Spanning the skills gap—employees want more digital training

by | Mar 18, 2020 | Public Relations

In the workplace of today, employers and employees alike are being challenged to adapt rapidly to digitization, automation and new staffing models. Human resource leaders say they’re primed for the challenge and arming employees with the essential education and tools needed for transformation. But what do employees think?

New research from Peppercomm, conducted by Echo Research, reveals that more than two-thirds of the 1,000 employees surveyed in the U.S. and U.K. agree that their organizations are providing training and instruction for this important transformation (66 percent U.S.; 73 percent U.K.). Given the sense of urgency for upskilling that CEOs have expressed in numerous studies, American and British businesses seem well on their way to embracing business disruptions.

However, a remaining one-third of employees surveyed (33 percent U.S.; 27 percent U.K.) believe they aren’t getting what they need to contribute effectively in their rapidly evolving businesses. The number is even higher (39 percent U.S. and 27 percent U.K.) among individual contributors (non-managers) who say they aren’t getting the training they need to keep up with technological advancements, far more than those in management or supervisory roles (27 percent U.S.; 18 percent U.K.).

“It’s encouraging to see companies preparing employees with what they need to succeed during dramatic change,” said Ann Barlow, Peppercomm senior partner and employee experience lead, in a news release. “Ironically, even as technology is disrupting business, it’s actually enabling better education and communication inside organizations.”

Barlow continued, “However, we’re also seeing that HR executives may have concluded that a group of employees will retire ahead of when a new skillset is essential, and for others that the gap between current and future required skills is just too wide. Along with their communications counterparts, HR leaders must ensure that employees aren’t being left behind for other reasons.”

A concurrent survey of 101 HR leaders in the U.S. and U.K. points to some potential reasons for this disconnect. One factor could be that most HR leaders surveyed believe their organizations are effective at collecting employee feedback and acting on it—85 percent and 75 percent, respectively. Employees were less enthused, with less than half (46 percent U.S.; 48 percent U.K.) believing their companies are good at collecting employee input and even fewer (37 percent U.S.; 38 percent U.K.) believing their companies are effective at activating on that input.

“Given this, if some employees have asked for different education or different ways of learning about what is available, they may think no one is listening—and be right,” said Barlow.

Top tips for enhanced learning & development

Courtney Ellul, a partner in the Peppercomm London office and co-lead of employee experience, offered a few tips for HR to consider in gauging the effectiveness of their education delivery and communication:

1. Start with specific goals: What do you want to achieve through your learning & development program and how will you measure success? Identify the barriers to success—for example, lack of line manager support, competing employee priorities, disengagement, poor technology—and build a plan to overcome them. Identify key internal partners (Internal Comms, IT, business lines, etc.) and champions early on who will work alongside you to make the program a success.

2. Continually ask employeeswhat’s working and what’s not: But, as our survey indicates, that’s not enough. Take employee’s feedback seriously and communicate actions and enhancements on an ongoing basis. While you’re at it, reinforce the why. This is for the benefit of the individual employee and the organization.

3. Tap into recent communication technology advancements: This can help connect employees with and without desks to the information they need. It can also identify hotspots where disconnects are particularly acute.

4. Understand your employee base and their unique needs: In addition to classroom-style learning and online courses, many companies and individuals are reaping the benefits of VR-based learning and AR-based gamification for training around client service, compliance, crisis preparedness, and more. A number of our clients have even incorporated stand-up comedy into their internal training programs to help employees learn, develop, and bond in a fun and unconventional way.

5. Keep your finger on the pulse: Look inside and outside your industry to identify who’s winning and why when it comes to education delivery and communications. What can you learn from and adapt now, and what should you keep in your back pocket for next year’s plan and budget?

The Peppercomm HR Study was conducted by Echo Research LLC, an independent research company, among a random sample of U.S. (n=750) and U.K. (n=250) employees; and HR leaders in the U.S. (n=76) and U.K. (n=25) at companies with 100+ employees. The study concluded in Q3 2019.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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