Today’s workforce development strategies came about in a markedly different era, delivering solutions that no longer answer the needs of the current landscape.
From its roots in sporadic, one-size-fits-all training, workforce development has transformed into a dynamic, personalized and skills-driven process. The traditional paradigm of isolated skill acquisition has shifted towards a continuous learning model.
While your company may already have a robust workforce development strategy in place, the rapidly changing workplace environment highlights a need for continuous optimization. In this article, we take a look at how workforce development has evolved and share tips for modernizing your approach for greater impact.
Workforce development: Then and now
To ensure that you’re getting the most out of your workforce development strategy, take a look at the five biggest shifts in L&D strategy for updating your current approach.
#1. Hard skills vs. soft skills
Many early iterations of workforce development focused on hard skills development. It was a good place to start, with clear-cut skills to teach and then clear ways to test those new skills. And because technical skills come and go and get replaced, or advance and become more complex, companies that want to stay at the top of their game focus on hard skills training.
Today, there’s also a growing emphasis on durable soft skills and employee training and education that builds communication, leadership, collaboration, problem-solving, adaptability and more. Unlike hard skills, there’s no come-and-go with soft skills, and companies are now thinking more holistically about how to develop soft skills that promote advancement and have longevity throughout a career.
#2: Training vs. education
Training has always been a foundational aspect of workforce development. However, the way companies approach it is changing.
Virtually every organization has some sort of training protocol in place. This typically starts with onboarding training and can take on many different formats throughout the employee lifecycle. While this may have been adequate in the past, the persistence of skills gaps and talent shortages has compelled organizations to innovate.
In response, many HR leaders are shifting to a more strategic and comprehensive approach to workforce training that’s aligned to business goals and enables career advancement for workers. What does this look like?
This starts with looking beyond just training to develop a comprehensive education program that offers both short-term skill-building options, such as courses and certificates, as well as long-term career-building opportunities such as degree programs. So it's not a matter of training versus education, but rather how these two work together to form a comprehensive learning strategy.
#3: Barriers vs accessibility
Even a company with limitless resources will hit a roadblock if employees can’t make development opportunities work within their lives, no matter how beneficial they sound on paper.
Historically, companies have partnered with local colleges and universities that offer traditional course schedules that are all but impossible for working learners to attend. The hours in a day simply don’t add up when you already have a full-time job and the responsibilities of daily life. However, online learning geared specifically for adult learners provides complete accessibility and flexibility, accommodating all schedules, levels of education and styles of learning.
You also have to consider financial barriers. Even today, many companies offer tuition reimbursement benefits as a way to provide employees with access to education. Students pay for classes upfront and apply for reimbursement from the company. Assuming they’ve met the criteria, they will get paid back months later. For many, putting up thousands of dollars upfront is challenging or simply impossible.
A successful workforce development program doesn’t just invite people to learn, it removes the barriers for them to do so.
#4: Static vs continuous learning
Businesses no longer anticipate retaining employees for a lifetime in fixed roles within static teams. Now, the most successful workforce development initiatives focus on giving employees access to continuous learning and development opportunities that equip them with the skill sets needed to thrive in their current role, as well as the skills needed for advancement.
Not only do employees need continuous learning opportunities, the real payoff comes when development stops being a one-size-fits-all concept. Different career paths, educational backgrounds and experience levels necessitate a variety of L&D options to meet the needs of a diverse workforce.
#5: Siloed learning vs learning culture
Learning shouldn’t happen in a silo. All the tactics discussed above find even greater success when you adopt a culture of learning within the workplace. This means weaving continuous learning and development into day-to-day life and ensuring that its a core value that touches every team and individual. Not only does this help spread awareness and improve participation in your development initiatives, but it also empowers employees to take ownership of their advancement.
Building the workforce of tomorrow
With continued skills gaps, high turnover and leadership pipelines in desperate need of filling, companies lack the agility and skilled workforces they need to compete in today’s marketplace. Yesterday’s strategies are not solving today's problems. By shifting to a more strategic and accessible approach to workforce development and cultivating a culture of learning, organizations can shape the workforce they need for tomorrow.