L&D must shift from content to skills and talent-centered learning to address the needs of global workforce

JP Villanueva, Viventis Human Capital Strategy and Service Architect, talks about the importance and impact of Talent Centered Learning, during the 44th National Convention of PSTD, last October 9, 2019, at the Grand Ballroom of Marriott Hotel, Manila.

54% of the world’s workforce will require significant upskilling and reskilling for the next 5 years, according to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs in 2018. While there is a crisis and a war on talent, the talent management practice in HR is evolving, especially in its talent development component. 

Where do we shift?

“One thing we did well when it came to talent management was to put the talent at the center. It’s about getting our focus away from our process as HR and focusing more on the talent itself. And let me define ‘talent’, in practice and strictly speaking: ‘they are people who rent their abilities and commitment to achieve competitive advantage,’” said JP Villanueva, Human Capital Strategy and Service Architect of Viventis Search Asia, during the recently concluded 44th National Convention of the Philippine Society for Talent Development (PSTD) last October 8 and 9, at the Grand Ballroom of Marriot Hotel Manila.

Learning and development can transition to talent development by placing the talent at the center of its practice, not process. Placing the talent at the center of the practice requires a focus on skills because it is the one that drives talent. Talent development practitioners must therefore be able to determine what their talents can do, how well they can do it, what their goals and motivations are, and be able to expose opportunities to the learner. This is a very important mind shift for practitioners and shifting the focus from content to skills is critical. Skills are the major drivers of business, not learning. 

Although talent development is not a primary topic among CEOs, 8 out of 10 CEOs say lack of key skills is a serious threat to their company’s growth. (Source: PwC, 22nd CEO Survey: Talent Trends 2019, Up-skilling for a Digital World, 2/2019)

How serious is the threat? Here are a few companies who needed to do major organizational restructuring due to changes in products, customer taste, and retail dynamics:

General Motors is laying off 14,000 people as it refocuses its business on autonomous and electric vehicles. CEO Mary Barra says the restructuring is necessary “to ensure we have the right skill-sets to win today and in the future.” GM expects restructuring charges of $1B+.* 

Kraft-Heinz sales dropped 1% from 2016 to 2018 as consumer tastes and retail dynamics shifted. To grow again, it needs fresh R&D, marketing and merchandising skills. Meanwhile, management now expects 25% lower profits than a few months ago — and the company wrote $15.4B of goodwill off its balance sheet as a result.* 

SAP is laying off 4,400 people as it re-positions for AI, IoT, block-chain and quantum computing. CEO Bill McDermott says SAP is “getting the necessary skills on top of the growth opportunities… optimizing our workforce.” SAP expects restructuring charges of €800M+.*

Since Microsoft moved to the cloud market in 2017, they had to let go of 4,000 sales and marketing jobs out and change them because of the skills gap, which cost them $306M in restructuring changes.* 

The latest case would be Forever 21. They’ve recently declared bankruptcy, which is partly due to changes in retail dynamics and consumer taste.

However, the Philippines cannot afford lay-offs. Employers must get into the challenge of skilling the Philippines. 

Real transformation from training to talent is most evident when companies are able to react faster to market and business conditions by continuously up-skilling their employees. L&D, instead of focusing on content, must focus on supply & demand, that is, expose the skills people will need and help talents understand the skills that they have. 

Where do we start?

Daunting as it may be, we have to look for ways to meet our organizations where they are – institutionalize design thinking and train all managers/supervisors on coaching. Although practitioners are well-trained in contributing to their organization’s employee lifecycle, they need to realize that the employee lifecycle is still an HR lens. Design thinking allows practitioners to reach the real employee experience.

Instituting design thinking allows L&D practitioners to understand what talents go through and manage their journeys. Through employee experience, we see the importance of involvement of other key players in the organization: managers must provide continuous feedback and coaching; executives must be aligned to developing competencies; management must have a long-term plan in creating a talent pool. 

We have to focus on what we can control. Although a major problem is that employees don’t have time to learn, there are other areas Talent Development practitioners can do something about. According to Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing’s study on How the Workforce Learns 2019, the common sentiments of employees include:

  1. Lack of guidance or direction in learning – This is something practitioners can do. Instead of pushing for content, allow people to be guided when it comes to learning.
  2. My company doesn’t recognize or reward learning – Organizations have to learn to reward learning, not just performance
  3. My manager doesn’t encourage or enable learning – Organizations should enable the managers to encourage their people to learn.

We need to guide the workforce and not just let them play games. It’s good to increase engagement through leader-boards, but what is important is to guide them through their skills learning plans. Align them to learn how they could close their skill gaps and use assessments to find out where they need improvement.

Create conditions and not just content. Practitioners no longer have a monopoly of content. If you are an expert in the critical thinking topic, you are no longer the only expert on it. Your people can immediately Google what critical thinking is. What you can do is to shift from development to curation.

Enable the workforce to name their skill gaps. Data Analytics is one thing that is missing in Talent Development. For early adopters in Degreed, making use of skill graphs allow organizations to see how much gap really there is. Once they see the gap and focuses on closing the gap, ROI is immediately realized. It is the most measurable thing to do in Talent Development. 

We need to put teeth in the people development goals of our managers. Performance review is no longer a once-a-year thing. Managers must be able to provide real-time feedback because the needs of the workforce are changing – the new generations in the workforce are craving for, asking for feedback. It is a very important component that Talent Development practitioners must address. 

Accept the limits of integrating learning with work tools. There is only so much we can do when it comes to integration, and one of the visions in HR is to integrate everything—HRIS, LMS, LXP, KMS, ATS, and among others. When it comes to learning, there is no need to rush on integration. The primary task is for the workforce to learn anywhere, close their skill gaps, and access them anytime they need them. Prioritize creating conditions for employees to learn, anytime, anywhere.

Open the stage for self-directed skilling. A lot of local companies like Ayala Group, PNB, Monde-Nissin, Discovery Group, AsiaPro and Unilab have been democratizing learning. Talent Development practitioners will need to be comfortable with letting go of their content expertise. They don’t have the monopoly of content anymore and there are thousands of MOOCs in the market that employees can consume. The new focus includes guiding learners. Talent Development roles are in effect multiplying. 

Where to change?

Encourage micro-learning so that the workforce can catch up on skill gaps. Digitalizing talent development is worth the investment.

Talent development must amplify the feedback and impact of the initiatives through value mapping exercises. Any initiative in L&D has impact; it’s a matter of looking at and starting with two critical measures: effectiveness and engagement. Start initiatives at those two vantage points in order to create value for the organization. 

CEOs, CHROs, and CFOs will immediately see the value of talent development initiatives once they realize a more efficient learning using company learning resources. More importantly, they can visualize more adaptable, longer-lasting workforce skills bench contributing to increased promotions and internal mobility, decreased attrition, and improved tenure.

Make employees feel the investment. The more people think the organization spends on their development, the more satisfied they are. 

The current practice of L&D is incomplete: the practice of the ADDIE model (Analyze – Design – Develop – Implement – Evaluate) have two missing practices in this area: design thinking and analytics.

This practice should not be linear and must shift it to an iterative, agile method. Innovative learning strategies should include self-directed and personalized learning, learning & talent analytics, micro-learning, and continuous learning pathways that lead to mastery.  

The talent development practitioner’s main task, while transitioning to a new way of doing talent development, is to re-architect the whole learning and development approach. The main goal is to close skill gaps and develop skills analytics. Talent-centered programs follows, and the L&D practice can now be reformatted into new and enabling roles. Traditionally, there are only three (3) roles in L&D: the administrator, the trainer, and the developer. The roles evolve to seven when the shift to talent focus happens: performance consultants, curators, learning experience designers, facilitators, event organizers, collaboration advisors, community managers, and learning advisors. 

If experts could redirect efforts on building the current L&D model into these new job descriptions, it will add value to the organization. In addition, it is important to use the right modes of learning and not expose the learner to too much. Making use of platforms which are consumer-based will enable the organization to democratize skilling but this will require practitioners to be technology savvy.

As Paul Graham, Y Combination Co-Founder, had said, “When experts are wrong, it’s often because they’re experts on an earlier version of the world.” Organizations cannot afford to remain in the status quo if they are changing their products, transforming their marketing or recreating their value chain. As Dessie Dayo of San Miguel conjures, “Transforming includes three points: mindset, skillset, and toolset.” The hardest of which is mindset and transformation starts from it.

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