A conversation with learning expert Lori Niles from the expert-led consultancy NilesNolen
Take a moment to consider the smartphone in the palm of your hand. No matter the make or model, it is an outstanding piece of technology. That said, how many jobs have been made redundant, or significantly reduced, simply because of it? A Ticket agent? You can download your boarding pass with a scan of a QR code. Concierge? Cue almost any review platform. Office assistants? There’s an app for that. Even technology is not immune; ATMs, once thought of as cutting-edge technology, are rapidly being replaced by cashless apps and even blockchain.
On the surface, one would assume there must be millions of displaced employees merely because these skills have been automated. But this is not the case. Whilst many skills are no longer required and some jobs have disappeared, new roles have emerged that necessitate the development of deeper and more technical skills. So, what does this mean for an organisation and their employees?
Businesses constantly need to update and transform to meet competition and consumer demand. This often means tasks which cost time and human intervention, are rapidly becoming automated, leaving an employee population no longer needed. Short-sighted companies may choose redundancies. This can result in quick gains to the bottom line, but these are usually not profitable long-term. In fact, organisations which identify skills gaps and develop continuous learning frameworks are the ones most poised for success.
Let’s revisit the case of the ATM. The first machine was installed in 1967 and they became the norm by the early 1980s. At the time, they were considered the death knell of bank teller employment. Today, there are fewer brick and mortar branches in favour of online banking and call centres. However, the role of the bank teller not only still exists…it has significantly evolved.
Instead of processing financial transactions, the teller is now a highly skilled adviser with deep knowledge in topics such as: relationship management, loan adjudication, and retirement planning. They are the first line of defense to detect fraud and money-laundering, and anticipate the financial needs of the customers they serve. More importantly, they build lifelong relationships with customers to increase retention and revenue.
This reskilling did not happen overnight and certainly did not involve any magic tricks. Instead, it was deep, programmatic learning interventions, targeted at the future gaps. Now, programmatic learning does not mean two-week in person intensive courses. Rather, it is the design of long-form learning pathways that are beyond the simple consumption of content. It is content embedded with hands-on experience, feedback loops, practice and collaboration.
Consider the following contrast: an employee is eager to transition into cybersecurity. They log into their LMS and take 101, 201, and 301, cybersecurity. They achieve passing grades. Compare this with an employee who not only has access to consume the courses, but is part of a programmatic learning journey. In addition to content, they are able to join a cohort and discuss a recently blocked hacking attempt at their company. They can get feedback on their code from in-house experts. Their line manager can see their progress month-over-month and assign them to projects matching their skills progression. The latter will have a far more fulsome grasp of the skills.
For this type of learning to work, it does require effort. L&D must become more of an orchestral conductor, working in conjunction with HR and line managers, to build experiences that realistically blend into an employee’s workday (hint: not a night course), so there is meaningful practice and retention. Likewise, there must be a flexible EdTech infrastructure so content can be updated at the speed of market innovation. But this can also be an advantage of programmatic learning. As less emphasis is placed on static content, learning experiences are more dynamic and current as they are part of the workflow and receive regular input and updates from the people actually performing the skill. Finally, line managers need to be allocated the time to coach and provide feedback. This is probably the place where most companies are hesitant as they focus on hard Key Performance Indicator.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to make the case for deep upskilling, especially at times of disruption. Many stakeholders expect or demand their learning departments to focus on the quick job aids and just-in-time content to keep work functioning. And yes, this is a pressing demand, but to innovate requires a highly skilled workforce.
So how can learning leaders shift the conversation towards being strategic? The first step is to start with the one area of the business most likely to be feeling the impact of skills shortages most acutely – IT. Generally speaking, IT has the most complicated skills gaps. Now is the time to have productive conversations with IT leadership about where they are struggling and where they have invested. Your role is to work on a plan to ensure they have the talent they need to succeed.
Second stop is Talent Management. Not all skills needed are available on the market. If we think back to the ATM example, with the rise of electronic banking, so did the need for cybersecurity talent. According to Forbes, cybercrime is estimated to cost the world $10.5 Trillion annually by 2025. This has resulted in a greater than ever need for cybersecurity skills. Unfortunately, there are not enough professionals trained to meet the demand and therefore many industries are exposed to risk. Ask what skills Talent Management are struggling to locate and what roles can they not find suitable candidates for. Use this data to build a strategy for continuous learning frameworks against the tangible business problem of talent shortages.
Thirdly, break out your calculator. Now that you have a good idea where some of the pressing skills gaps are, you need to develop a business case for investment. For example, determine how long a specific skill will take to acquire. Remember, this is not the length of time it takes to do the course content. Rather, this is all of the practice and coaching that goes along with developing an expertise, which can be three to four times the original seat time. Be prepared to talk numbers with your stakeholders; what investment you require to meet demand and most importantly, the cost to the business if you do not implement continuous learning frameworks.
Just like there is no reversing from innovations like the smartphone, companies cannot afford to be stagnant. That said, innovation is only a part of the equation. Without the skilled workforce, you cannot sustain momentum and maintain a competitive advantage. Whilst these tips are only a starting point to help elevate the conversation from tactical solutions to laying the strategic foundation to future-proof your organisation.
Join D2L on September 29, 2021, for a webinar with Lori Niles and Amanda Nolen from the expert-led consultancy NilesNolen for an open discussion about going beyond the content carousel and delving into reskilling at scale and how to leverage technology and intelligent learning design to build impactful learning experiences.
Author – Lori Niles-Hoffmann
Lori Niles-Hofmann is a senior learning strategist with over 20 years of L&D experience across many industries, including international banking, management consulting, and marketing.
Her specialization is large-scale digital learning transformations. She is passionate about helping companies navigate through the ambiguity of change and act as a trusted adviser to Fortune 500 CLOs around the world.
After leading and completing numerous EdTech implementations, she has developed the data-based methodologies and frameworks that will empower your L&D teams to move from business support function to strategic business driver.