Future-proofing skills through agile learning programmes

Elliot Gowans looks at the importance of social learning in L&D.

Reading time: 6 minutes

Everything we know about employment and the workplace is changing. Technological innovation is the key driving force behind industry disruption and increasingly agile work.

With the development of AI and automation, businesses are undergoing complex transformations, bringing profound change to their services and overall operations. Such trends are redefining job roles and employment expectations.

As AI and automation technology continues to develop, manual, repetitive tasks are becoming increasingly automated.

This is not to say that only the simplest jobs are becoming the preserve of machines, as complex tasks in professional sectors such as financial services are increasingly being automated.

Reports suggest that in the next 10 years AI technology could potentially replace up to 50% of people currently working in banking and finance alone.

The half-life of skills is shortening, and the disciplines required to succeed within the workplace are shifting year to year.

According to the World Economic Forum, 35% of the skills workers need will have changed by 2020 and as such, approximately 10% of an employee’s time will need to be devoted to upskilling or retraining to ensure their skills are in keeping with the needs of the job market.

Such an environment calls for the retraining of employees, but more importantly, the need to teach durable skills that are not easily replicated by technology.

Soft skills such as emotional intelligence, leadership, creativity and communication will be of upmost importance for the future workforce.

However, these skills are not easily accounted for in traditional teaching models. Employees will require continuous mentoring and feedback; flexible social-learning programmes that account for personal development.


Soft skills such as emotional intelligence, leadership, creativity and communication will be of upmost importance for the future workforce

The reskilling challenge

For its part, the UK Government has recently announced a £100m investment in the National Retraining Scheme (NTR) as part of its industrial strategy to address the skills mismatch posed by technology.

While this shows that the Government recognises the need to improve productivity and prepare for future changes to the workplace and the economy, there is a misdiagnosis of the severity of the issue. A tacit assumption that automation will only affect certain professions.

For example, the NTR currently only caters for those who do not have a degree qualification. While academic qualifications are respected, often employment requires on-the-job training. The future workforce is no exception.

This is an issue that will need to be addressed in a three-pronged approach – education, government and industry.

Curriculums must expand and evolve to meet the demands of the market, to better equip future employees with the skills necessary for employment.

Educators need to take more responsibility in preparing students for their future and instilling soft and hard skills that will come to define the digital workplace.

Likewise, employers will need to invest in new avenues for development, supplying more in-work vocational training for their staff, offering alternative learning pathways, that allow individuals to develop the necessary skills and ultimately, instil a culture of lifelong learning and continuous professional development.

Education – whether through university, an apprenticeship or technical training programme during employment – will need to be as fluid and flexible as the roles students are applying for.


In order to meet the requirements of the future workplace and skills challenges, there needs to be more emphasis on continual development

Unfortunately, from the business side of things, the majority of employers are not providing an adequate learning culture to achieve this.

According to a recent survey by ATD Research, only 31% of organisations offer a well-developed learning culture, and the average employee is provided a mere 24 minutes of vocational training per week.

Likewise, a 2018 research piece from Fosway found that 60% of L&D departments are failing to systematically drive the development of mastery and expertise.

Changing this requires a shift away from purely providing learning resources, transitioning away from just thinking about what people know, into thinking about what people need to be able to do.

In order to meet the requirements of the future workplace and skills challenges, there needs to be more emphasis on continual development.

As automation will inevitably replace the human element in monotonous business processes, it is important that employees are encouraged to develop an evolved skillset and an open mind.

They must acknowledge the need to continuously upskill and retrain, which must be nurtured by their employer, who must provide innovative and more compelling systems of learning.

Digital learning solutions

Given the nature of the reskilling challenge, a demand for technical knowledge as well as a call for personal skills, businesses need to reconsider their systems of learning and development.

Traditional learning models are no longer viable. Instead, business leaders must opt for a system that inspires the continuous development of their workforces. They must be fully invested in their upskilling.

Interestingly, technology – the driver behind the reskilling challenge – can offer a practical solution. The skills required for the 21st-century workplace are complex and require equally complex learning strategies.


Blended learning in a variety of forms can effectively change employee attitudes and behaviour

Consider the number of employees across an organisation, the need to instil durable skills around their busy schedules on such a large scale, can only be solved with effective EdTech solutions.

The use of digital applications, which enable agile and remote learning around their work and busy lives, complemented with effective machine learning diagnostics and learning analytics will ensure employers can more accurately measure and actualise real learner data and account for each individual learner’s education cycle.

Most importantly, providing a range of content within a programmatic learning programme, will enable real change:

  • Blended learning in a variety of forms can effectively change employee attitudes and behaviour.
  • Adding social learning to the L&D programme and offering real-life application as part of the learning cycle can allow employees to build on experience, particularly customer service, leadership and presentations.
  • Incorporating AR/VR as part of a digital training programme, given the flexibility they enable and being content driven, can allow for the microlearning necessary for continuous cycles.



Corporate/education partnership

In order to tackle the reskilling issue, it needs to be addressed from every angle. There needs to be collaboration between industry, government and educational institutions – all of which have the responsibility of equipping today’s workforce with the durable skills of tomorrow. A partnership where both academia and industry allow for vocational training is the ideal.

With the flexibility of all parties, this can be established through technology. Consider a degree apprenticeship unified by a single learning platform, where a student, personal tutor and potential employer can communicate and evaluate progress through an online portal and monitor the learner’s progress whilst maintaining a constant dialogue.

In doing so, there is a customised learning pathway that nurtures skills and encourages personal growth.

The fourth industrial revolution will require us to rethink the best practices for learning, and it is in these partnerships, with the application of technology, that society can address these issues and allow for continuous re-education.


About the author

Elliot Gowans is SVP International at D2L


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