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The skills shortage is 2022’s biggest threat. Here’s how to navigate through

April 8, 2022, 2:00 PM UTC
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“Investing in continuous training is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’—it’s a must-have for any company,” writes Heather Conklin.
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The number of workers quitting their jobs during the Great Resignation has broken records. As the extraordinary pace of technological advancement compounds this problem, companies of every size and industry are struggling to find employees with the skills to drive their businesses forward. 

While these challenges are not new, they are a growing threat—71% of CEOs anticipate the skills and labor shortage will be 2022’s biggest business disrupter. And the digital skills gap will cost businesses trillions of dollars by the end of the decade.

This digital skills crisis presents a new defining challenge for the global economy. 

Prioritize skilling up your workforce  

Success in a digital-first world is impossible without a digitally savvy workforce. A majority of executives identified both digital transformation and hiring and retaining talent as critical growth drivers for 2022. Further, an estimated 85 million jobs will go unfilled globally by 2030 due to skills shortages, resulting in about $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues.

And while an astounding three in four workers don’t have the digital skills needed by businesses, only 28% are participating in training programs today. 

It is a major misstep to not invest in workforce training programs. 

Skilling initiatives keep companies competitive

Today, everyone needs digital skills to do their job. Staying competitive requires employees who know how to collaborate virtually, automate workflows, and leverage artificial intelligence and data. Investing in continuous training is no longer a “nice-to-have”—it’s a must-have for any company.

Companies that offer digital skills training are also more likely to attract and retain talent—70% of employees who receive this type of training say they are more engaged at work, and 60% say they are more likely to stay in their jobs. In today’s competitive labor market, employees who don’t have the opportunity to grow will be tempted to leave, damaging morale and requiring employers to pay twice their salary in costs to replace them. 

Make tailored learning a part of every employee’s day

For companies introducing skilling initiatives, it’s best to start with an iterative, agile approach. Consider which skills are most important now, and pick a small group within the company to act as a pilot. This method allows companies to address acute, short-term needs while keeping spending modest and laying the foundation for a culture of learning. 

Once an organization is ready to scale its learning programs, it is critical to think beyond technical roles. Every worker needs to leverage technology in their daily work, so employers should make sure to offer skills training across the organization.   

Companies also have to invest in training models that deliver bite-size, personalized learning opportunities in the moment—right when employees need it. The era of days-long, in-person training seminars is over. More than three-quarters of employees want to learn in small moments throughout the day rather than in formal sessions. And remember, none of this will make an impact unless the content is engaging, accessible, and tailored to an employee’s individual role—bad content means bad results. 

Success and longevity require measured outcomes

Because measuring the impact of education can feel intangible, learning and development programs tend to be deprioritized by companies and are often among the first things cut when budgets get tight. 

We have to move away from this type of thinking. To ensure the success and longevity of training programs, companies must identify and measure desired business outcomes before and after a program is implemented so they have clear data on the payoff. It is also critical to tailor each program with the desired outcome in mind and measure both quantitative and qualitative outcomes. 

For example, Standard Bank, a financial services company in South Africa, challenged all 50,000 of its staff, from receptionists to the CEO, to learn digital skills through a free online learning platform. After just 18 months, 23,000 employees had earned new technical certifications, and 14,000 were actively training to transform their careers. Through on-the-job training, one employee was able to ascend from their role as a bank teller to become a technical system administrator and app builder. That employee credits the online-learning program with changing their life and inspiring them to grow beyond what they thought was possible. 

Leaders at the company were measuring these types of outcomes and found that employees who skilled up via the platform were also more productive, learning how to leverage technology efficiently and drive transformation across the company. The organization is now well on its way to transforming from a traditional brick-and-mortar bank to a financial platform.

Invest now to avoid the next great business crisis

Business success in the digital-first world is impossible without a workforce of skilled employees leading the way. If businesses don’t act, the digital skills crisis will continue its erosion of the global workforce. With trillions of dollars on the line, it is an imperative for companies to prioritize investments in workforce training. 

Heather Conklin is SVP and general manager of Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform for in-demand tech skills.

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