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Making meta skills training inclusive to all learners, not just leaders

As we enter Learning at Work Week 2022, organisations need to rethink who they offer meta skills training to – and not just focus on the leadership team.

16th May 2022
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Monday 16th May kicks off national Learning at Work Week and this year’s theme is ‘Learning Uncovered’. With this in mind, one area of skills development that is often only offered to the leadership team is meta, or soft, skills.

Building employee adaptability

No one can predict the exact future of work but many agree that computing power will continue to take over many repeatable, transactional tasks that were previously delivered by human beings. In response, we have a responsibility to support our people to develop their uniquely human skills that automisation can never replace. Skills such as analytical thinking, active learning, critical thinking and complex problem solving; these skills are often referred to as soft or meta skills.

When automisation takes away boring tasks and leaves human beings to do the bit we do best – creative thinking, innovation and customer service

It's also good business sense to support these skills, beyond simply being a good employer that looks after your people. Those who develop their meta skills are more resilient when required to adapt to change; someone who has been encouraged to actively learn or demonstrate problem-solving at work is in a better position to be flexible as their role changes. They have the confidence and track record to lean into new situations.

It is also not simply a case of lower skilled workers needing this type of support. Digital technology is providing efficiencies and greater accuracy across professional services in finance, accountancy, law, publishing, pharmaceutical and, in fact, it’s hard to think of a sector that will not be affected. If individuals have become highly skilled in very specific roles, within a regulated framework, they may find adapting to change that much harder.

See this as an opportunity

There is a positive within all this, when automisation takes away boring tasks and leaves human beings to do the bit we do best – creative thinking, innovation and customer service.

The latter is important as the more automisation takes over an industry the harder differentiation becomes, i.e., when similar computer programmes are running competing services, it’s only the human layer added on top that creates any sense of brand or connection.

Introduce Meta skills training that will help people prepare for change whilst giving them perennially useful skills and supporting their personal growth

Something I hear a lot is that L&D departments are under pressure to cater centrally for a wide range of topic skills. One response has been to license enormous content libraries that promise personalised learning journeys; whilst there is likely a role for this, I do question their efficacy when the content is not delivered within an authentic context of the environment the individual works within.

L&D departments must continue to deliver the specific (and mandatory) topic skills that are core to the business. As the organisation they support continues to introduce change programmes, there will remain a struggle to plan and deliver training in a timely fashion that survives disruption. Therefore, introduce Meta skills training that will help people prepare for change whilst giving them perennially useful skills and supporting their personal growth.

The obvious gap

It’s a shame that meta skills training is typically offered to only senior management and leadership teams. Ironically, this is in danger of falling into the ‘fixed mindset’ trap of assuming that leaders will create a vision that translates into a fixed, teachable plan for the rest of the business.

I’m not sure this works anymore, as organisations need innovation to be faster, and driven by customer facing people who are closer to the reality of the business. Meta skills are required across the entire workforce and the good news is that digital technology can easily scale and teach these skills.

Does the average person care?

I recently polled a sample of non-managerial workers to get a sense of what people think about these ‘future facing’ skills. Their feedback was interesting, with 74% of people saying their job role had changed since being hired.

Most modern organisations want their people to be active problem solvers, to lean into change and take the initiative

The good news was that people are keen to learn. Sixty-six per cent of people considered themselves to be active learners at work and 76% said this would become more important in the future. This enthusiasm should encourage L&D departments to expect strong engagement in meta skills training. One specific skill to consider is analytics, where my poll found that 26% of people use this skill today but a remarkable 70% expect it to be more important in the future.

Thirteen per cent of people said they prefer to use problem-solving skills at work in contrast to 93% of people who use it when dealing with their personal lives. Does this suggest that some people, in a work context, have learnt to expect their leaders to deal with difficult problem solving rather than taking the initiative themselves?

Building future skills

I believe most modern organisations want their people to be active problem solvers, to lean into change and take the initiative. The meta skills I’ve talked about here can build people’s confidence in their own ability to learn and give organisations the opportunity to create engaging, shared experiences that ask people to apply their natural creativity. This could mean a positive learning culture that is not playing catch up with the organisation but leads the way and helps people thrive.

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