No matter how much learning in the flow of work we enable, there will always be limits. The flow of work will never allow enough space for the future of work.
August 10, 2020
For years, learning and talent development have struggled to expand our skills around offering embedded tools that deliver performance support. As a response to this deficiency, the phrase “learning in the flow of work” has become a part of the vernacular of most L&D teams and has leapt its way into learning strategy presentations in nearly every industry.
Here is the good news: We’ve made tremendous strides in finding our way out of using instructor-led training to solve every business problem, and, as technology stacks evolve, we’re doing a better job of embedding performance-enabling assets closer to our employees.
The bad news: No matter how much learning in the flow of work we enable, there will always be limits. The incremental delivery of small assets, designed to ensure additive learning, does not include the ability to solve for the wholesale capabilities transformation, which our workforce desperately needs. This is the kind of reskilling needed to prepare America’s workforce for the pace and complexity of the world in front of us. Put simply, the flow of work will never allow enough space for the “future of work.”
Learning departments across the nation are struggling right now with a problem — entire roles and job families are being displaced. Even in a downturn economy with high unemployment, we’re facing challenges filling roles with fully performing talent. We need entire teams, methods and systems within our learning and talent development function that are fully focused on reskilling efforts.
According to labor market analytics firm Emsi, models show that between now and 2025, we’ll cut nearly 12,000 data entry jobs, 48,000 executive and administrative assistant roles, 20,000 teller roles and 40,000 assembly-type roles. Meanwhile, we need to add 215,000 financial advisers, 243,000 registered nurses and 144,000 software developers. In the meantime, our workforce has increased in size only 10 percent since 2005, while demand for skilled employees continues to increase dramatically.
The path from teller to financial adviser won’t be created through job aids and learning-in-the-flow programs. Likewise, the transition from assistant to roles in health care won’t come through a performance support system.
Recently, I spoke with a learning leader preparing for a group of more than 500 system engineers to be displaced because of changes in technology. I saw firsthand an entire unit of hundreds of document scanning staff at a loan processing group be displaced by automation. The kind of strategic talent planning and reskilling needed in this situation can’t be done in the context of a curriculum or even within a department. We must step back, connect the dots between roles being transformed and gaps being created, quickly map critical skills, and leverage a combination of internal subject matter experts and external partners.
Recently, one L&D function made the decision to enter a brand new business vertical — one with some of the tightest labor markets in the nation. At the same time this is happening, automation and business streamlining are displacing thousands of employees.
This organization is planning years in advance and leveraging its tuition assistance program to create new pathways that map roles impacted by its new business strategy. Because the organization doesn’t have a depth of bench to deliver training in the new business vertical and external certifications are needed, it did an in-depth analysis of education partners it could bring in and match with tuition assistance that was nearly debt free. It’s also a tax write-off for the business to create the talent supply it needs to fuel its new business launch.
Here’s the most “can’t miss” part of this story: The Business Roundtable recently declared a commitment to invest in employees. In their own words, this “includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.”
We need to take that as a call to action. Our talent development initiatives cannot continue to take the most educated and keep giving them access to the best content and programs. More than 88 million working adults need upskilling or reskilling to keep pace, and 64 million of them don’t have a postsecondary degree.
More important, 47 percent of total U.S. employment is at risk of being entirely automated, primarily among low-paid workers. Our lowest-paid employees are the most at risk in this new future. We have an obligation as learning and talent development professionals to do something more than cosmetic plays at D&I — we must tip the scales in favor of our most vulnerable employees, help them map the skills they need, and unlock new opportunities and mobility. Only that will allow us to go beyond “learning in the flow” of their current job to unlocking the jobs of the future.