Since 2023 the attention of much of the tech world and corporate aspiration has been around artificial intelligence (AI). However, that is only one of the important strategic priorities for organizations in the next five-to-seven years. For senior Learning and Development (L&D) managers, the focus solely on AI misses a crucial element: employee technical skill development.

Yes, AI will surely transform the business landscape. But it's the human workforce, equipped with the right technical skills, that will harness its power and navigate the coming changes. Technical skill development, therefore, isn't just an add-on; it's the cornerstone of future-proofing your organization and gaining a competitive edge in this time of transition into the next revolution.

How are successful organizations making technical skill development a core competency? What are the steps you can take to follow suit?

Building the Engine of Skill Development

Several processes and technologies are propelling successful organizations toward a skilled and adaptable workforce. Here are some key tools for employee skill development. You may have started adopting a few of them during the training disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of these were covered in Learning Solutions articles and Learning Guild conferences. The materials are cached online in The Learning Guild Community Resources for Learning. They remain vital to your success.

  • Skills Gap Analysis: Start with a thorough needs assessment. Utilize data analytics to identify current skill sets across the organization. Compare them to projected business needs and emerging technologies. This helps prioritize training based on actual gaps and future relevance.
  • Microlearning Platforms: Gone are the days of lengthy, one-size-fits-all training programs. Microlearning platforms deliver bite-sized, targeted learning modules that can be easily integrated into employees' busy schedules. These platforms often utilize gamification elements and adaptive learning techniques to boost engagement and ensure knowledge retention.
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS) with Personalized Learning Paths: Modern LMS platforms go beyond course delivery. They allow for the creation of personalized learning pathways tailored to individual roles and skill needs. This empowers employees to take ownership of their learning journeys, focusing on areas that directly contribute to their performance and career growth.
  • Mentorship and Knowledge Sharing Initiatives: Foster a culture of continuous learning by creating opportunities for mentorship and knowledge sharing. Pair senior employees with less experienced colleagues, or even create cross-departmental mentorship programs. This not only builds technical expertise but also fosters collaboration and a sense of community.

Leading the Upskilling Charge

The question often arises: Who should spearhead this technical skill development effort? While L&D plays a crucial role in designing and delivering training programs, true upskilling success hinges on a collaborative approach.

  • Executive Buy-In: Upskilling requires a strong C-suite commitment. Executives need to recognize the strategic value of talent development and allocate the necessary resources.
  • Business Unit Partnership: Business unit leaders understand the specific technical requirements of their teams. Partner with them to identify skill gaps and tailor training programs to address those needs.
  • L&D Expertise: L&D professionals bring their training design expertise and knowledge of learning technologies to the mix. They work with subject matter experts within the organization to curate impactful learning experiences.

Upskilling Your Workforce: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now, let's break down the process of upskilling your workforce into manageable steps.

  1. Identify Target Skills: Building upon the skills gap analysis, determine the specific technical skills your workforce needs to master. This could be industry-specific software, coding languages related to AI or automation, or data analysis tools.
  2. Choose the Right Training Methods: There's no one-size-fits-all approach. Consider a combination of microlearning modules, instructor-led workshops, online courses, and hands-on projects with real-world application.
  3. Curate High-Quality Content: Invest in high-quality training materials that are up-to-date, engaging, and relevant to your target audience. Explore the wealth of online resources like online courses on platforms such as Coursera and Udemy or consider partnering with industry experts to create customized content.
  4. Make It Accessible and Flexible: Offer training opportunities that are available outside of standard work hours. These can be offered to employees through online, on-demand video and interactive materials. Utilize mobile-friendly learning platforms and encourage microlearning throughout the workday. This caters to employees with diverse learning styles and busy schedules.
  5. Measure Results and Refine: Track learner engagement, knowledge retention through assessments, and finally, the impact of the training on performance metrics. This data allows you to refine your training programs and ensure they remain aligned with evolving needs.

Keeping Pace with the Future

The pace of technological change is relentless. Here are two important ways to ensure your upskilling strategy keeps pace.

First, stay abreast of industry trends. Actively monitor industry publications, attend Learning Guild on-site and online conferences, and network with other L&D professionals to stay updated on emerging technologies and the changing skill landscape. Think in terms of creating learning experiences that exist outside of “courses.” Document the experiences in LRS entries and learn to use analytic methods to access the information to identify skill gaps and opportunities.

Second, focus on agility and adaptability. Don't just train on specific technologies. In addition to technical expertise, the ability to develop and master transferable skills is crucial for future success in the workplace. These skills are applicable across different job functions and industries, and they equip employees and managers with the agility and adaptability to navigate an ever-changing landscape. Table 1 identifies some of the most important transferable skills for employees at all levels of your organization to focus on in the next five years.

Table 1. Most Important Transferable Skills 2024--2028

Transferable SkillDescription
Problem-solvingThe ability to identify, analyze, and solve complex problems.
Critical thinkingThe ability to think objectively, analyze information, and form sound judgments.
Communication (written and verbal)The ability to effectively convey ideas and information to others, both in writing and verbally.
CollaborationThe ability to work effectively with others to achieve a common goal.
Creativity and innovationThe ability to think creatively and come up with new ideas and solutions.
Digital literacy and competencyThe ability of everyone from CEO to workers to use digital tools and technologies effectively.
Data analysis and interpretationThe ability to collect, analyze, and interpret data to draw meaningful conclusions.
Self-directed learning and adaptabilityThe ability to take initiative to learn new things and adapt to change.
Time management and organizationThe ability to manage time effectively and stay organized.
Emotional intelligence and empathyThe ability to understand and manage one's own emotions, and the emotions of others.