You can’t just download new skills from the cloud

Published: 19th January 2023

By: Lasse Hamre

The demand to keep up with the pace of change in our work lives is unparalleled. We can’t think that technology alone will save us.

Over the past five years, HR’s position has changed significantly. Since the pandemic, we’ve become more focused on strategy and operational management, partly because continuous change and learning have become the new normal for most of us. It’s being predicted that at least 50% of employed people will have acquired new skills by 2025.

The first instinct is often to look for solutions within new technologies. But it’s people who must be responsible for the actual change. So, HR has to take on this change as well.

HR must take the lead to create new ways for us to work together.

The way to address the current acute shortage of competent applicants is to upgrade. We have to support “reskilling” and “upskilling” for the employees we already have. We have to learn new things, and we have to learn new things in new ways. We have to love learning.

HR has to love to learn new things about their employees. And HR’s job is to arrange for the employees to be inspired to learn. To try, to fail, to keep going, to keep learning.

Those who migrate from a static state to a growth mindset will be the winners. Continuous learning must enter the company’s DNA. With adjustment and learning, frustration and discomfort naturally follow, but this discomfort must be in service of something we want.

Walk the talk

During the pandemic, a digital fatigue set in among people. Everything took place online. All of our meetings, coffee breaks – and learning. Could it be that the fatigue isn’t only due to the media, but may be due to management’s basic attitude toward training employees?

Even when covering the most basic and fundamental aspects of training – which is about compliance, what an employee must know to do the job – digital training has been seen as a means of saving money. Flights, hotels and seminars with subsequent time off, employees away from work for days taking compulsory courses. Of course, those costs add up. Don’t worry, we’ve solved this digitally, we thought.

This equation has thus become established as e-learning = cheap learning. “Skills” are something to be boxed up and sold by many providers, and it can be tempting to choose the least expensive solutions.

The only problem is this: you can’t just download skills from the cloud. Skills are something you acquire by using your knowledge. Learning is tied to action. You learn when you do something.

HR Norway’s recent survey revealed that recruitment is at the top of the list of strategic measures taken to ensure that one’s company remains competitive. “Reskilling” has received very little attention.

If your company is going to assert itself in three to four years’ time, a learning culture must be established, one which permeates the entire organisation. You cannot rely on technology alone to be able to re-train, re-educate and teach new skills. You must establish learning as part of the culture.

You’ve got to walk the talk. Only then will it work.

Learning in teams

Nine out of ten employees say they want to keep the flexibility that, among other things, the home office gave them. Many of them say they would even consider quitting if they are not offered this option. In other words, people have acquired a taste for freedom of choice.

HR must step in to develop new ways of working to meet this new demand for flexibility. It can be about more than just the desire for increased autonomy, as surveys show that there is room for rethinking teamwork. Very little can be solved by individuals working alone anymore, as many tasks have become too complex.

Can the whole team be given responsibility for where and when they want to meet? Today, this is not an option for employees in four out of five companies, and in the public sector, only twelve percent have this freedom of choice.

The experiment as a learning arena

How can we create new arenas for learning, and learning in new teams? Well, let’s say that your company is going to build a new factory, where you are going to manufacture a completely new product. You possess the core competence, but most of it may have to be learned from scratch. The needs are countless. You need process operators, engineering skills, programmers, project management, communication services, chemical knowledge, materials theory, logistics, transport, team management, economists, planners.

What if you could first build a virtual factory, which simulated the process, and assigned the roles to be filled? How many of your employees do you think would have wanted to participate in such an experiment? In this kind of digital experiment, no accidents can happen. Just learning.

Everything that happens in the virtual factory can be monitored, measured and analysed. Rebuilt to avoid new errors. I’m almost giddy when I think about how much learning could occur in a scenario like this.

Go out into the organisation and ask: who wants to join?

I would have joined. As an educator and expert in learning, I would have eagerly thrown myself in and wanted to contribute methodically. And imagine the myriad ideas and teamwork that would have materialised. How would your team have solved the task, and how would they have gained new knowledge?

HR and the skills gap

In recent years, many have put new HR technology in place to streamline work, streamline learning processes, and save money. To what extent has HR itself been able to keep up with technology, data capture, the utilisation of big data as a factor in making optimal use of its employees?

The skills gap is still a chasm for many. Not all employees will be able to bridge the widening gap between their current position and what is expected of them, if you do not find new ways to inspire them to make an effort.

HR is increasingly involved in top management and tactical decisions. To a greater extent with those that influence leadership values and culture. As it should be, because HR knows the employees best.

How does each individual employee feel that the company provides opportunities for development, flexibility and responsibility, and a feeling that they’re valued by the employer?

The answer may lie in what you give them to reach for. Because learning happens when you put knowledge into practice in the real world. It must never become a line item, it should become the new culture.