Leaders are approaching skill building all wrong 

skills icon on wooden cube. Upskilling and personal development concept. Skill training, education, learning, ability. Upskilling, reskilling,

It’s time to change “What’s in it for me?” to “What’s in it for them?” Stuart Cheesman explores an employee-centric approach 

UK leaders will be fully aware of their organisation’s skills gap, and HR’s struggles at filling the void. And with the World Economic Forum, stating that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, learning and development (L&D) initiatives have never been more important.  

An ‘employee first’ approach to skill building bolsters inclusion, a sense of community and organisational growth  

The problem is that too many organisations focus on a top-down approach to skill building, paying lip service to their employees’ growth and development aspirations. The truth is that if organisations want to truly address their skills gap, they need to reconsider how they approach skill building, putting their employees’ needs front and central.  

Taking a fresh look at L&D strategy 

It’s typical for leaders to adopt an L&D strategy that revolves around developing customised training programmes tailored to the specific needs and goals of the organisation. This approach focuses on a skills gap assessment in which leaders identify areas where skills are lacking or insufficient within each department, and then they train-up certain employees to fill those gaps.  

The problem with this is that it looks at training and development in a simplistic manner: “We’re lacking a skill so let’s upskill someone!” This may be solving an immediate problem, but it isn’t creating a sustainable culture of continuous learning.  

In a continuous learning culture, leaders recognise the power of organisation-wide skill building for elevating the employee experience and creating a thriving workplace culture. Such a culture naturally attracts, develops and retains top talent. 

People-centric skill building 

To create a continuous learning culture in which skill building is mutually beneficial for both workers and the organisation, it’s important to make it people-centric, with leaders demonstrating that they have their employees’ best interests at heart.  

This approach is important because an ‘employee first’ approach to skill building bolsters inclusion, a sense of community and organisational growth. Research shows that when organisations design opportunities with employees in mind, engagement increases by 341% and burnout is decreased by 77%. Plus, employees who are satisfied with their organisation’s L&D efforts are nearly five times more likely to do great work. 

The first step to achieving people-centric skill building is to ask employees what they want to learn about and which skills they are keen to develop, rather than offering employees a limited number of ‘organisation approved’ L&D options.  

Some employees will naturally lean towards learning new skills to help them advance their careers, whereas others will find more enjoyment in learning skills that aren’t directly relevant to their job, perhaps even supporting their hobbies and wider interests.  

By promoting a cross-section of skills and courses whether work-related or not, this makes it clear to the employee that the organisation cares about them as an individual – their personal growth, wellbeing and sense of fulfilment, and not just the bottom line.  

And by giving employees a voice in the skills they wish to develop, this ensures everyone feels considered, valued and important. In fact, 90% of employees report that having a say in the skills they learn is an important part of their employee experience.  

Skill building for all 

A people-centric approach will only work, of course, if skill building is inclusive, allowing everyone in the company the opportunity to grow and develop rather than the ear-marked favourites. When organisations give everyone the same opportunities, people are more likely to thrive, do great work, feel included and enjoy a sense of community.  

Retention also improves, perhaps unsurprisingly because employees want to stay with organisations that support both their professional and personal growth. Again, providing a wide range of skill building options is key to ensuring L&D is inclusive. Whether an employee has a desire to learn management skills or would prefer to do a sporting qualification, giving them the opportunity, time and resources to do so is key. 

Allowing time at work to build skills 

It’s all very well encouraging an employee to undertake a course, but if they aren’t then allowed time during working hours to do the necessary training, then it will be seen as a case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. The organisation will be considered insincere in its approach to L&D, damaging engagement as well as trust in leadership. 

On the flipside, when employees are given time during work hours to complete their training, they’re four times more likely to participate in a skill building opportunity and are five times more likely to feel a strong sense of community. There must also be a variety of options in how and when employees learn in order to support a neurodiverse and flexible workforce. 

Build recognition into the skill building process  

Crucially, every L&D initiative must have recognition built into it for maximum impact. This shouldn’t just comprise of a congratulatory certificate and a shout-out during a team meeting, but recognition must be given during and following the training course.  

Why is this? Employees who receive meaningful recognition both during and after their training course are four times more likely to feel satisfied. Therefore, it’s important to ensure leaders and peers are given sufficient encouragement, opportunities and tools to recognise colleagues for their efforts and accomplishments throughout their training. 

Shrinking the skills gap  

The most innovative and thriving organisations will always be those that have a people-centric approach, understanding their people’s needs and how they can improve their employee experience. This includes providing skill building opportunities for all, allowing everyone to explore their interests and chase their career and personal growth aspirations.   

By giving employees a voice in the skills they build, the time to build their skills, and recognition for their efforts and achievements, you will create a culture of continuous learning in which the skills gap will naturally reduce, talent will flock to the company and retention will increase. 

Stuart Cheesman is European Strategist at OC Tanner 

Stuart Cheesman

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