlands), including hospitality, health-care and public transportation, as well as the long-standing tech skills shortages. These are echoed across Europe, after the lockdown years disrupted the usual flows of workers across borders. Some of these shortages are acute, meaning they are affecting front-line services, and bottom-line figures.

No longer is it a luxury for L&D to sit in an ivory tower working on vanity projects. Close alignment with skills requirements, data analysis and prediction of what is needed, in the short and long-term will be crucial for organisations to survive.

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of our Book Club choice last year, Long Life Learning by Michelle R. Weise (you can see my video summary here).

The title itself is a play on words, long-life learning rather than the often repeated ‘life-long’ learning. The basic premise being, we’re all going to live longer, so the traditional model of a formal education at the start of our life and then working for many decades isn’t going to see us through anymore. You could say this principle applies for L&D, right now. The last few years have taught us is that anything can happen.

What we’ve done before isn’t going to get us through this next seismic shift. So, what will?

One of the influences that Michelle draws on for her book, is Clayton Christensen’s ‘innovator’s dilemma’. The idea that, in coming up with something new, you can ‘lose’ your existing customers.

The book talks about this in the education sector, that to serve ‘long life’ learners, educational establishments had to reach new customers, not just the young person that had finished school that wanted to study full-time for a few years. It’s the same for us in industry. We need to figure out the ways we can train and upskill employees, from more diverse places than we have in the past. Of course, this is not just the domain of the L&D function, but part of the wider talent management landscape. So, we may be providing training for people that are not just new to the organisation, but new to a function. It’s about thinking bigger and wider than before.

I like to describe this as ‘latent’ talent.

Who are the non-consumers in our workforce? Where are the people we can reskill – that may not yet even be aware that different pathways could be a fit for them?

So, it’s less about creating learning content, but a full re-imagining of what’s possible. And then, in the same ways the educational sector started to open to non-traditional learners, they had to ‘redefine’ their content, into smaller, more applicable chunks that could be easily implemented, so it would suit modern ‘working learners’. That same content analysis and defining will also be necessary if we are to skill people in roles where they’re coming from a different skills and experience background to what we’ve catered for before.

I had an interesting discussion with a member of the L&D Hub around a new coaching model they were creating. The need was operational and came from the business, and the solution will likely be a multi-channel approach to providing training (via video micro-learning), behaviour reinforcement (through automated messaged ‘nudges’), and peer/mentor support which could be via chat, recorded videos or booked calls.

The hand-holding that employees need to rapidly learn and take on the behaviour changes needed requires a special kind of intervention.

We have the tech for this kind of focused, intensive support, but it really is taking everything that is out there as best practice in multiple fields, marketing, psychology and learning and putting it altogether.

My Modern Learner Programme is one part of the solution:

A package of four workshops to help individuals think about what they need to do to be ‘long-life’ learners, from building strong networks, to learning ‘out loud’ and challenging their own mindsets. We are offering this as a 4 x 60 minute workshop package to organisations that want to get ahead with creating a learning culture, to make sure they are equipped for the challenges that we know will come. The workshops can be delivered virtually for up to 20 people at a cost of £2,000. We’re also developing a fully online solution at the request of some of our clients.

The workshops cover:

How to be a Purposeful Learner

To help employees identify what learning and development they need to help them reach their career goals and to understand the importance of being self-directed learners. This workshop comes with a workbook to help individuals map out a plan for their own personal development priorities.

How to be a Curious Learner 

To help employees assess their beliefs about their own skills and abilities, and to challenge any mindset blocks that may be holding them back. Mindset is a key factor at times of high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity, and a curious mindset will help with positive thinking and a solution-orientation.

How to be a Confident Learner

This workshop will help employees assess their current processes of learning and explore new ways of learning by sharing it with others. This is a key component in creating a culture of learning and can help organisations keep their competitive edge.

Getting Connected

This workshop will help employees consider how they can build meaningful learning networks and strengthen connections to support learning from others. This is an excellent way to underpin initiatives such as mentoring programmes or to encourage informal mentoring which can provide huge value to an organisation.

For a conversation on how we can support your employees to take ownership of their learning and development, please reply to this email and let’s have a conversation!

Best wishes for the season,



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