Skills and knowledge are the key creators of value in a knowledge economy. CEOs get it, and told Gartner that skills and talent are their biggest constraint to growth, in the firm’s annual CEO survey. It may seem counter-intuitive to think about a skills shortage when we have unemployment rates of around 6-7+ percent across the Americas, up to 26 percent even in some western European countries, and up to 30 percent in some African countries.

Economists talk about a jobless recovery. The challenge for companies is not the number of employable people. It’s their skills and their ability to upskill and even re-skill to meet rapidly changing demand. The digitalization of the workplace creates disruption and arguably increases productivity so fewer people may be needed. The internet of things changes many things (some say everything). The rapid pace of change (Gartner CEO Eugene Hall said at his organization’s most recent IT Symposium that he had seen more change in the past three years than in the prior 20), combined with the baby boomer exodus, means that in many companies, fewer employees need to have more skills—and the capacity to adapt and change those skills, on-demand.

Learning Pyramid2Yet it’s difficult for employees to retain what we train them to do, because of the nature of adult learning. We’ve obviously known for quite some time that people learn best and retain most by doing. (The “Cone of Learning” model including learning retention rates based on type of learning has been around since 1966.)

How many times have you heard friends who had just joined a company say that they had to just jump in and start working in order to figure out their new role? Even though they had been through onboarding. Training and onboarding content are forgotten quickly when unused. In order to retain what they need to upskill, adult learners have precise requirements (according to Malcolm Knowles, in his book The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development). Knowledge workers need:

  • to know why they need to know something
  • to learn it at the time they need it – meaning in the flow of work
  • to have the foundation to understand it
  • an understanding of the problem they want to solve
  • the motivation to learn

These points clearly call for learning in the flow of work, on-demand. So why haven’t most companies cracked that code?

Because information, knowledge and expertise – and traces of employee experience – are scattered throughout what is today an “ecosystem of record.” In our digital world there is no longer a “system of record.” Data and information grow too quickly – exist in too many different formats – and change at such a velocity that a system of record cannot contain it all. IT teams have tried to keep up, but integrating systems and retiring older, legacy systems happen at too slow a pace, while new cloud systems grow ferociously. The combination of cloud and on-premise systems used within most companies amplifies the fragmentation of information and knowledge. The only way to really harness all of this information is to embrace the ecosystem of record and stop trying to move the data or integrate systems.

Rather, a unified index of all of the information ecosystem—essentially a virtual information integration—which is always on, and always updating itself with changes from all systems crawled, is the first building block of any program designed to help employees upskill on demand.

My next blog will look at the other elements necessary, and present some of the benefits achieved by companies when they embark on such a journey towards proactive insights delivered in the flow of work, via any device, within any system.

How does your company look at skills vs hiring?