by Shayne Thomas
05 Mar 2021
Closing the Employee Skills Development ‘Confidence Gap’
3 ways to ensure employees feel supported in ongoing learning and development
In the Spring of 2020, the Cornerstone People Research Lab conducted a global survey—of HR leaders and employees at companies with over 500 employees—to get a pulse on how well organizations are preparing their employees for future workplace challenges.
Given the survey’s unique timing, just after the COVID-19 pandemic had stopped life as we once knew it in its tracks, it quickly became clear that one of the most critical talent priorities for organizations to address in the years ahead would need to be skills development. This was further underscored by the challenges that many employees initially faced—and in some cases, still face today—as a result of the massive shift towards remote work.
But this now-urgent focus on learning and development isn’t really new. In fact, many organizations have doubled down on both hard and soft skills development in recent years, knowing that the dynamics of how people work are rapidly changing in a digital world. Because life moves at such a fast pace these days, there’s a perpetual fear that simply ‘keeping up’ is now akin to ‘falling behind.’ Fortunately, this creates an opportunity for organizations to shine.
Employers and employees don’t see eye-to-eye
It might not come as a surprise that employers—business leaders, specifically—and their employees don’t necessarily see the ‘problem’ of skills development in the same light.
For example, our research found that 90% of business leaders feel confident in their ability to develop their employees’ skills. However, when employees were asked whether their organizations were adequately equipped to prepare them with the right and necessary skills for the future, only 60% voted in their employer’s favor. On top of that, only 62% of employees surveyed felt their employer provides the proper resources to succeed on this front.
This is what we now refer to as a ‘confidence gap.’ And while there’s no quick and easy “fix” for it, much less in a single blog post, the 30-point difference between employer and employee perceptions signals that employees today feel uncertain or uneasy about their ability to succeed in the workplace of the future. They are looking to their employers—and their managers, more specifically—to provide guidance around a trajectory for growth.
But employees are not ‘damsels in distress’ either. They must equally be proactive in their learning and development journey when they feel as though they are lacking the skills they absolutely need to succeed in the future. This is even more so the case in organizations that provide a significant amount of self-directed learning resources already, where employees, oftentimes with a bit of nudging by their managers, must take the initiative and find the time to skill up using the resources available to them.
As you can see, it’s very easy to want to place the blame for this confidence gap on either side of the equation. But that’s the wrong approach. We shouldn’t see this as “placing the blame” on anyone and, instead, should seek out ways to reprioritize learning and development as a critical part of the employee experience within any organization. Therefore, closing this confidence gap, in all reality, becomes a question of evolving workplace culture—which takes time.
“Our research shows employees are particularly uneasy. Not only are they worried about whether they will be able to update their skills fast enough to keep up with the world around them, but they aren’t really sure what new skills they have to learn.”
Mike Bollinger, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Cornerstone
Get a head start on closing the ‘confidence gap’
Getting employers and employees on the same page around skills development isn’t going to happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean you can’t begin making some important changes now to slowly close this skills development confidence gap over time.
We recently published a whitepaper entitled, “Bridge the Workforce Skills Gap: 3 Places to Start,” and here’s a snapshot of some of its key takeaways:
1. Reinforce your commitment to skills development
There’s a very good chance that employees don’t know what resources are available to them—or even the kind of learning and development support you offer—because it just hasn’t been communicated in a consistent and ongoing way.
Even if you provide the most amazing learning and development program on Earth, especially when powered by tools like Cornerstone Learning, you can’t rely on an “if you build it, they will come” outcome. Expecting employees to serendipitously launch their workplace-driven learning and development journey on their own is a pretty tall order. But if they know those resources exist, how will they ever know that you are really setting them up for long-term success?
More importantly, communicating your plans for closing this confidence gap is a great way to reinforce your ongoing commitment to skill-building and employee growth. After all, studies have shown that it takes repeating something at least seven times before it sinks in.
2. Create a more personalized learning culture
Creating a culture of learning doesn’t mean simply making skills development a ‘priority’ at work. Rather, it means placing learning and development at the heart of the day-to-day employee experience. This applies to both hard skills and soft skills.
If, as of day one on the job, your employees know that there are expectations for them to keep up with their skills development on an ongoing basis, then learning simply becomes part of how they get their work done. This, therefore, makes learning much more personal and role-specific, which can help employees feel as though you’re actively investing in their success.
3. Turn managers into coaches
The role of managers within organizations is rapidly changing. In fact, to say that managers today are simply “people managers” does their role a disservice. Not to mention, employees expect a lot more out of their managers today than ever before. That’s why it’s important for organizations to help managers become more effective in everything they do, including taking on the role of mentor and ‘coach’ for their teams.
When it comes to skills development, employees don’t simply need someone telling them, “You have to complete this learning course.” They need someone to look at the data and identify what different skills gaps each member of their team has—and then work with employees one-on-one to build a program for addressing those gaps over time through learning, development, and hands-on experience.
This is a different kind of manager than the more traditional ‘drill sergeant’ model of the past. And today, they play an active part in ensuring that everything you’re doing around learning and development at the organizational level gets passed down to employees effectively.
This is just scratching the surface...
Closing the skills development ‘confidence gap’ will take time, but it’s not an impossible feat. There are a lot of things you can start doing now to help employees not only recognize your commitment to their ongoing learning and development but also prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead. The way people work is changing at a faster pace than ever before. The skills needed for the workplace of tomorrow must be learned today. You, as an employer, play a critical role in helping your employees succeed. And when they see all that you’re doing to set them up for success, there’s a good chance they’ll stick with you for the long haul.
Fortunately, there’s a lot more where this came from. To learn more about how to identify the skills your employees will need for the future or to overcome the barriers of skilling up your employees effectively, be sure to download our whitepaper today.