By Eric Wise
The digital skills gap and talent shortages are well documented. These days it’s not a matter of whether professional development needs to be a part of a company’s strategy, but rather how to go about doing it.
When discussing the topics of reskilling and upskilling a company’s workforce, we hear a common question: “How do we provide professional development without losing valuable work time and productivity?” By choosing the appropriate learner experiences and outcomes, it’s possible to achieve both high-quality training results while minimizing productivity loss.
Let’s look at two ways your organization should evaluate its learning needs before shopping for training providers:
1. Evaluate Outcomes and Costs
Companies tend to focus too much on costs and time and not enough on outcomes. The end goal of professional development is to have results that benefit the business. Are those new data engineering skills critical to achieving strategic goals? What is the cost of hiring and replacing talent as a strategy? Are there time-sensitive factors such as product launches, competition, or costs associated with low productivity? Looking at the cost of education in a vacuum often leads to short-sighted decisions.
2. Evaluate the Level of Difficulty to Achieve Desired Outcomes
Not all content is created equal. Some skills take longer to learn than others, and some skills also require prerequisite knowledge to learn at an effective pace. For simplicity’s sake, I usually break down skill learning into tiers based on desired outcomes:
- Literacy: Someone who has literacy as an outcome doesn’t often need to perform the skills themselves; they just need to be able to understand the skills and actively participate in managing or providing feedback to those who are executing them. The literacy level of skill is often appropriate for management and members of cross-functional teams.
- Execution: The execution outcome indicates that someone can perform tasks, usually under direction or to a specification. These individuals are not performing in-depth analysis about the appropriateness or strategic soundness of a direction, but instead are more like apprentices working under the direction of a superior.
- Mastery: The mastery outcome indicates someone who not only can execute the skills to perform tasks but also has a deep understanding of why the usage of the skills is appropriate and how they work at a deep and often theoretical level. These people are the ones making the strategic choices in the organization and often mentor and support those who work at the execution level.
Maximizing Work Time
Once you’ve gone through your evaluation process, look at how different learning modalities align with difficulty level and work time. We can roll up these modalities into synchronous (instructor-led in real time), asynchronous (self-paced), and blended (a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning).
- Literacy: In general, the literacy outcome is best fulfilled by asynchronous learning or very short-term but intense synchronous sessions (generally less than 40 hours). Synchronous sessions are preferred when collaboration enhances the learning experience; for instance, when effective communication is a goal or when the literacy concepts are abstract and there is a tangible benefit to being able to ask questions in real time. Learners often prefer asynchronous sessions for more definitional and straight-forward content or when maximizing work time is vital.
- Execution: Execution requires deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is most effective in a feedback loop with peers and mentors. This give-and-take is the crux of what makes boot camps so impactful to learning outcomes. For this reason, synchronous and blended models are the preferred modality for those whose outcomes require execution of skills.
While some companies are willing to invest the time and effort required for synchronous training because of its high quality and speed to an outcome, others are unwilling to take people off the floor for extended periods and lean towards a blended model. Blended models mix the best of both worlds by providing asynchronous content that can be scheduled to have a low impact on work time while strategically injecting synchronous learning at milestones to provide feedback and reinforcement.
- Mastery: Mastery doesn’t happen overnight. The depth of knowledge often goes beyond deliberate practice. There is a reason universities offer graduate education, which takes place over more extended periods with a mix of instruction, content, and project work that builds a lasting foundation. Fortunately, most graduate degree programs are well-suited to part-time achievement, so work time is rarely a factor in these endeavors.
It’s certainly important to consider productivity loss when evaluating training and development for your employees. However, companies that don’t put outcomes first—or consider them at all—will struggle to find any value in their professional development initiatives.