Gartner: employees only applying half of newly learned skills

Gartner Australasia Pty Ltd

Monday, 31 August, 2020

Gartner: employees only applying half of newly learned skills

TalentNeuron data from Gartner has revealed that employees are only applying 54% of the new skills they learn, despite the number of skills required for a single job increasing by 10% year over year, with 33% of the skills needed three years ago no longer relevant.

The business impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with executive leadership turnover, have amplified the need for new skills as business strategies shift and employees adapt to new ways of working. Data also reveals that nearly two-thirds of HR leaders have had to take a reactive approach to addressing skill needs, resulting in employees failing to apply almost half of the new skills they learn.

Sari Wilde, Managing Vice President in the Garnet HR practice, noted that while the majority of organisations are using a reactive approach to skills building that doesn’t work, most are still striving to be more predictive to get ahead of skill shifts. “The problem is that a predictive approach predicated on HR identifying a specific skill set need for the future also fails,” said Wilde.

Gartner’s 2020 Shifting Skills Survey for HR Executives revealed that 60% of HR leaders are under pressure to ensure employees have the skills needed in the future. The survey also found that, compared to three years ago, 69% of HR executives report more pressure from employees to provide development opportunities that will prepare them for future roles. However, predicting and committing to a defined set of future skills leads organisations to focus on the wrong skills. In fact, when HR leaders take a predictive approach to managing shifting skills, employees only apply 37% of the new skills learned.

The most effective HR functions use a dynamic skills approach focused on structuring HR and the organisation to be able to respond dynamically to changing skills needs. This helps HR sense shifting skills needs in real time, develop skills at the time of need and empowers employees to make informed skills decisions dynamically. A dynamic skills approach anticipates skill shifts as they are occurring (rather than predicting the future) and adapts to those skills in an iterative, course-corrective way. To sense shifting skills, organisations can facilitate cross-organisational networks of stakeholders that are sensitive to, and empowered to, address skills as they shift in real time.

Developing skills at the time of need goes beyond the realm of traditional learning and developmental tactics, such as classroom training or curated e-learning libraries. To develop skills at the time of need, organisations are able to identify and implement skill accelerators — strategies HR can adapt by leveraging existing resources to develop new skills solutions. A dynamic skills approach calls for two-way skills transparency between the organisation (what skills it needs, what skills it does not need and where its needs are unknown) and the employee (current skills and interests). This enables HR to create channels to exchange skills information, which facilitates a better match between employees and their organisation to pursue mutually beneficial and flexible skills development.

“Organisations that embrace a dynamic approach to developing skills find that employees are both learning the right skills and extracting the value from those skills in a way they do not within the reactive and predictive approaches. The result is that employees apply 75% of the new skills they learn,” said Wilde.

Data shows that the dynamic skills approach boosts other key talent outcomes as well, including a 24% improvement in employee performance and a 34% improvement in employees going above and beyond at work.

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