A constant theme pops up in posts and reports about professional development and the workplace—skills. Upskilling, reskilling, skills gaps, skills training, skills-based credentialing... the emphasis in our changing workplace is on skills.
In Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 72% of executives said the most important or second-most important skill needed to navigate disruptions and future change is the ability of employees to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles. Skills have a shorter shelf life now. Unlike in the past, the skills we started our careers with are not the skills we’ll end them with. If you want to remain or become employable and promotable, you must become a lifelong learner.
The skills gap is a huge issue for employers. Associations can better serve their industry by helping to identify needed skills and providing skills training. Most employers can’t do this on their own. If your association doesn’t help employers out, for-profit companies will gladly step in—and many already have.
How to help employers reskill and upskill their employees
The mission of most associations includes something about helping professionals and/or organizations in your industry to succeed. Organizations have better chances of success when they are fully staffed with employees who have the necessary skills. Employers and individuals need a partner in skills development—your association.
More than half the companies participating in a McKinsey survey said they would spend more on learning this year than last year. That’s a must if they want to attract and retain talent. In this employees’ market, people are seeking employers who will value their contributions and potential, support their professional development, and pay for any skills training they need.
And, according to the Fosway Group, employees need skills training. 65% of organizations are experiencing significant skills gaps and 90% said their skills approach is immature, which makes it hard to retain their best people.
Because less than half of organizations think they understand the skills profiles of their employees, associations are well positioned to help industry employers. The American Management Association (AMA) sells a team assessment tool to employers. Team members take individual self-assessments that evaluate their strengths and skills gaps. AMA provides personalized assessment reports and an opportunity to work with an AMA Training Advisor (for an extra fee, I imagine) on a team development roadmap.
Self-assessment tools like this one can funnel industry professionals into different association learning pathways and skills training programs.
You could also conduct an industry-wide skills gaps assessment to see where to focus your efforts. Put together an advisory group of industry HR professionals and recruiters to help guide the development of educational programs. If you can get employers invested as partners, just think of the potential for corporate licensing deals and learning subscriptions.
Advice for skills-based educational programs
In our research on changes in workforce development and skills training programs, four trends keep coming up.
#1: The need for soft skills training
Employers often default to for-profit training companies for non-technical (soft) skills. Soft skills training has become a commodity business where the lowest price often wins. But why should employers settle for generic training? Your association can provide more relevant, industry-specific training with real-life practice scenarios.
Thanks to your LMS, you can also provide a corporate learning portal so companies can track employee participation and progress. Association programs also offer professionals a networking advantage since they’ll learn alongside peers from across the industry.
Per the McKinsey report, companies are prioritizing a mix of social, emotional, and advanced cognitive skills training. Companies are most eager to train employees in these skills:
• Leadership and managing others
• Critical thinking and decision making
• Project management
• Adaptability and continuous learning
• Interpersonal skills and empathy
Digital skills are next on the priority list. Think about the type of training professionals need to select, implement, and use industry-specific or popular technology platforms:
• Discovery/requirements analysis
• Project management
• Marketing automation
• Digital marketing
#2: The rising popularity of microlearning
Instead of requiring learners to purchase a course, you could allow them to purchase modules or choose modules as part of a learning subscription. If you think in terms of modules, not courses, you can be more agile and responsive, adding and updating them when appropriate. You’ll be able to announce new releases more frequently—a boon for learning subscriptions.
An agile approach to an evolving learning portfolio makes work more diverse, interesting, and satisfying for staff—an important consideration for keeping the best professional development talent.
#3: Learning pathways and microcredentials
Learning pathways give learners purpose, direction, and a sense of progress. Learners know what they need to learn and in what order. Provide ‘guidance counselors’ who can help learners navigate training possibilities and relieve managers and HR of that role. Offer a self-assessment before the learner embarks on their chosen pathway or program.
In our instant gratification society, people prefer to see proof of their accomplishments along the way—in weeks or months, not years. Award microcredentials and digital badges to learners when they master specific competencies. Industries experiencing hiring challenges for entry-level jobs would benefit from entry-level pathways and microcredentials.
#4: Impact on job performance
The whole point of skills training and other professional development programs is for the person to take what they’ve learned, apply it at work, and improve their job performance. Learning outcomes shouldn’t just say what the person will learn, but how the program will affect their job and business performance.
Education is more engaging and effective when it provides learners plenty of practice in applying new skills in real-life scenarios or role-playing situations. Action mapping is an instructional design model that gives learners these opportunities.
Tell learners to expect a post-training evaluation a month or two after their program ends. Ask how they’ve applied what they learned and the impact of their new skills on job and business performance.
How to market skills training to employers
Constantly push the same marketing message to member and non-member employers about the connection between skills training and company performance. Between 71% and 90% of McKinsey survey participants said their skill transformations had a positive impact on these company outcomes:
• The ability to realize company strategy
• Employee performance
• Employee satisfaction
• Reputation as an employer
Participants in another McKinsey study also mentioned increased productivity and improved employee morale.
Marketing copy and descriptions for courses, certificate programs, and microcredentialing programs must be super clear about the competencies learners will master and the impact of those new skills on a person’s job. Even though digital badge meta-data provides competency descriptions, make them clear elsewhere for employers who aren’t familiar with badges. Explain how the program helps the company perform better too. Share the success stories you learn about in post-training evaluations.
In your marketing and communications, continually encourage companies and individuals to adopt a learning culture and mindset—and share success stories here too. Everyone must now continually acquire new knowledge and skills, keep learning new practices, master new technology, and adapt to different ways of working. Your association can help companies and employees achieve these goals and become successful lifelong learners.