Placing digital L&D at the forefront of recession-proof growth strategies

Now is a tough time to be a business.

We’re dealing with supply chain issues, high energy prices, record-breaking inflation, and an apparent skills shortage that threatens both short-term resiliency and long-term success. Despite all of these challenges, one truth remains: skilled people drive success. The Department for Education notes in its recent 2022 labour market report that employer investment in training and skills is becoming increasingly important, but warns that “employer unwillingness to train their workers will continue to be a barrier.”

The Department for Education expresses concern in the same report that “the number of skill shortages in the economy has steadily increased over time, and the number of internal skills gaps has increased.” Too many employers are exacerbating the skills gaps that threaten the growth of their individual businesses—as well as the UK economy as a whole—by failing to invest in employee training.

In the midst of the UK’s current recession, it may appear tempting to focus on what is incorrectly referred to as “belt and braces” operational investments. However, this is a riskier strategy than it appears. According to research, training has a significant impact on productivity—and reducing learning opportunities for employees sends a dangerous message about a potential lack of long-term opportunities. Instead, learning and development (L&D) skills must be viewed as a critical component of both immediate recession-proofing and future growth.

Implementing L&D investment effectively

It’s no secret that one of the most significant talent gaps affecting employers is within digital and technological skills. According to the government’s latest Digital Strategy, the digital skills gap is estimated to cost the UK economy up to £63 billion a year in potential gross domestic product. With over 80% of new jobs relying on digital skills, employers say that lack of talent is the primary barrier to growth.

Organisations struggling to hire digital talent cannot simply wait for the next generation of school graduates to fill the gap. Tech moves so quickly that what students have learned in their coursework might be outdated by the time of hire. So to drive innovation and growth in today’s tech-heavy economy, it’s essential to develop the technological skills of your existing teams. It’s the only way to ensure you have the talent and skills to recession-proof your organisation and survive the current storm. And that requires investing in L&D to develop digital skills across the workforce.

Going against the grain with L&D strategies

But where should you focus your workplace learning and development? The needs of each organisation will differ. However, there are some core digital requirements that all businesses must meet through their ongoing talent and L&D strategies. For example, no digitally enabled business—and today that means any business—can survive without cybersecurity skills. This is an essential area for continued focus, both to stave off destructive ransomware attacks and ensure cyber compliance and governance.

There are also a plethora of digital skills employers must consider, including emergent AI, blockchain, the metaverse, data analytics, cloud strategy, and application development. Growth will come from an organisation’s ability to harness innovative technologies and approaches like these—underpinned by the human talent empowered to put them to work.

But digital skills are only part of the equation; it’s equally important to consider how employees will engage with L&D throughout their careers, for all areas of career development. As noted above, companies can’t always count on recent graduates to know the very latest technologies, so we’ve seen an emerging trend where organisations hire students with the intention of training them themselves after graduation. We may be gradually shifting away from a model of education where individuals are responsible for their own degrees to one in which companies educate employees to fill their open technical roles. And of course, employees may also need to cultivate nontechnical skills like writing, communication, assessment, and leadership as part of their learning journey. A quality L&D partner can play a major role in developing these “soft skills” across an employer’s entire staff.

Enterprises of all sizes need to rethink how they train and upskill employees to ensure they keep pace with the new way of working. That includes an appreciation of each employee’s unique learning style and objectives. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to digital upskilling; individuals should be granted access to a range of learning opportunities as part of a defined path of individual development.

Investing in the most valuable asset: your people

Investing in future-proofing your employees’ skills is about more than simply remaining relevant. It’s also about guarding your most valuable asset: your people.

70% of employees stated that they would consider leaving their current employer for a company that decides to invest in employee development and learning. And 94% say they would stay with a corporation that invested in their professional development. Those are startling figures.

But don’t forget that employees are also responsible for their own success. So encourage them to let learning take precedence in order to protect their position and become an invaluable asset. This entails making personal development a core value that pervades your entire organisational culture, commencing at the top.

As explained in the new UK Digital Strategy, the Digital Skills Council will encourage investment in employer-led training equip workforces with new skills. However, while the government has mentioned that it will support this initiative, it will not necessarily lead it. Employers will have to do more in this postpandemic recession period to ensure the future of the UK’s digital economy and turn this challenge into an opportunity. That means elevating L&D, particularly in digital technologies, to its rightful place as a recession-proof strategy for long-term growth and success.

About the Author

Laura Baldwin is President at O’Reilly. We share the knowledge and teach the skills people need to change their world. For more than 40 years, O’Reilly has imparted the world-shaping ideas of innovators through books, articles, conferences, and our online learning platform. When individuals, teams, and entire enterprises connect with the world’s leading experts and content providers, anything is possible. Whether you’re working to advance your career, be a better manager, or achieve the next breakthrough in technology or business, learning new skills is at the heart of it all.

Featured image: ©Goffkein