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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Learning from leaders

Chris McCarthy explains why, more than ever, CEOs must drive their workforce’s learning

Today’s organisations face a Herculean challenge in remaining on top of ever-changing work environments. Consumer demands are evolving, new players are entering the market, interactions with businesses have shifted more online, emerging technology like AI, connected devices and automation are becoming mainstream, and, simultaneously, we are facing the biggest crisis of a generation. Amidst all this, business leaders must learn to adapt and thrive. The operative word being: learn.

Whereas companies used to compete based on their positional advantage (price and quality of goods, their ability to influence consumers, their supply chain) and their adaptive advantage, now they need to improve their learning advantage. Accelerate your rate of learning and you’ll increase your adaptiveness and position too. 

The only skill that matters

The ability to build new skills is, as Peter Drucker once said, the only skill that matters in the 21st Century. The half-life of skills is getting ever shorter, so everything you learn will eventually become obsolete. 1 billion jobs will need to be reconfigured over the next decade, with existing employees reskilled for this. This was before the widespread disruption of the pandemic, so, upskilling and reskilling the workforce has become even more critical.

That’s why it’s no longer enough to leave learning strategy and control to a single learning or HR team. It must be a company-wide endeavour that’s spearheaded at the very top.

It will also be driven from the bottom. The demand for skill development has risen due to economic uncertainty with 59% of employees willing to reskill to remain employable. Two-thirds believe this should be organisation-led.

Alleviating skill concerns

Furthermore, 74% of CEOs are worried about the availability of key skills in their organisation in the future. 38% of CEOs who have advanced upskilling programmes feel confident in their company’s growth over the next 12 months. By taking back learning control, CEOs ensure they build the right skills for the future, to keep the company growing and their business strategy on-track.

Greater focus and alignment

CEOs will help to set the agenda for learning and drive momentum business-wide. They have the strategic motivation to do so, as a lack of skills will hinder all future plans and implementations. Global consumption is predicted to grow $15 trillion between 2020 and 2030. To fulfil this, around 170-190 million new jobs will be created, specifically within high-skilled, difficult-to-automate positions like sales representatives, managers, executives, engineers, and service workers. To become a market leader in this new reality, you will have to ensure the right people, with the right skills, are in the right roles and projects for their skills, at the right time.

Creating memorable learning

Plus, the way learning is delivered in the workplace must also change. There is a critical need for corporate learning to be a career-defining, memorable learning experience. Traditionally it’s been seen as a bolt-on to the learning achieved in school and university. With workplaces and roles changing so rapidly, learning needs to become the engine of change in the wider organisation. The way people get from role A to project B, to grow their careers, and improve their business’ lot too. Without the CEO’s oversight on this, any change to the learning experience risks being inconsistent and misaligned.

Your first step

The first step that CEOs can take, that will positively impact their workforce’s learning, is to develop a company-wide strategy that recognises learning’s role in the business’ transformation and performance. Putting learning at the heart of the organisation will shift the perception and importance of the function in every employee’s eyes. It turns learning into a competitive advantage – and begins your journey towards market dominance.

Chris McCarthy, founder and CEO of Degreed.

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