How to make the most of your learning budget in 2021

Sarah Danzl explains how skill data can help your learning strategy this year.

As Jack Welch, former General Electric CEO, once said, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” As we look towards business recovery in 2021, this is particularly relevant.

This year will be the time to thrive, after many months of ensuring business survival. And that requires equipping workers with the right skills and learning opportunities.

However, the unfortunate truth is that many organisations have cut budgets in the wake of the pandemic and economic uncertainty. In 2020, HR budgets were cut by around 5% with further cuts expected in 2021. This couldn’t come at a worse time, with skill demands accelerated by the pandemic.

Six in ten workers and managers feel that the pandemic has increased their need to build new skills.

Skills needed for recovery

Without the right skills, business recovery will be hindered – at a time when it can be ill-afforded. 41% of workers feel that their tasks take longer to complete when they don’t have the right skills, with 22% saying that their work is lower quality.

It can also damage retention (46% of workers will leave if they feel their employer isn’t committed to upskilling) and negatively affect stress levels (55% of workers feel that a lack of skills makes their job more stressful).

By aligning your learning strategy with your business strategy, you ensure that your learners’ efforts add value to your bottom-line. This makes it easier to show the returns of your learning programme

Fewer resources to commit to learning

This puts learning leaders in a tough position. On one hand, the urgency for upskilling is more acute than ever. On the other, there are dwindling resources to commit to learning programmes. Therefore, learning leaders need to become laser-focused on the learning opportunities that generate the best results for the business, in the most cost-effective way.

Skill data can help

To achieve this, they need to understand exactly what their people need to learn and how to learn it. These insights can be uncovered through analysing skill data.

Skill data is the measurement of what people can do. It comes from many sources including:

  • Directly from workers telling you the skills that they have
  • Data from CVs, talent profiles, and HR and learning systems
  • Measurements from self-reviews, manager reviews, appraisals, and skill certifications
  • Inferences from academic degrees, accreditations, and work experiences
  • Learning activity data, looking at content consumption and on-the-job learning.

It covers everything from practical employment information (like role and location data), to project work, performance data, current skills, learning, and personal career goals.

Knowing what to prioritise

Analysing your skill data can give you detailed insights into what skills your people have and are currently developing, the skills your organisation needs, and any skill gaps. Through this, you will better understand where resources are best allocated to meet the business objectives and what projects can be delayed for more abundant times.

Conversely, by aligning your learning strategy with your business strategy, you ensure that your learners’ efforts add value to your bottom-line. This makes it easier to show the returns of your learning programme and reduces the likelihood of future budget cuts.

Skill data can additionally stop you from overlooking the critical skills your organisation needs to achieve its long-term business strategy. For example, if a retailer has a goal to expand into eCommerce in the next three years, skill data may uncover gaps in digital marketing and sales, which can then be plugged through upskilling the current workforce.

Personalised learning

Learning activity data has further use in creating hyper-personalised learning experiences that engage workers in the ways (and times) that they learn best. 69% of people feel disengaged with their learning with just 13% rating their learning opportunities as effective. And if people aren’t interested in the opportunities on offer, they won’t engage. Wasting your resources and their time.

It also gives you the opportunity to divest in the courses and content that aren’t engaging your learners. Then, you can invest your savings into learning opportunities that better suit your people, which can lead to higher returns on your investment.

Keeping up with change

To reflect our ever-changing times, analysing your skill data will be a continuous process. Skill requirements can quickly change depending on your business goals, products and services, team priorities, and macro factors. Review workforce’s skills once a month to once a quarter, or whenever your business experiences a significant change (such as a new product, competitor, or market disruption).

Next steps

Your skill data will provide a wealth of insights that will supercharge your learning strategy this year and for decades after. Much of this data is already at your fingertips in your HR, recruitment and learning systems.

The key is to make it actionable, by collating and processing it, analysing it, and disseminating information to your learning and HR teams. Taking the steps to analyse it today, and building your strategy around its insights, will lead to better strategic alignment, cost-effectiveness, learning experience and results.

Join Sarah on our next webinar for more insight into the subject of upskilling – sign up free for 17 Feb here.


About the author

Sarah Danzl is head of global communications at Degreed


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