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Learning and development: don’t just tick boxes, fill skills gaps

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There is always a risk that a learning and development programme that is not properly planned ends up being a tick-box exercise that adds little or no value for organisations or for people. Yet the benefits of a well-developed training strategy can be huge, making organisations more productive and profitable; and helping people gain additional skills, confidence and motivation. But how can we be sure that any training doesn’t just tick boxes but creates a talent pool with the genuine skills to make a difference to the organisation?

Understand the benefits of training

The way to start to build training programmes that truly deliver a positive impact for people and organisations is to develop the right attitude internally towards learning and development. That means fully understanding the benefits of training for both companies and their employees. That way training programmes can be devised with those benefits in mind.

The right type of training provides the opportunity for people to gain new skills and professional qualifications that can broaden career prospects. When people are motivated, appreciated and rewarded that leads to better staff retention rates. Add to that the other benefits, such as productivity growth and increased profitability, and it is well worth investing in training to create a pool of talented people with the right skills.

By focusing on business goals such as improved productivity and increased profits and also by promoting all the benefits for individuals, such as better job satisfaction and enhanced career prospects, then companies can change how people and departments perceive training programmes and embed a positive culture towards training across the whole organisation.

Identifying the skills gaps

There’s simply no advantage to training courses that provide none of the above benefits to us. Training for the sake of ticking a box costs money but without a return on that investment, whether that’s because the training doesn’t focus on the real needs of the organisation to develop its skill base, or doesn’t identify and fill the skills gaps of the individuals.

Identifying skills gaps is an opportunity for organisations to develop a skilled, capable workforce that can better represent the company to customers and clients and can support company growth now and in the longer-term. A simple way to do this is to list which skills are required for each major role within the company. This doesn’t have to be for every job title as many roles require similar skills. We can also do this for ourselves by trying to honestly understand what we need to improve and reflecting on what we already know. For a project professional, for instance, required skills might be a mix of behavioural or interpersonal skills and technical skills such as:

  • planning and monitoring schedules
  • managing resources
  • controlling budgets
  • motivating project team members
  • negotiating and resolving conflicts
  • verbal and written communication skills
  • knowledge of project management processes

It can also be a good idea to survey employees about which skills they feel they are lacking and would help them in their role, if that information is not already available within the organisation.

Addressing the perceived risk of training staff

By fully developing employees’ skills and capabilities there can sometimes be a perceived risk that those employees will take their new skills and go elsewhere. Yet this perceived risk can easily be mitigated when the people arranging the training clearly identify where the skills gaps are and what sort of training is required to fill those gaps; and, crucially, when they plan development processes to follow the training courses. Companies need to provide development opportunities so that people can use their newly acquired skills and be recognised for them with greater responsibilities or promotions.

When organisations and people come together truly believing in the common goals of learning and development and the benefits they will bring, then everyone is committed to first learning then using new skills - not simply attending a training course.

Final thoughts

Every training strategy should focus on the benefits to both the organisation and the individuals completing the training. It should be devised to specifically provide the skills the company needs to achieve its business goals but importantly, also ensure individuals gain something they need,  and are motivated to learn and improve their skills. It is not a case of simply ensuring people attend a course and gain a qualification. And once the training is completed organisations should support ongoing development within day-to-day activities. And we should take time to reflect on what we’ve learned, what we might need to understand better, and build our professional development to help ourselves, our projects and the organisations we work in.

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