Why digital upskilling is now business critical

Why digital upskilling is now business critical

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The world of work has changed beyond recognition in the last 2 years and digital upskilling is more important than ever.

Since March 2020 remote working in the UK has increased by 138%*, with many employees working on a hybrid office/home arrangement – a trend that seems set to stay.

In the US, it is predicted that 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by end of 2022.**

Generally, remote working is seen as a positive for both employees and the organisations they work for.

But from a learning and development perspective, it presents its own set of challenges, that cannot be ignored.

Upskilling employees via digital learning to cope with these new challenges is vital to ensure employees feel supported and motivated. In this context, “upskilling” is about providing workers with the tools and wherewithal to have the confidence to deliver great work in what is for many a completely new way of working.


Remote working presents its challenges

It’s worth looking at these challenges in more detail.

-Workers can experience feelings of isolation with little or no human contact with their colleagues. Well-being has never been more important is ensuring the mental health of employees. Yet spotting any negative associated behavioural traits related to remote working is hard. It’s also harder for employees to raise concerns online.

-Employees suffer consistent “virtual” interruptions to their concentration from Teams, Zoom, Slack and all the other myriad of digital collaboration technologies.

-There’s a blurring of personal of professional boundaries that many employees find hard to manage.

Digitally upskilling employees effectively in this remote working world is a challenge that L&D and HR professionals need to address. As the latest Learning Performance Benchmark identifies: “While employees value the isolation that working remotely offers – providing them with the space to learn, free from distractions – they are struggling to make time for learning.”

HR and management need to change tack. Global Industry Analyst and Author Josh Bersin points out that now hybrid working is the norm, “Companies will need to rearchitect their HR technology

With fewer people regularly in offices or places of work, organisations are having to provide training and learning and development online, moving away from classroom-based delivery.


A new approach to upskilling is required

This requires an entirely different approach. Creating digital content that engages and excites the learner is a very different challenge for trainers, who may find that the techniques they have used in a face-to-face environment no longer work online. I find that many trainers fear translating their content for eLearning delivery.

But it’s not just how content is delivered that’s changed.

The L&D market is changing fast. Workplace training is increasingly being asked to help businesses with a wider range of challenges, including mental health and wellbeing and cultural diversity.

But even these are what I consider “top-down” learning and development. They are provided by the organisation for their employees who are forced or “encouraged” to attend. As a result, they are often more of a “tick-box” exercise than seen as a genuine upskilling opportunity.

That’s not to minimise their importance in the upskilling stakes. These are hugely important issues that require upskilling programmes for any organisation. But they are often regarded by employees as something that must be fitted around the more important aspects of their working day.


The balance of power is shifting – It’s increasingly hard to hire externally.

There’s another factor that is affecting how employees regard learning and development and training. This is succinctly put by Josh Bersin: “The economy will grow – with a restrained labour force”.

The balance of power has shifted in the last few years in favour of incumbent employees. There’s a shortage of labour meaning that organisations are finding it both hard and expensive to replace employees who leave.

Organisations are more reliant on existing employees and need to work harder to ensure they remain motivated and supported when doing their jobs.

HR and business leaders recognise that they need to create opportunities for their employees to grow and develop their careers within the organisation. Bersin talks about the need for every company to create a “talent marketplace platform” whereby “talent intelligence and skills taxonomy will become the cornerstone of your people strategy.”

I’m not sure whether employees have sensed this shift in power, but there has been a noticeable move in recent years towards “self-directed learning”, involving personal development upskilling to provide greater opportunities for career progression or transferring skills to a new role.

Previously, the motivation for learning was based around gaining qualifications, or completing mandatory learning for compliance purposes.

Figures from the most recent Learning Performance Benchmark 2022 highlight this trend.

In 2018, 78% of employees attended courses for gaining qualifications or for completing mandatory compliance training. Only 20% attended for personal development.

In 2021 the equivalent figures were 47% for the qualifications and mandatory compliance with 57% seeking to upskill for personal development – a massive 285% increase over two years.

This puts the onus on employers in all organisations to step up to the plate and deliver effective digital upskilling for workers in the flow of work. In other words, providing easy access to learning and development tools and resources employees need at the time they need them.


Employers need to consult their workers on upskilling

Previously, employers decided on what learning and development programmes would run, considering the organisations’ needs as paramount. But now it needs to be a two-way dialogue. Enlightened organisations involve employees in the process, seeking their input on areas for upskilling. This involves asking them what skills they would like to acquire, what learning style works for them, and getting regular feedback on progress to be able to tailor and improve course content and delivery.

There’s a realisation that by putting the interests and needs of the individual learner up-front, there’s a much greater chance the organisation will benefit from a stable, motivated, supported more loyal workforce who has the confidence and skills to perform to their highest potential.

Even in the now less-than-usual situation of an employee evaluating a potential employer, I would wager that the availability of upskilling opportunities is more important than the remuneration package on offer.


Easy access to upskilling tools and resources in the flow of work

Management also must make sure that the easy access to digital upskilling and the associated tools and resources in the flow of work is fully understood amongst the workforce. I come across many examples where individual learners are unaware of what’s available to them to improve their skills and further their careers.

The effective rollout and adoption of digital learning upskilling programs via internal campaigns and regular communication are vital when a large proportion of the workforce may be working remotely.

Post covid, digital learning (or eLearning as it’s often referred to) is now accepted as the prime method for people to attend courses and upskill.  My clients are now delivering over 75% of their learning content and courses online. Before Covid, it was 75% classroom-based.


Creating access to digital learning courses and content has never been easier

One criticism that used to prevail was that you couldn’t replicate the impact and excitement of a face-to-face presentation. I think that was a fair criticism a few years ago. However, in recent years there has been a huge increase in the ability of software and platforms to bring to life the learning experience.

Trainers who have traditionally shied away or were even fearful of online course delivery can now produce relevant, resonating digital content.

Platforms such as Docebo, make it easy to provide learning in the flow of work at the point of need. Authoring tools such as Articulate 360 enable learning departments to create and edit in-house content with ease. Anyone can now create exciting, interactive video content using software such as Vyond.

Yes, it’s different from face-to-face. I would never pretend otherwise. But it’s no less impactful in delivering and upskilling learners. And you have all the benefits of speed of creation, in-house control and reduced costs of avoiding using expensive third-party software.

The easy availability of digital upskilling is a differentiator for organisations that ensures your current employees feel valued and remain loyal and committed. Perhaps the new world is best summed up by Josh Bersin: “Learning, skills, and career pathways are business-critical”.


*2022 Learning Performance Benchmark – Mind Tools for Business

** Ladders


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