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Employees Want Additional Opportunities for Career, Skills Development

A woman is writing on a notebook while sitting at a table with a laptop.

​The Great Resignation of the past two years has HR departments striving for solutions to retain and recruit key workers. Some are finding that the way to solve this challenge is to start by improving the employee experience—specifically, their career and skills development.

Joe Dusing, senior director of learning and development for Paylocity, urged HR practitioners not to get tied up in the term "Great Resignation."

"You shouldn't be doing anything about the Great Resignation," he said. "You should be doing something about employee experience. Every potential employee wants to know two things: 'What are the skills that I need?' and 'What are the programs that you have in place to support me?' If you don't have answers, they likely won't want to work for your company.

"At this point, everyone wants to go to the next level and be informed of how to do it," he added. "You need to have this structure and opportunity in the first place to attract talent."

Combining Automation and Ambition

The University of Phoenix's Annual Career Optimism Index 2022, an analysis of 5,000 employees and 500 companies conducted Dec. 12, 2021, through Jan. 6, 2022, and released March 14, delved into workers' feelings about their worth and career goals.

Automation is creating some fear in workers' minds as they contemplate what's ahead. Consider that the index found 52 percent of today's employees believe they are "easily replaceable in their jobs" and 57 percent of employers said the same of their employees. In addition, 41 percent of employees fear losing their jobs.

Nearly half (40 percent) said they "worry their job skills will become outdated because of advancements in technology such as automation, artificial intelligence and robots." This attitude was found to be more prevalent among members of Generation Z (47 percent) and Millennials (45 percent) than Baby Boomers (35 percent) and members of Generation X (41 percent).

That sentiment is also greater among Black Americans (49 percent), Latino Americans (48 percent) and Asian-Americans (49 percent) than white Americans (38 percent).

Still, according to the index, 81 percent of Americans are hopeful about their careers and 95 percent of employers are optimistic about the future of their employees' careers.

Playing Catch-Up on Skills Development

In 2020 and 2021, many workers either left their jobs or took some time off to re-energize. They are now realizing they need to catch up on skills development, said Stacey Berk, founder and managing Consultant at Expand HR Consulting.

"Employees are realizing that they need to broaden their skills in many areas to keep fresh, focused and current and move forward," Berk said. "With the technology tools available in learning and development, they are also finding that these programs can be engaging and exciting. Plus, they can add their acquired skills to their resumes potentially for internal (and sometimes external) promotions."

Yvonne Bell, senior vice president of people and culture at global learning innovation company D2L, said employees are more aware than ever of the gap between their current skills and ones they might need for future roles inside—or outside—their organizations.

"At the current rate of change, skills are expiring faster than many teams can respond to," she said. "And while employees might recognize their skills are outdated, it's important businesses begin to find ways to support employees, both financially and with enough time to devote to gaining new skills. We've been talking about the future of work for a few years now; that future is here."

Gap Between Desires and Opportunities

The index reported that 68 percent of workers say they would stay with their employer throughout their career if the employer made an effort to upskill them, while 65 percent of workers said they would stay throughout their career if their employer made an effort to reskill them.

Yet the index showed that 40 percent of employees do not see a clear path to advance their careers; younger and Latino workers and those making under $50,000 per year are most likely to feel that way.

Workers need more skills development opportunities and their employers know it, according to the index: 49 percent of employees want to develop their skills but don't know where to begin—this is up 6 percentage points compared to 2021—and 66 percent of employers believe the same.

More than half (52 percent) of workers said they need to learn new skills within the next year to continue their careers; 46 percent of employees said they are not as skilled as they need to be. However, 29 percent don't feel optimistic about the opportunities they have for training, upskilling or learning new skills.

Measure Employee Competencies

Paylocity measures every employee's competencies throughout the time the employee has been with the company.

"We measure not only what skills and competencies are needed for the next level, but [also] what skills and competencies will make the individual a successful member of our organization," Dusing said.

"It's all about recognition, and if someone says, 'Hey I want to be a leader here,' we have a model in place to say, 'Well, you need to exhibit X progression now, Y progression later and then you'll be at Z level.' It's a consistent guideline, and that's how we determine whether someone's skills are outdated or if they're excelling."

Ongoing learning opportunities are part of Camden's new benefits structure, said Allison Dunavant, vice president of organizational development at the apartment operator.

"Candidates want to know how we are going to grow them," she said. "We ensure that employees have opportunities based on their individual strengths. We are introducing new tools that help leaders leverage individuals' strengths across their team. We conduct leadership training for employees at the manager level and above to align everyone on what it means to lead at Camden."

Kristie Leigh, talent development manager for JK Moving Services and CapRelo, said her company evaluates employee growth and succession planning and performs strengths/skills assessments so it can provide upward mobility to employees.

JK Moving educates staff on the educational tools it offers and implements professional development workshops that focus on building confidence, improving time management skills, setting priorities, and communicating with tact and finesse. "A majority of our enrollment in these programs is self-initiated," Leigh said. "Employees are eager for growth, development and upskilling."

Jessica Eberbach, vice president of people and culture for apartment operator TriCap Residential, said career-pathing is a great focus.

"We're a growing company, and we've been adding new jobs," she said. "For our current employees, we assign mentors who can explain and demonstrate leadership roles in our company so employees can see if they want to scale up.

"We let our employees choose if they want to grow into these positions. So, for example, a person might be in sales but could explore a leadership career path in accounting. We want employees to feel empowered in their career journeys and not simply be told what fields they can and cannot train in."

Christina Gialleli, director of people operations at learning technology company Epignosis, said providing new managers and team leaders with leadership training is a top priority and that finding the right content is the No. 1 obstacle to most learning and development initiatives.

"A hybrid approach is most effective," she said. "For compliance training, or when we want to teach the basics of a specific subject, we use our learning management system's library of ready-made courses, which are fun, short and engaging. This combination is ideal for the hybrid workforce because it gives the employee flexibility to complete the training on their own time."

The management system also offers live webinars and hands-on workshops with external training to facilitate interaction, Q&As and application of the newly acquired knowledge, said Gialleli, who allocates a specific training budget per employee so employees can choose the training they prefer, ranging from live workshops to online courses.

A Clear View of Their Future

Companies are facing barriers in their efforts to skill their employees, the Career Optimism Index found. The top reasons for not investing in employee upskilling/reskilling include: 

  • Finding time (cited by 42 percent of respondents).
  • Lack of employee interest in participating (39 percent). 
  • Identifying and understanding what skills gaps exist (38 percent). 
  • Budgeting for the training (35 percent).

Dusing said leadership teams sometimes can be a barrier, especially those that are heavily tenured and set in their ways.

"The 'put-your-head-to-the-grindstone' mentality that got them to where they are is not necessarily how people want to get there today," Dusing said. "It's a balance of work and quality of life. Employees are OK if it takes longer to get there if they have this balance."

He said some leadership teams don't understand the importance of this balance. "You need an ecosystem for your employees so they can see their futures," he said. "It's OK if that future is further away, as long as they can see it. There's a misconception that you need to provide employees with exactly where they'll be at a certain point, and that it has to be fast. It doesn't have to be fast—it just has to be clear."

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.


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