Employee development: how upskilling employees can offer a competitive advantage

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In today’s competitive business environment, success isn’t just about attracting the right staff – it also depends on giving existing employees more opportunities to upskill.

Every organisation has to adopt new technologies and practices in order to remain competitive and achieve growth. However, the current pace of change and rapid emergence of new technologies is making it increasingly difficult for companies to find staff with specialised skills.

Initiatives like the recent Learning at Work Week are designed to shine a spotlight on the importance of learning and development at work and serves as a timely reminder that upskilling current employees is just as important for ensuring a company’s workforce can capitalise on these new technologies and enjoy competitive advantage.

Training is future proofing

Continuous employee development and adopting a learning culture are vital for businesses to future-proof their organisation.

New applications and tools continue to shake up the way businesses are run. Ensuring your employees have the expertise, as well as the mindset, to welcome and use them is essential.

Employees need to feel supported by and committed to their organisations and be confident they can do their jobs now and in the future.

Unfortunately, our recent research reveals this is not currently the case. Both IT decision makers (31%), and line of business decision makers (41%) have labelled skills as the biggest issue impacting digital initiatives, yet seven in ten employees claim they’re not getting the training or tools they need.

Here, we see a true divide with organisations identifying a lack of skills as a pitfall, but not doing enough to ensure that staff are able to rise to the challenge and upskill themselves.

Organisations should promote a cross-functional approach to identify skills needed by different departments and leverage experts from inside the business itself.

It’s crucial that organisations put in place a training strategy to ensure their workforce can develop the skills they need to use new technologies and retain their competitive edge.

In addition, having a loyal and dedicated workforce that feels enabled and valued can help avoid potential staff retention issues.

Upskilling staff through schemes such as Learning at Work Week is a crucial aspect of tackling this issue and shows that their growth and development is important to the wider business.

An advocate for technology training

It would be rare to find an organisation that denied the importance of having regular training. However, many still aren’t offering enough opportunities to their employees to develop technical skills. One reason for this is that they struggle to define whom the responsibility lies with.

One of the challenges here is that training sits naturally within the HR department, but technology requires the application of specialist knowledge, and given that digital tools are constantly evolving, HR personnel alone may find it difficult to guarantee a successful transition into the digital age.

As a solution, organisations should promote a cross-functional approach to identify skills needed by different departments and leverage experts from inside the business itself.

Training is no longer something that should only be happening one week a year, or even every quarter. It needs to be woven into your business’s fabric.

In marketing, for example, we have seen the emergence of new software and SaaS models across CRM and marketing automation to help run and measure marketing programs. These often require new skills, some of which can be found in sales operations.

In certain cases, having ‘super-users’ who can train and support other team members within and across organisations can be an effective way to cultivate the new skills required.

An effective leaning and development strategy should tap into the transferable skills across organisations to help employees develop and adopt new tools.

Beyond Learning at Work Week

While it requires an investment of time and resources, driving a wider cultural change in your organisation is the best way to ensure digital adoption and get the most out of your employees.

The businesses that survive the turbulent times ahead will be those that bring employees on board, and invest as much time into training them as they do in hiring fresh blood.

Schemes like Learning at Work Week should serve as a continuous year-long reminder of the importance of this.

That said, training is no longer something that should only be happening one week a year, or even every quarter. It needs to be woven into your business’s fabric.

A cross-functional approach ensures gaps are identified and internal knowledge is leveraged.  

The business world is in a state of flux and organisations will need to manage and adapt their organisations as they encounter unprecedented challenges.

The market is tough; with Britain’s departure from the European Union imminent, and regulatory changes such as the introduction of the GDPR having serious implications for data protection, business leaders will need to ensure they are benefitting from the technology at their disposal.

If they want to gain competitive advantage, organisations simply can’t afford the neglect their strongest asset – not the technology itself, but their staff.

Interested in learning more on this topic? Read Employee learning and development: four top tips for success.

About Kathy Schneider

Kathy Schneider, CMO Sungard Availability Services

Kathy Schneider is Chief Marketing Officer at Sungard Availability Services

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