The struggle for skills needs a strategy

27 May 2024

Ian Hawkings looks at what findings from the new report, ‘The future of lifelong and executive education’ mean for employers seeking to build a workforce fit for the future.


Do companies have proper strategies for employee learning? I’m sure some do, but it often appears that many, even large ones, have nothing of the sort.

It seems more commonplace that an individual employee identifies that they want to upskill in some way, then goes to their boss to find out if they’ll sanction it. Whether or not this is granted often appears to have as much to do with accrued goodwill than it does a clearly defined need for the company to onboard new skills.

But in a world which we are constantly told is ‘more uncertain than ever before’, shouldn’t employers be a bit more strategic when it comes to the learning and development of their employees?

Our latest study into the Future of Lifelong and Executive Education shows that companies are finding it hard to fill skills gaps – particularly around blockchain, AI, and change management. Crisis management, managing across cultures, agility, business model innovation, design thinking and negotiation are also highlighted as key skills that are not widely available.

77% of employers also expect workers to change career direction completely at least once, and 85% say that flexible working practices will be implemented in their organisations.

If companies are struggling to find all these skills, and workers are going to shift career focus and expect to be employed in a flexible manner, it seems an imperative that companies develop well-designed, well-communicated learning frameworks that are embedded into the culture of the organisation. Training and retraining staff that you already have would appear to serve both employer, and employee needs.

The study does suggest that employers recognise this. 77% say that they expect their organisation to develop a formal lifelong learning strategy. But it’s not as simple as just making learning available – in order to develop a strategy companies need a clear picture of what they already have, and what they are going to need in the future. Again, there does appear to be awareness of this - 74% of employers anticipate developing systems to track and monitor learning among their employees to make the most of their current skills and future development.

How this learning is delivered and consumed by employees is another conundrum. Not only is the world of work becoming more complex, but long-gone are the days when a university, business school or professional body offering degrees or industry-recognised qualifications are the only options. Employees are embracing stackable learning, digital badges, micro-credentials and a host of other ill-understood modes of learning. Companies need to decide what to recognise, and what to invest in.

80% of employers expect that online learning will become the standard approach to developing people in their organisation, 77% believe that short bursts of learning, delivered flexibly and providing microcredentials, are valuable in meeting development needs in their organisations. 81% believe that customised programs tailored to their organisation are key to meeting development needs.

This shows that companies recognise how employee needs have shifted, but also that these changes can actually help them to meet their objectives if managed properly. Equally, they know that there are now multiple options available when it comes to spending their growing L+D budgets - 67% expect their budgets to increase.

With Ed-Tech companies, consultancies, and other new-entrants treading on business school toes, where this money is spent in the future is yet to be determined.  Just as employers need a strategy for learning and development, business schools need to take a strategic approach if they are not going to miss out on the growing lifelong learning marketplace.


Download 'The future of lifelong and executive education' report for free on our website.

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