Companies are facing a skills shortage that is predicted to become a crisis by 2020 – just six short years away. CEOs cite a lack of skills/recruiting as the largest obstacle to their greatest goal, which is revenue growth, according to the most recent Gartner CEO and Senior Executive Survey. Knowledge Management, Human Resources and Training departments need to work together with CIOs to identify opportunities to increase the skills of novice and “n’expert” employees to become expert in specific skills – as the organization requires them. Moving from planned to on-demand skills acquisition requires flexibility in culture as well as technology. Consumerization means that employees expect to be able to find and learn new things and meet relevant new people at work as easily as they do via the Internet and social media at home.

New hires, newly transferred employees and those working on new projects seek to “drink from the firehose” to learn all they need to be successful. And yet, Business and Legal Resources (BLR) reports that less than half the skills and information learned in training will be transferred to the job immediately after the training session, and that after one year, some employees will retain as little as 10 percent to 15 percent of what they learn during training. That’s because we humans learn by doing. And it may be impacted by a phenomenon called neuroplasticity, which explains the “moldability” of our brains; the term has been used recently to explain our shortening attention span and lack of information retention. We now prefer to remember pointers to information rather than the information itself. Neuroplasticity may be a contributor, and it may also be that there is simply too much information available for us to retain, and it’s easier to remember how to find it. But the proliferation of systems and complexity of IT infrastructures makes this difficult inside even small organizations. The complexity is obviously highly exacerbated within mid to large-size companies.

Knowledge workers are distracted too often from the work at hand as it is, and it takes too much time to reconnect the dots when they return from the distraction – which may be an email, a phone call, or just checking their mobile device(s) for messages (which a lot of people do, about 150 times per day). Regardless, the state of “flow,” in which we are concentrated and able to do our best work, suffers greatly.

A solution is to provide not only training but a 360 view of information necessary to the employee’s current work – in the flow of their work. This could be include a training video or the latest research on a given topic, or past work done by predecessors who are no longer there, or simply the recommendation of a current expert of whom the employee may not be aware, and best of all, a combination of all of this and more. Flexible Search & Relevance technology that “understands” what the user is working on and can provide relevant content, training, and experts, plus the ability to “surf” related information for exactly what knowledge workers need, at the moment of need, may help to alleviate the current and growing skills shortage by helping knowledge workers to become more proficient when and where they need to. They’ll retain the knowledge by using it, and be on their way to expert status in yet one more topic. Tomorrow, they’ll be on to the next.