Leadership, Empathy and Digital Adaptability – How Learners are Benefitting from Innovative Training Solutions

Claudia Reiners
September 17, 2021

Leadership, Empathy and Digital Adaptability – How Learners are Benefitting from Innovative Training Solutions

4bf428ed6af9ff680b7ac8b24b046f3d?s=50&d=mm&r=g Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

As companies look to overcome the challenges compounded by the pandemic, learners are also demonstrating their interest in developing adaptable and versatile skills.

During an unpredictable period, upskilling has become a vital tool for the modern workforce. It equips employees with skills which allow them to navigate the job market for years to come. 

But which areas should economies focus their upskilling efforts on and which learning formats are crucial to this?

In this blog, we’ll dive into ways companies are using innovative methods to maximise the effectiveness of their training programmes.

2021 – A changing job market

As companies’ needs change and technology progresses, significant skills gaps are opening up. These are causing alarm for both employers and employees, leading both to ask serious questions around the longevity of their current skill sets.

Between 2011 and 2019, the percentage of CEOs who said that they are extremely concerned about the availability of people with the skills their company needs rose by 23%, up to 79% in 2019. Meanwhile, 50% of those in Gen-Y and Gen-Z say that they believe that their skills will be irrelevant in the next four to five years. This demonstrates a volatile and uncertain landscape for training providers who want to equip workers with useful and reliable skill sets.

With these issues in mind, many companies are investing heavily in training and upskilling programmes designed to improve productivity and access opportunities for their employees.

Salesforce pledged to upskill half a million workers, whilst PwC, Amazon and more have overhauled their training system to pivot towards innovative and forward-thinking learning programmes.

Meanwhile, on average UK companies are spending roughly £1,000 per employee in order to give them the skills they need to thrive in a post-pandemic workplace.

Which training are employers and individuals investing in?

The drive to put upskilling and training at the top of the agenda is in part due to the alterations to the nature of working, the job market and the rate of change in 2021. 

Companies are pushing for more mutually beneficial learning solutions for their learners. 

Here are some areas employers and learners are focusing on in 2021:

Soft skills

One of the key areas that companies are keen for learners to focus on is the development of soft skills. In a recent study from McKinsey, when asked about the key areas that they wanted to develop skills in, more than half of companies pointed to soft skills areas such as critical thinking and decision making.

The Future of Jobs Report 2020 identified the top three soft skills for success in 2025 were:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Complex problem-solving

As adaptability emerges as a defining theme of the modern workplace, the data reflects a wider trend of employees moving away from hard, industry-specific skills and moving towards a fluid skill set that can be applied in a variety of different environments.

Leadership and empathy

The same study also pointed out that companies and learners are increasingly looking to move towards training that focuses on leadership. From 2019 to 2020, the survey found that the percentage of companies that were focusing on leadership and management skills grew by 10%, and training for project management skills increased from 30% to over 50%.  

Although leadership is also considered to be a soft skill, the explicit desire for companies to focus on leadership training specifically demonstrates a clearer intent that they’re keen to promote from within and create a self-sufficient workforce.

The mental impact that the pandemic has had on workers has pushed more companies to factor in empathy and interpersonal skills as a key component of a healthy and productive working environment. 

Not only could learners help each other, but being aware of how to better manage stress, anxiety and unhappiness in their own lives could be beneficial. Since last year, the UK population experienced a doubling in depressive symptoms, with 20% of adults now experiencing them on a regular basis.

Prior to the pandemic, McKinsey’s survey found only 20% of companies prioritised training within interpersonal skills and empathy. In 2020, that figure almost doubled, with close to 40% of employers saying that they’ve moved this into a high priority training area.

Digital adaptability

As remote learning has become a more integral part of working, it would be fair to assume that our level of digital literacy should have increased as well. Digital skills is an area that both employers and employees are keen to delve into more. However, rather than focusing on hard skills, specialist software and complicated programmes, employers have put a greater focus on general digital skills.

Whilst the number of surveyed employers who said they were prioritising advanced IT skills and programming rose by around 5% since 2019, the percentage who said they were putting a greater emphasis on basic digital skills rose by close to 20%. 

This demonstrates that employers and learners want to access a more comprehensive digital skills programme covering a wide range of areas rather than developing hard skills in a specific area.

Prioritised skills during COVID

Innovative training formats for 2021

More companies are looking at ways to adapt their training programmes to maximise effectiveness. McKinsey set out nine key practices that allowed employers to scout potential areas of improvement, shape a skill strategy and shift infrastructure to deploy skill strategies at scale.

  • Scout - Workforce planning to assess potential skills gaps and analysing skill gaps.

    Assessing demand for the current supply for specific skills in the future, determining the current supply of specific skills and analysing skills gaps.

  • Shape - Development of a skill strategy to ensure that that the workforce is future ready.

    Designing a portfolio to close skill gaps, designing tailored learning journeys and delivery plans for specific roles or groups of employees and deciding on learning infrastructure and enablers.

  • Shift - Reimagine infrastructure for upskilling at scale.

    Launching a skilling hub, delivering a skill transformation at scale across the organisation and implement dynamic tracking of workforce and impact.

When all nine practices were implemented, companies saw a 97% success rate in skill transformations for their teams. Conversely, when only two of the nine were implemented, that figure dropped to just 28%.

Elsewhere, studies have shown a clear correlation between the choice of learning delivery and efficacy. Companies who chose to focus on innovative training formats such as digital learning, peer learning teams and in-person workshops saw a higher rate of successful skill transformation compared to other formats. The study also noted that a multichannel approach was more effective and was the most likely to generate consistent success.

Learning formats

This data shows that using innovation in both the topic and delivery of upskilling programmes is critical. If employers are limited in their approach, they risk seeing much less impressive results after implementing this style of training programme.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shaped both learners and companies’ views on vital training topics, and their preferred delivery of the training. 

Ultimately, both are seeking training solutions that suit the changing needs of the modern workforce and working environment. Experts say 2021 is the optimal time to innovate education delivery and employee training, as companies and learners try to adapt and thrive in a fast-moving economy. 

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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