Train to gain: Where and how to learn new skills

If your staff need to learn new skills, what is the most efficient and cost-effective way to obtain those skills? Can you acquire a skill that is recognised in the industry from your desktop or tablet? And is accreditation critical?

According to McKinsey, 69% of businesses are doing more skills building than before the pandemic. How these new skills are acquired has also been transformed as online learning had exploded.

The kind of skills that businesses need is also radically changing. In their report, IBM clearly states, just a technical approach to skills is today not enough to remain competitive: “Executives are now tasked with continuously innovating and succeeding in this constantly evolving landscape. And they recognise that navigating it requires individuals who can communicate effectively, apply problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to drive innovation using new technologies, and draw and act on insights from vast amounts of data.”

Covid-19 has pushed the training landscape to adopt new platforms and environments to serve the diverse needs of workers who need to upskill or re-skill. Business owners understand that enhancing their human capital is one critical aspect of their Covid recovery.

The learning landscape

Speaking to Croner-i: Business Inform, Sarah-Jane McQueen, general manager at CoursesOnline, began by responding to the question, could she identify any trends in training and skills acquisition?

“Each industry will have its own general preferences, but across the board, there’s a big push from employers to get their employees to focus on honing their soft skills,” Sarah-Jane explained. “These are the skills that cover interpersonal communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, conflict negotiation, responsibility and flexibility - all of which are crucial for effective teamwork. 

“The main reason that employers are so keen on cultivating these skills is because they are essential for solving problems as they arise – many of which, such as COVID, can often be unforeseen. Being able to think creatively and on your feet means that in times of crisis or upheaval, you can continue to achieve, whereas other rival organisations may struggle to adapt.”

How important is accreditation when learning a new skill?

“Accreditation is critical no matter what skill you are looking for, as without it, an employer simply has your word that you possess a specific skill or set of skills. Whilst it is true that anyone can, in theory, master a skill through their own research and efforts, critics argue that totally independent learning doesn't adhere to set criteria.

“By contrast, accredited courses follow predetermined criteria which employers are aware of in advance. Therefore, employers can design the roles they are recruiting for around these criteria and be sure of the ability of a recruit as they have that specific accreditation.

“Another point to bear in mind is that regarding specific ‘hard technical’ skills, many accreditations only last for a set period of time and require those who initially achieved them to strive once again to obtain them. This ensures that learners remain as up to date as possible with the essential specialist industry knowledge they need. On the other hand, someone without accreditation may genuinely have had a good level of expertise at one point but may not have kept up to date with the latest developments within their field.

“Although there are fewer accreditations out there for soft skills, there are some exceptions, such as those that cover management and leadership techniques. However, several training providers award points or digital badges in place of formal accreditations, so that learners have something that they can talk about in-house as they work towards their personal development goals.”

Are employers now looking for recruits that have multiple skills?

“Even in the most niche of sectors, employers will be seeking recruits that have multiple strings to their bow. Specialist industry knowledge will always be essential no matter what field you work in, but there's always so much more to any role.

“If you are a doctor, for example, your primary skill set will of course focus on healthcare, treating patients and diagnosing health issues, but you also have to be an effective communicator to explain this to a patient and advise them in a way that they can easily understand. Somebody in construction management will have to know all about how a building comes together but also needs a good head for understanding project costs, time scales, health, and safety, etc. Succeeding in whatever you want to do will require skills of all sorts, with versatility being a sought-after trait for employers across all industries.”

If you want or need to learn a new skill, what's an efficient and cost-effective way to obtain those skills?

“If you are part of a workplace team and have other team members who are also looking to develop specific skills, then it's well worth asking your employer to look into the workforce training options available. These learning courses specifically focus on educating multiple people at once and enables learners to essentially pool their collective learning together, discussing the insights that come to them as they study.

“For those learning on their own, though, online learning courses are definitely the way to go. Covering all sorts of industries and topics for both beginners and those with experience, these digital courses can be done in your own time from home to fit around your schedule. Taught by expert providers, they are increasingly the preferred option for all age groups, with the youngest being graduates.”

Post-Covid, do you expect the education and training space to change?

“The rise in online learning as most people's preferred way of upskilling themselves has been long in the making, and Covid has helped to speed this process along. Traditional, classroom-based learning may be necessary for some training courses that have a manual component, but it isn't essential for most learners.

“People tend to value convenience above all else, and education providers have taken great strides to ensure that users can learn from home without sacrificing a drop in the quality of what they are being taught. With customers developing such an expectation of receiving quality instruction when they want it, providers will continue to make moves to increase their market share in this area.”

How should someone evaluate a course they are thinking of taking?

“Before making any purchase, to best evaluate a course, it's highly advisable to look at the existing reviews that other learners may have left. Ideally, you'll be able to look at the specific reviews for each course. However, even if they are lacking, you should still see if you can find reviews for the training provider as a whole. These can be found typically on the provider's website, Google Business profile, and review platforms such as Trustpilot.

“Another important thing to think about before committing to a course is what specifically are the learning outcomes that you wish to get out of it? Some people may want a specific accreditation; others might want to simply brush up on how to do a particular task or process. Take the time to therefore read up on what it is that you are being offered to make sure that it matches your aspirations.”

What are the pitfalls to watch out for when looking for a new training course?

“When looking for a course, it's important to opt for the one that's best suited for what you specifically want rather than one which someone else suggests. Recommendations can be helpful, but ultimately everyone will have their own objectives in mind for undertaking a course and their own preferences for how they learn.

“If you’re unsure as to whether or not a course would be suitable for you then you can always enquire with the provider to get their insights on the matter. It may be the case that they have a more suitable course to hand rather than the one you were initially looking at, and if you have any specific needs or requirements to aid your learning, you can discuss it with their learner support team. Keep in mind that you are not just paying for access to a course and the associated learning materials; you are paying for their support as well, which should be to a satisfactory standard.”

Future skills

The longevity of the skills that anyone obtains is also critical to appreciate. Indeed, the report from IBM defines 'perishable skills and 'durable skills', which is a crucial distinction when choosing what to learn.

Eoin McDonnell, head of learning Innovation at The Creative Engagement Group, comments that the ability to renew skills is vital in this environment. "Current research sets the half-life of knowledge associated with a skill at five years – meaning the value of a skill learned today will be halved five years from now.”

McDonnell concludes: “Therefore, perhaps the biggest trend in professional development and enterprise level education in recent years has been the recognition that the most important skill any individual can possess is the ability to learn and re-learn. This trend appears in conversations around learning culture, continuous learning, resilience and most recently skill building and upskilling.”

How and where businesses train, their staff has radically changed. Moving forward, a mix of skills will be needed as companies continue to evolve their digital transformation roadmaps. What is clear to all enterprises is that the right skills are critical to their future. How these skills are acquired will take many forms – matched to individual needs and ambitions.