L&D skills for the digital world

Wooden blocks with words 'What Do I Need to Know?'.

Is the current state of technology overwhelming you? Or is your organisation asking you to focus on something when your passion is elsewhere? And is technology the most important thing anyway? Harri Le Claire and Jo Cook share more in this full-on feature

The recent journey most organisations and individuals have been on with the digital skills can be a challenging one for many. Covid accelerated digital skills adoption with users, learners, workers and of course within L&D and 2023 has seen a massive explosion of AI. This has continued the conversation about the value L&D bring to an organisation and the skills we have to future proof our own careers as well as the departments we work in.

Trish Uhl, Founder of Owl’s Ledge and keynote at the World of Learning summit said in the Workplace Learning Performance in 2024 Report:

“There is a critical need for L&D to evolve into leaders as organisations embark on a process of AI-driven transformation. If L&D limits itself to just instructional content creation it could sink into obsolescence as AI’s capabilities in this area continue to grow... L&D needs to pivot strategically towards impactful learning experiences, value creation, and driving organisational growth through continuous learning and talent development. These capabilities, once considered advanced, are now basic expectations.”

Even if we are not at this point being specifically asked by the business to upskill in AI, we should be moving from the exploratory stage to the implementation stage when it comes to the automation of day to day. This can free ourselves up to focus on a future proof strategy moving forward. We need to lead the charge when it comes to AI and harness it.

The LinkedIn workplace learning report highlights that 25% job skills changed since 2015, and this is set to double by 2027. This acceleration is something we must heed. Learning strategist Katja Schipperheijn said in Elucidat’s State of Digital Learning report that: ‘’The urgency is in L&D themselves taking the lead. Don’t wait until you get a question from the business. Become the strategic advisor…Go to your departments, like marketing. They have a lot of knowledge of how to influence people to change their behaviour…Go to the people from IT. Work together. I think breaking down the silos and working together as a strategic office for the future, that’s what we need right now.”

Digital skills isn’t just artificial intelligence

The Nature of the Digital Skills Gap report reveals that over half (61%) of business growth depends on digital outcomes, with most (81%) managing directors admitting that a lack of digital skills is having a negative impact on their organisation already. Based on the report’s estimations, this equates to £50 billion per year across the UK economy, and more than £240 billion between now and 2026.

There is a lot of worker overwhelm and negativity when it comes to digital skills, with 42% of workers feeling daunted by the prospect of digital upskilling and 58% people say they have been affected negatively by a lack of digital skills. For some it’s meant that they haven’t progressed in roles within an organisation with 29% say it has meant being turned down for pay rises, promotions, or meant they have not put themselves forward for promotion. Others (20%) have felt unable to apply for jobs or even left their industry entirely (16%). Obviously this can have a very personal effect on people and this carries with them not only in their lives and relationships, but their future working roles too.

Are L&D struggling to keep up?

The Elucidat report shares that, despite good levels of investment, over half of L&D leaders say budget constraints are a key challenge to implementing their digital learning strategies in 2024. 90% feel overwhelmed and under-equipped to achieve their priorities – a significant increase from last year. Struggling with their capacity and capabilities, L&D teams don’t feel they’re a match for the big organisational changes they need to drive forward.

The digital skills businesses are looking for when they recruit in the L&D space include:

Adaptability and innovation

No surprise following the challenges of Covid and the excitement of developments such as AI, businesses are looking for people with the ability to adapt to changing business environments and evolving learning technologies. They’re looking for design innovation and the implementation of creative, effective, and scalable learning solutions that are fit for a changing business.

Data and analysis

According to the Fosway Digital Learning Realities survey, the number of L&D teams who expected to have their budget decreased had risen from 8% in 2022 to 21% in 2023. In a time where L&D are needing to demonstrate their value and the ROI of learning programmes more and more, businesses are looking for proficiency in data analysis – to measure effectiveness and to develop KPIs to work with. Data analysis and measurement is becoming more important than ever.

Proficiency in technology

Technology is a key player in learning delivery and so proficiency in learning management systems, e-learning tools and other digital technologies is becoming vital. Not necessarily for L&D professionals to become experts in all tech, but to have enough familiarity to know which questions to ask to establish what would be best to invest in.

Lloyd Dean, Global Learning and Development Manager, AXA says “It’s a hot topic and a lot of excitement and enthusiasm is – quite rightly – focused on the benefits of AI. Whilst tools like Google Bard and ChatGPT are getting a lot of the attention right now, L&D teams are going to have to spend time thinking about how similar tools can be embedded into their learning ecosystem. I see a debate on data and ownership. Would a fully personalized learning experience that’s shaped around user data be something that everyone wants to commit to if it means other colleagues seeing their data.”

Communication skills

These are essential to articulate strategies for learning interventions, or to pushback on unsuitable training requests, engage the stakeholder throughout the business and communicate the learning offering effectively with learners. L&D teams do so many great things for the business to help it achieve its yearly goals but some tend to jump from one challenge to the next without reflecting on the great wins and shouting to the business about it.

KPIs, statistics and the communication skills to tell the business about all the great things we do is more important than ever when learning budgets are tight and uncertainty around this has impacted the timing of L&D spending on learning projects.

Change management skills

It never hurts to make friends with someone working in change management within your business and seek their opinion prior to introducing new learning initiatives. Learning how to manage change and navigate the business through new learning initiatives and technologies is a real skill. Your change management team can advise on when and how to introduce new initiatives with the right impact and the right messaging.

The more you look at new project through the lens of change management, the more you can view the bigger picture yourself and consider the wider impact for all team members.

Inclusivity and diversity awareness

Commiting to creating inclusive and diverse learning environments is a win for everyone. The requirement to provide accessible learning solutions that cater to diverse learning needs is growing as the reliance on digital solutions increases

Problem-solving skills

Problem-solving and decision-making skills to address challenges and adapt learning strategies as needed. Whilst AI can synthesis and analyse information, it’s up to us to decide what to use, when and how.

L&D’s future in digital skills development

In LinkedIn’s report 89% of L&D teams say that they are building skills to navigate the future of work. And of course, we need to do this for ourselves too. We need to help ourselves so that we can continue to help other people.

As stated in the Workplace Learning and Performance in 2024 report: “Empowering individuals to pursue career aspirations in a fast-changing job landscape is paramount”. This isn’t just the traditional skills or training about which button to press in a system, but the fundamental people skills and motivation in order for people to be able to adapt and thrive in a world that seems to be far more fast paced than even ten years ago.

Digital skills within the context of the organisation

When thinking about the digital skills we want to develop we have to consider how they align with the work we are doing in role-specific skills development. We might need to develop  specific skills to the role and work we are currently doing. There might be new projects that come into our team or business and therefore we may need to stretch ourselves or learn new skills for that. Followign that is is the big picture, which is the future-proof skills and people development.

This is your career development, not just your job development. Consider how your role could broaden across other areas of the business and into senior leadership roles, if that’s what you want to work towards. Consider skills development that can be transferable to areas that you want to work on in the future. We have to consider this skills development as part of our whole career, not just the job we are in right now. Yes, we need to keep our jobs, especially in this flux of discussion and development about AI; but focusing only on specific skills relevant to the tasks we are doing currently, can narrow opportunities long-term

Hopefully you are thinking about your next job, or promotion or even a sideways step into something that interests or suits you more. You might also be considering longer-term career and life aims, whether that’s within L&D, a different industry or even something like a side hustle that you develop.

There are other questions we need to consider at this point. Do I just have to develop skills the business wants? What if there is a difference between what the org wants vs what I want? How do I get the digital skills I want to learn to align with the business? How do I get buy in for my own personal development? We can talk about next job role or our career aims, but we also have this challenge of balancing what an organisation needs, versus what we actually want to do.

In any job there’s an element of doing what absolutely needs to be done. The Covid lockdowns that meant a lot of trainers delivered virtually is a good example of having to do something you perhaps never planned or wanted to and needing to develop those skills. The flip side of this is that you might have an interest in a technology that may or may not fit into what the business needs at that time and you’ll be considering how to get buy-in for skills development for yourself.

If an organisation is investing time or money into skills development, then of course it needs to be aligned to the current and future needs of the business. However not everything is interesting to all people. You need to find the skill or technology that sparks you, or the bit about it that sparks you.

When thinking about what sparks you longer term, ask yourself questions such as:

  1. What things are you interested in and want to do, but aren’t right for the organisation?

  2. What could you have a long term plan to bring up at the next strategy meeting?

  3. What could you do perhaps voluntarily to develop a skill within an external CSI/DEI group or project etc.

Be on-brand for yourself

It becomes very easy as busy professionals to neglect the development of our own personal brand. Nahia Orduna, Author of ‘Your Digital reinvention’ for Harvard business review, said:

“When most of us think of ’personal brands’, our minds wander to social media influencers singing, dancing, posing, or talking about fitness and fashion. These people are known for their expertise. They are up with the trends. They are trusted by their followers. Well, what if you had that same kind of influence at work? What if people in your field sought you out for advice and inspiration? Think of what that could do for your career.”

In order to create and maintain a personal brand, we as L&D professionals can:

  • Keep up to date on Digital tools and trends by reading articles, publications and attending events and conferences. Network with others to learn how they are using and evolving their L&D offering and share what we are doing in our own businesses.

  • Create content about new tools and trends to invite discussion and share your expertise for networking platforms and social media. This could be an article/post of LinkedIn, a posed question or poll or even a video.

  • Collaborate with others to make the most of opposing strengths and weaknesses.

  • Back up our posts with statistics – what worked, what didn’t, what did we learn. For authenticity and accountability.

  • Be mindful of digital etiquette, cite work from other people, respond to the posts of other kindly (and mindfully, being aware that we represent the businesses we work for.

  • In a world where cyber crime is a growing threat to people and businesses, we need to be mindful of what information we share about ourselves; that it doesn’t open us or our employers to threats.

All of these actions above, build your personal brand both inside and outside of your business. Nahia Orduna suggests taking an hour or two at the end of your week to dedicate to content creation. This could just be reposting and sharing other content that has interested you and adding your own view to the mix.

Not sure what your view is? Maybe pose a question to your network about it. Each post is a step towards building your visibility and open the door to more opportunities to grow your personal brand. You don’t need to make a big bang to build your brand, it can be built authentically through small, regular actions.

The human side

We are focusing on technology in this article, but more deliberately it’s about developing specific skills we need for our own jobs now and the future. As we know from the Covid pandemic and everything that’s happened since, we really don’t know what is in store for us in the future. We can’t prepare for an event, but we can prepare for change and for the technology we use to navigate that change. Whether that is an PowerPoint for slides or developing your own AI enabled technology, we must always, always come back to the point that this is about people.

This Human Amplification model focuses very much on that point, ensuring that we are engaged and connected in an upcoming technology, but that it’s with a very human focus

Cheryl Clemons, CEO, Storytagger said:

‘’Exponential change, including change to our work environments, means the human story matters more than ever. Everyone’s grappling with tech advancements, the need to upskill, reskill, shifts in company strategy and restructures. We need to help people orientate (constantly), understand the context for these shifts and what it means to them.’’

And with regards the future of hiring, Katja Schipperheijn said:

“You see technologies [being considered] when we think about attracting the future workforce… You need to understand the environment, the culture of the organisation, before you can say thee technologies are in line with the values and the vision of the company of the future.”

We are developing ourselves as humans to create learning initiatives that support other humans. This is about using tools we have to amplify what makes us human, the unique viewpoints and skills we have and what we can achieve together.

Harri Le Claire is Digital Learning Manager at Whitbread

Jo Cook is virtual classroom specialist at her company Lightbulb Moment and Editor of Training Journal

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