4 Ways to Encourage Learners to Practice New Skills at Work
Employees want career development. Employers want to close their skills gaps. These four tips can help both sides reach their goals.
A new paradigm for the employee/employer relationship emerged in the wake of the Great Resignation. Employees now look to employers for not just a paycheck but a chance to grow in their careers. Likewise, employers need workers who can help their companies evolve to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
Unfortunately, many organizations are struggling to make this vision of mutual growth a reality. According to The University of Phoenix's Career Optimism Index 2022, 40 percent of employees don't currently have clear paths for career advancement. Twenty-nine percent don't feel optimistic about their training opportunities.
Employers aren't faring any better. ATD's 2022 Bridging the Skills Gap whitepaper found that 83 percent of companies face skills gaps, and 78 percent expect to continue facing such gaps in the future.
The good news is that employers and employees have the same goal. If employees get the career development opportunities they want, employers will get the workforces they need. Put another way: Organizations can close their skills gaps by connecting workers with transformative learning experiences that help them build new skills.
And practice is the key to a transformative learning experience. As author and skills acquisition expert Josh Kaufman puts it, it takes about 20 hours of practice for a person to go from "knowing nothing" to "being pretty good."
So how can companies create space and opportunities for employees to practice — and eventually master — new skills? Here are four tips.
1. Make It Easy to Find Relevant Training Content
To build new skills, employees need access to robust training programs with relevant content and hands-on practice exercises. That may seem obvious. But it's not enough to offer training. People leaders must make it easy for employees to find the right content when they need it.
Employees want a learning experience that's efficient, productive, and immediately relevant to their career development goals. That's where a solution like Skill Benchmarks can help. Available within the Skillsoft Percipio learning platform, Skill Benchmarks are diagnostic assessments that measure learners' skills against objective learning standards. In addition to helping learners understand their current proficiency levels, Skill Benchmarks identify areas for improvement and offer personalized recommendations for videos, hands-on practice labs, and other learning experiences.
Employees don't have to spend time searching through irrelevant content or practicing skills they've already mastered. Instead, Skill Benchmarks put the practice opportunities they need to close their own personal skills gaps right at their fingertips. Employees are much more likely to seize learning experiences if they don't have to hunt them down first.
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2. Have Leaders and Managers Act as Advocates for Practice
Leaders and managers have a strong influence on employee motivation and performance. In fact, according to Gallup, the quality of a team leader is a crucial driver of employee engagement. Companies can leverage this fact when it comes to skill-building by having leaders and managers act as champions. Employees are more likely to make time for practice when leaders actively encourage them to.
Communicating the value of skills practice is important, but leaders should do more than make motivational speeches. They should actively help employees create opportunities to practice. For example, managers can work with their direct reports to set goals for skill development and make plans for reaching those goals. Managers can even help employees block out time in their schedules for focused practice or institute recurring team-wide learning periods.
Leaders can also use Skill Benchmarks to support employee practice. For example, once managers know their employees' career goals, they can assign relevant benchmark assessments. That way, employees can assess their current skill levels and identify the most efficient way to grow.
3. Run a Skills Challenge
Research has shown that friendly competition can be another powerful motivator at work. Companies can encourage employees to practice new skills by turning it into a comradely contest.
For example, some of our clients have had success running Skills Challenges. These are team- or company-wide exercises in which learners compete against one another — and themselves — to see who can progress the most in a set amount of time.
Skills Challenges start with the employees taking Skill Benchmark assessments to get a baseline understanding of their current skill proficiency. Then, employees spend the next few weeks working through the personalized content recommendations they received from their assessments. At the end of the challenge, employees retake their initial Skill Benchmark assessments to see how much their proficiency levels rose.
Skills Challenges can be an exciting, engaging way to make skills practice a part of employees' routines. Companies can align their Skills Challenges with pressing skills gaps — for example, running a challenge based around crucial tech skills the organization is missing. For added motivation, companies might even offer prizes for employees who hit certain milestones.
4. Create Clear Connections Between Practice and Advancement
Ultimately, employees want to learn new skills to grow in their careers. If employees put in the work but don't advance as a result, they'll quickly lose interest in practice. They may even look for that advancement elsewhere — say, with a new employer. According to SHRM, lack of career development is the second most common cause of turnover.
That's why it's essential for leaders and managers to create clear connections between skills practice and professional advancement. We mentioned above that leaders should help employees set goals and find relevant training content. However, the relationship between practice and progress needs to be more than just an abstract concept. Leaders must ensure their employees understand the concrete steps they can take to reach their goals.
Once again, a solution like Skill Benchmarks can come in handy. Once employees have set their career goals and identified the skills they need, Skill Benchmarks empower them to inventory their existing skills and see what competencies they already have. Crucially, Skill Benchmarks also help employees identify their gaps, and the personalized content recommendations give employees a targeted plan for reaching proficiency in their desired role.
Once employees have completed training journeys, leaders can find ways for them to use their new skills on real-world projects. People managers don't have the power to unilaterally promote employees to their dream roles, but they can let workers take on new responsibilities that showcase some of their new strengths. Team leaders might even consider creating opportunities for employees to collaborate with teams and departments they don't usually interact with.
If employees see that practice makes a real difference in their daily work, they'll be more likely to continue investing effort in their professional development.
Clear the Path to New Skills for Your People
Ultimately, empowering employees to practice new skills is all about removing the barriers in their way. Don't make employees hunt for relevant training content — deliver it straight to them. Show employees the company values development and reward employees who invest in themselves with new opportunities and other incentives. The easier it is for employees to find time and space to practice, the more practice they'll do.
Skill Benchmarks can play a vital role in connecting employees with transformative learning opportunities and hands-on practice. Skill Benchmarks take the guesswork out of the equation by helping employees identify the skills they're missing and offering customized recommendations to close those gaps.
And when employees close their own personal skills gaps, they're also closing the company's skills gaps. Now that's mutual growth.