#33 - Workforce Skill Development - The time is now!

Its about the outcome ,and no longer about just measuring mandatory training hours

Hello, and welcome to another free edition of my newsletter. I’m Shweta, and each week I write about EdTech, Startups, and Products. Feel free to reach out to me on any of these areas, I’ll humbly offer actionable real-talk advice🤜🤛

If you enjoy this newsletter, the best way to support is to share it with your friends!


Future of Workforce Skill Development

There has never been a better time and a greater need to build new companies in workforce development.

Robots will take away your jobs - has been the most dreaded phrase over the past couple of years. I think it’s a wrong thought process. Yes - definitely a lot of automation will happen and should, move us, humans, into more creative and fulfilling careers. The biggest issue isn’t that robots are taking all the jobs—it’s that there aren’t enough humans to take the newer jobs. It is predicted, that by 2030, there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people that could result in about $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues. 

Massive workforce shifts are underway. When the Covid-19 hit us last year, millions of workers around the world were displaced, redeployed, furloughed, or laid off reportedly laid off by their employers and this will continue through 2021 as well.  It’s driving people to refresh their current skills and, more importantly, build new ones. A lot of employees chose to upskill themselves with or without the employer support during the peak covid months. Employees feel less confident now than they did before the pandemic that they have the skills to do their jobs effectively. They also feel their current skills will become obsolete in the next 3 to 5 years. 

While employees can continue to develop their skills based on their own priorities, I believe employers are most suited to solve the skill gap problem at scale for their own business. They are closest to the problems and should know best which skills are in the shortest supply.

However, currently, only 3 of the 19 EdTech Unicorns operate in this space

The complete list of all EdTech Unicorns (Source: Holon IQ)

It is estimated that $240bn is spent per year on corporate training and the spend has been trending upwards. However, much of this budget is focused on the L&D compliances, LMS, and e-learning content. A rather small proportion is allocated goes towards technology and genuine upskilling and reskilling.   

While direct to consumer companies like coding boot camps in emerging technologies have meaningfully been able to demonstrate value to their customers (learners) by enabling them to get the jobs and apprenticeships in the space, a similar kind of value has not been shown by the companies solving for workforce development.

Why is workforce development a hard problem? Laying out some potential challenges per below

Buyer & user are separate people 

The solutions are typically focused on buyers (decision-makers on the employer side), and the lack of focus on the users (the employees) has made the solutions less engaging from the learner's perspective. To add to this, there are multiple buyer personas - Business, L&D, and different users have different needs.

Much of the focus has been on the infrastructure, LMS, and content pieces only

Content is available freely today. Context is not. Without really focussing on RoI based upskilling (I will share my perspectives on this in a later post), just in time skilling for a job to be done - organizations continue to invest in content creation factories and enterprise-grade LMS. The key thing to look at needs to be the end to end learner experience and tie that back to the business outcome.

No single view on the Measurement of  how Success looks like

Metrics like % completion and MAU do not give employers the right picture in terms of how the organizational skill map really looks like. More on my thoughts on how outcomes should be measured in the right way in this post further down.

The gap between Business and L&D

More often than not, L&D and Business are not connected at the hip as the organizations evolve on their emerging needs from a skill development perspective. The company structures often end up paralyzing the functions. L&D organizations are viewed as “cost centers” vs “ Skill Building Factories”. If more organizations measured costs saved by upskilling existing employees for open roles versus hiring from outside, the outlook changes.

L&D champions work in silos and are not involved in long term business roadmaps and goals.

Lack of Motivation on Learners part

Employees don’t want to tick another box, read another article, and finish another online course. They want to see their efforts translate into better work, new titles, and higher income.

So, then - what is the right way to do this. Well, there could be several - laying out one possibility here.

The Right Approach to Enterprise upskilling

Enterprise upskilling needs to be approached holistically making it a win-win for the business, the employees, and the L&D all at once.

Enterprises should iterate through the 5 key steps, till they see real business value being driven with skill development.

  1. Identify “Future Skills” - UPFRONT

  2. Baseline your Talent Force & Set Skilling Goals

  3. Map the learning journey 

  4. Assess & Measure Progress

  5. Match Skills to Opportunities 

Identify “Future Skills” - UPFRONT

Markets evolve and so do businesses that cater to their needs. With a little bit of market research and an active thumb on the market pulse, you can know what skills your talent force will need tomorrow. 

This will help you align your professional development programs to address these future needs.

Degreed’s State of Skills 2021 report breaks this by country, industry, and role.


So identify the skills that your business will need in the coming years. Let’s call them “Future Skills”. Whatever are those top skills, have a consistent vocabulary of it across your organization? And then when a new project comes up, and new roles are defined, make sure to use the key skills from the Future Skills repository while describing the job descriptions - so that all employees have this common shared understanding. 

This needs to be driven top-down. 

Baseline your Talent Force & Set Skilling Goals

Where does your talent stand today? Don’t make a wild guess, with modern HR applications, it’s super easy to collect and assess skills data in real-time. The way we hire people and evaluate them at the entry point, do something similar to baseline the skills of your current workforce.

With the right questions, you will have the right answers to inform your upskilling strategy. The business team and L&D must do this together.

Your assessment of present talent and predictions for future needs will help you set your upskilling goals in a manner that benefits your business in the short as well as in the long run.

When setting up your goals, pull in your team members and make sure that your team and you share the enthusiasm and commitment towards the goals.

Tailor the learning journey 

The learning journeys must be tailored per employee goals. Everything done here must keep only 1 person at the center of it - the employee/ learner!

Build Learning Pathways

The single largest question employees have is - I am currently doing Role x (BI Developer), I want to become a Role Y (Data Scientist), how do I make the transition? 

Solutions need to show relationships between skills and roles while providing facilitated role-aligned career pathways and transitions. 

Sales Impact Academy is becoming the go-to place for sales and marketing professionals to learn from seasoned industry leaders in an industry with a severe shortage of authoritative, real-world learning resources.

FutureFit.ai is an AI-powered career GPS that supports employees in progressing through their careers through a combination of curated resources and human support.

Learning Purpose Visibility 

Learning and Upskilling must be democratized and become merit-based. 

The organization spells out its needs in terms of skills and roles over the next few years, but employees across the board should be able to see a clear path leading to their ideal role, and if they are able to work towards it - prove their worth - they stand equal opportunities to make internal transitions.

Focus on Learning Outcomes

Corporates should look at Bootcamp approaches here. The learning is 100% aligned to real work, outcome-based, project-based, and hands-on. It’s easy to define that in tech, but whatever it translates to in other roles - a similar methodology must be adopted.

  • White Hat uses a combination of internal and external training resources and coaching to support employees to navigate their careers through apprenticeships.

  • Growth Tribe is a provider of digital marketing and product management courses that help employees and employers digitally transform their careers and businesses.

Embed Learning in Flow of Work

An important question to ask is also - “How can learning seamlessly integrate into the FLOW of WORK”.When an employee starts a new project - they should be able to see what are the new skills they need to acquire, and therefore what courses they must do in order to execute the project successfully. As they work through the projects, constant feedback loops should enable the employee and their managers to understand the effectiveness of new skill acquisition. A 70/20/10 Model can be super effective here, where 70% of the learning is aligned to hands-on project related work, 20% mentor-based, and only 10% related to the actual course work.

Focus on Context, Not Content

The time spent on content creation must be drastically cut down - content is NOT the King, Context is! Approaches of content curation should be put in place, where beyond the L&D departments - pretty much anyone in the organization can curate content - based on the “Future - skill” taxonomy that an organization defines. The benefit of democratizing the ability to curate content by internal employees across levels is that the organization level context can be poured into every single content piece that an employee creates. 

We don't need more LMS’s and more learning content - we need more collaboration in building the context. It could turn out to be the organization’s Wikipedia at scale! I haven’t seen companies focussing here yet - would love to know if you have heard of one


Learning needs to remain engaged, accountable, and social for each employee. And wherever needed they should be able to raise their hand to ask for help. The way organizations have a manager for every employee, shouldn’t there be a longstanding mentor as well. Someone internal, who the employee looks up to - from a skill and career progression perspective. Some organizations are already doing this, a guided mentoring and career advising touch could prove impactful.

The employee meets the mentor to discuss their learning goals, progress, challenges, and outcomes. External help should also be sought.

Strive. co is an interesting solution for this,  using tech and people to deliver management training and leadership development programs into transformational experiences for employees.

https://www.codementor.io/ like solutions in every core area of business would assist employees immensely as they keep making progress on newer frontiers.

Measure progress

Traditional learning metrics like course completion rates are often lagging metrics and don’t give any insight into how learning impacted the business. Hours of training an organization consumed often aren’t enough to reinforce the value of learning to the business leaders, managers, or anyone else. This doesn't confirm if anyone actually learned anything!

Each business has unique needs and goals; they’re the best place to start. 

The metrics you’d measure would differ based on your business needs and goals. Your goal could be to retain salespeople. Or, as your engineers refresh their skills, there is a new technology to learn. So, your goal is to minimize the time it takes for your engineers to acquire a new skill. Perhaps, your customer support team isn’t very up-to-date with your product inventory and you need them to upsell better. 

Upskilling in all these examples is a matter of driving real results. Metrics like course completion and hours spent on a course become meaningless, or at least, less relevant.

The metrics you’d want to measure in these examples are less transactional. These would de-emphasize time spent on a course and rather shift the attention towards measuring the primary objective, e.g. supporting customers with product information, engineers with new technology, and retaining salespeople.

With this, I’ll end this piece with a list of some common metrics to watch out for as you attempt to measure the learnings of your workforce.

Business Impact Metrics

  • # of Internal job fulfillments - How many times in the last 1 year, was the organization able to fill in a new role - with an existing employee - who upskilled and fit into the demands of the role. 

  • Skill Gaps - What is the mismatch between the skills the organization needs to have in next year, versus what it has and with what velocity is that gap closing in.

  • Skill shift - how quickly individuals are able to change their skill profiles

Engagement Metrics

  • Cognitive Engagement - Identify the critical signals that engaged learners to perform - it could be the submission of assignments, completion of assigned tasks by due dates, and define engagement buckets for different learning cohorts. Set thresholds for engagement and keep iterating the course till you hit the desired threshold.

  • Login frequencies - Review Login frequencies and understand avg time spent per 1 session of learning - Use that number to design and orchestrate learning in a way that something meaningful does get accomplished in that timeframe.

  • Monthly Average Users (MAUs) - Perform cohort analysis on Monthly Average Users (MAUs) and establish baselines. Understand the personas of learners who are sticking and who isn't. 

Behavioral & Social Metrics

The goal here is to understand how people at every level of your organization are sharing their expertise, so learning isn’t solely L&D driven. It’s about discovering how your people are interacting to help each other via crowd-sourced, collaborative, peer-to-peer upskilling. It helps you identify who people are turning to for guidance, so you can find, engage, and retain influencers and experts. Your social story looks at:

  • # of Contributors to your content repository

  • # of internal Mentors developed in last 1 year

  • # of internal meetups delivered

  • # of transitions enabled by mentoring

Match skills to opportunities

As your talents learn new skills, give them projects where they may use and sharpen their newly learned skills. Again - “future skills” mapping to projects and employees comes to the rescue here.

Encourage internal mobility and allow your employees to shift from one role to another in the horizontal landscape as well. This will help fulfill roles that you would otherwise have had to look for in the labor market outside. And, research suggests this also helps businesses retain employees better as they find a means to change roles without having to change who they work for.

An interesting idea by emerge.education, where employer talent portals could create modularised short real project tasks for existing employees, in the same way, Upwork or Fiver help modularise tasks and work for remote freelance talent, to help them prove skills, meet people on other teams and further expedite and democratize internal mobility.

The future of workforce development has already arrived.  We need to keep our eyes on outcomes, keep a collaborative theme, and learner/employee success at the heart of all new things. And the future looks bright!

Thanks for taking out the time to read Impacting With EdTech.Hope you liked this issue. Any thoughts, comments, or suggestions? Feel free to reply by email or reach out to me on Twitter.

If you think someone else will be benefited, feel free to forward the email.

Appreciate your ❤️ and support!