May 2016
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The Public Manager

Learning Is Changing

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Shifts within the workforce require employers to rethink how they deliver training content.

Does it ever feel as if everything's changing all at once and it's hard to keep up? The speed with which changes are happening, the interdependencies of those changes, and the resulting complexity of the challenges you have to meet may feel overwhelming. At Hemsley Fraser, we're finding that there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to this dilemma, but it's likely that all of us share a common need for a really serious look at what we're providing, both in terms of the what and the how. We're seeing significant shifts in both of those areas and woe betide the organization that fails to address them.

Where to begin? For most of us, our workforce is our greatest resource, and reviewing how that resource is changing is valuable. For example, Hemsley Fraser's research finds that it is:

  • Increasingly young. Twenty years ago, Boomers were not only the dominant group in the workforce, they made up a full half of the workforce, dominating the Silents and Gen Xers, who made up about 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively. In the first quarter of 2015, Millennials became the largest segment of the workforce, but Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials each make up about 30 percent of the U.S. workforce—a far more balanced situation. How do you deliver effectively to an increasingly diverse audience?
  • Increasingly contingent and virtual. A full quarter of the current workforce is made up of workers who are not full- or part-time employees. Telework among employees, not the self-employed, has grown by more than 100 percent since 2005. As government agencies continue to move to scalable workforces and outsourcing, they increasingly rely on blended and virtual workforces that, in addition to teleworkers, include contract, temporary or term, or on-call or seasonal employees. How do you deliver content to this blended workforce and ensure that employees share common skills and proficiency levels?
  • Increasingly challenged by the attention economy. Employees report spending almost half of their time searching for information and dealing with emails—tasks that can feel secondary to getting the job done. Both employees and employers also agree that employees are insufficiently skilled with the digital tools they are expected to use every day. In fact, given the rapid development of these tools, you can generally expect that technological information your employees learned two to three years ago is now badly out-of-date. How do you compete for attention and ensure that skills remain current?
  • Increasingly educated, but increasingly needing to develop skills that may not have even been defined 10 years ago. Over the past 40 years, the percentage of the workforce with at least some college education went from about a quarter of the workforce to almost two-thirds. While this sounds positive, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that 60 percent of all new jobs created between 2007 and 2027 will require skills that only 20 percent of the 2007 workforce possess. This prediction is being borne out by reports from employers, who increasingly speak of difficulty in finding candidates, internal or external, with the necessary nontechnical skills. Some of these skills are in areas for which we have sound content and delivery is a challenge—collaboration and conflict resolution skills are good examples. Other necessary skills, such as computation, adaptive thinking, and cognitive load management, are just emerging. How do you develop meaningful content for these new skill sets?

To compete for scarce resources and to choose how best to allocate those that you receive, these questions—and others that may be unique to your organization—must be addressed. It may just be time for some disruptive thinking.

About the Author

Valerie Nichols is an executive consultant for Hemsley Fraser.

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