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Facing the Facts: The Reality of Skill Relevancy and Obsolescence

  • 4 Min Read

We take a look at what’s driving skill and talent shortages and how to use employee learning and professional development programs to overcome them.


While it can fee harsh to do so, we all must face the reality that the workforce is at risk of not being able to perform the jobs modern businesses require. The concept that young adults with a degree or diploma begin a career path that takes them from entry level to retirement is as antiquated as the rotary phone. This change has not been a slow shift—we’ve seen a massive transformation in the continuing education and upskilling landscapes within this generation. What’s driving this accelerated skill shortages and changes, and how can employees and employers alike not get left behind with no-longer-relevant skill sets?

The dilemma of a changing skill landscape can be attributed to the following factors:

  1. Going to school and getting a degree or diploma is no longer enough to carry someone through their entire career.
  2. The number of skills required in the workforce has exploded, and skills have a shortening shelf life of relevancy.
  3. Individuals are required to have a broader collection of skills to remain at the forefront of their careers.

Exponential Progress

In 1969, NASA successfully put the first man on the moon and delivered him safely home. They did this in part using state-of-the-art computers aboard the spacecraft and lunar module that each weighed 70 pounds. They were, at the time, unbelievably compact devices. Today, computers with even more raw power fit in our pockets. The past 10 years alone have witnessed the birth of more powerful smart devices, new home assistants, autonomous vehicles, and advancements in AI and machine learning that have impacted almost all industries.

We often refer to the current state of technological advancement as the fourth industrial revolution, but unlike previous industrial revolutions, technology is not evolving in a linear fashion. Instead, it’s progressing at an exponential rate. This pace of change has completely transformed the skill landscape and dramatically shortened the shelf life and relevancy of skills in the workplace. Previously, as jobs required new skills, one generation of workers would retire and a new one would emerge to train for a contemporary career. We’ve now crossed the threshold where the time for skills obsolescence is shorter than a single career. This means that workers are required to continuously upskill in order to be employable in today’s job market.

The Cost of Doing Nothing

It’s easy for us to blame technological advancements for the changing skill requirements. New technology usually means a learning curve for workers. Many businesses look to their junior staff members to fulfill skill and talent shortages, but they don’t expect more experienced employees to develop the needed skills. Why?

The World Economic Forum predicted that a third of the skills required for any occupation will be made up of skills not yet considered core to that job. To simply maintain economic competitiveness, the average employee will require between 83 and 105 days of skill development over a four-year period. This amounts to approximately 10% of all workdays, or a half day per week, of dedicated skill development. How much time do your employees spend on learning new skills per week?

The Future of Skills

Modern jobs increasingly require hybrid professionals with cross-functional skills in traditionally different fields. For example, the modern advertising manager often needs to be both creative designer and data analyst. App developers may need to be coders, designers, and business owners all rolled into one. This shift means educational institutions and businesses have to be ready to arm the workforce with a broad swath of skills at an individual level.

Today’s Actions for Tomorrow’s Success

Completely transforming your workforce and eliminating all skill gaps is a complicated task. It can be daunting, and the lack of empirical data often leads to non measurable results. But making progress doesn’t have to feel like drinking from a fire hose. Both employers and employees can begin taking steps today that will plant the seeds for future success.

Prioritizing Learning
As a business leader, have you monitored how much your organization is spending on professional development? Continued underutilization of professional development budgets is an indicator that your workforce is not meeting the demand for continued skill building. As an employee, have you identified areas in which your skills could use sharpening? Education providers today develop short courses and micro-credentials designed specifically for full-time workers. Both the corporation and its workforce need to prioritize continuous learning to match skill development with the rate of change.

All Skills Are Not Technical
Many organizations hyper focus on technical skills when looking at professional development. Yet 2020’s Future of Jobs Report highlights skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, active listening, and resilience as the prominent skill needs over the next five years. Make sure that professional development activities balance technical and durable skills for well-rounded individuals.

Education as a Benefit
Providing annual benefit coverage specifically for employees to pay for education opportunities has proven to be valuable for both developing skills and boosting employee retention for organizations. The magic of this benefit comes from being able to align the learning and development options that employees take to the skill needs of the business.

Get Started Today

Are you looking to take meaningful steps toward solving a skills gap or talent shortage at your organization? D2L Wave is an upskilling education solution that simplifies professional development for organizations. The platform is free—you pay only for the courses your employees take. See how easy it is to connect employees to education options that support business strategy.

Try D2L Wave Today to transform your workforce with upskilling education

Written by:

Jacki Ross
Jacki Ross

Jacki Ross is D2L Wave’s Product Marketing Manager, specializing in product launch and go-to-market strategies for new and emerging technologies. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph and a Business Administration – Marketing Diploma from Conestoga College.

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Table of Contents
  1. Exponential Progress
  2. The Cost of Doing Nothing
  3. The Future of Skills
  4. Today’s Actions for Tomorrow’s Success
  5. Get Started Today