Even before the current crisis, emerging technologies and new ways of working were disrupting the labour market and impacting the skills required in the workplace. The pandemic has only accelerated this issue. In fact, a recent report by McKinsey revealed that the UK is facing a serious skill shortage, as 94 percent of current employees lack the necessary skills that will be required by 2030. If leaders do not address the widening skills gap over the next decade, staff will be ill-equipped to handle the transition to a digital-based economy.

Given the scale and complexity of this skills crisis, business leaders are unsure how to best address the issue. To add, learning opportunities required to meet these constantly changing demands are simply not keeping pace. This has been acknowledged at a governmental level. As part of its European Skills Agenda, the European Commission has now launched a five-year plan, where it will prioritise equal access to education, training, and lifelong learning. Policy makers will be considering new ways of nurturing and measuring skills, relying on micro-credentials as a means of widening learning opportunities and furthering the lifelong learning dimension in both higher education and enterprise L&D.

Micro-credentials and stacking skills

For HR and L&D departments, a primary concern is speeding up the delivery of corporate learning to keep pace with the evolution of technology. As the concept of desirable skills is constantly changing, L&D teams are prioritising shorter courses that condense skills and abilities into ‘bitesize chunks’. With micro-credentials, skills are essentially quantified, allowing traits to be compartmentalised and measured against agreed metrics and criteria.

With the rise of flexible working, the training L&D delivers will have to be asynchronous, allowing employees to learn around their busy professional and personal schedules. These shorter courses are more manageable and will be the preferred means of delivering company-wide skills and development training in the future.

With this structure, workers can retrain and top up their skills on a regular basis, effectively stacking their credentials as they go. A significant advantage of providing smaller learning modules is that HR and L&D teams will be able to tailor their courses and customise skills sets as required or should circumstances change.

As an example, a particular role may require skills such as ‘leadership’ and ‘communication’ along with the completion of two short modules, while another role may require ‘communication’ and ‘creativity’. In this scenario, HR will be able to consult with line-managers and L&D teams, building more comprehensive training modules that are specific to individual job roles and employee needs. Replacing peer-reviews, personal objectives will be set in accordance with real data, and HR will work with L&D departments to outline deliverables and help learners achieve personalised goals.

Future of work: lifelong learning

As previously mentioned, businesses entered the pandemic amid the shift to industry 4.0, with the key drivers being soft skills and future workplace development. Now, the global job market has been disrupted, and nothing is for certain. Flexible working has been accelerated, and the traditional 9-5 working pattern is also being rethought by many. Likewise, with the sudden roll out of digital transformation initiatives, many job roles and functions risk becoming obsolete.

The skills gap needs to be addressed on two fronts. The education sector and corporate L&D have a joint responsibility to prepare individuals for both the jobs of today and tomorrow. To instil a culture of lifelong learning, students will need to be taught early on that learning does not stop after tertiary education. Similarly, the demand for training programs and opportunities will continue to grow after the pandemic, so the workforce must accept that lifelong learning will remain a constant feature of their working lives.

In the future, there needs to be greater collaboration between both education and enterprise. This is because businesses will require their staff to retrain throughout their career, and HigherEd institutions or colleges will need to update their courses to ensure students are better prepared to enter the job market.

Modularity, or an omnichannel approach toward education and training, will be essential. Working with industry, institutions can ensure desirable skills are embedded within their curriculum and delivered across all courses. Similarly, organisations can offer insight into how to design programmes that cater to lifelong learners. Afterall, businesses will require far more flexible short courses, that enable current employees, many of whom will be mature learners, to easily re-enter the education system and attain new skills periodically.

Personalised learning: Data, data, data

To support this shift, the way HR teams measure learning will need to be far more granular. When assessing the adoption of a new L&D policy across the organisation or addressing a specific skills gap, every individual learner needs to be accounted for – from the stage they are currently at to specific areas for development and improvement requirements.

Progress will also need to be measured in more advanced ways, with HR and L&D working in tandem to assess current skill sets and identify where gaps must be filled. Only through using sophisticated data analytics, enabled by machine-learning – where behaviours are actually quantified, and skill progression is accurately detailed – can L&D professionals successfully measure the continuous improvement of the entire workforce. This insight will be critical as teams continue to work remotely, or flexible working becomes more apparent – because learning programmes will be delivered en masse.

In short, the last twelve months have proven that lifelong learning is vital, and workers need to be better equipped with the skills for tomorrow. With the future of the workplace still uncertain, there is no denying the importance of education and skills development. Looking ahead, our economy will require real change – a change of attitudes and indeed, culture. The way in which we value, deliver and measure learning will also need to shift, with increased collaboration between education institutions and corporate learning. Only then can we truly address the skills gap and future learning concerns from all angles.