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How to Build Your Own Incubator of Emerging Skills

This year has brought with it unexpected challenges in almost every aspect of our lives, and through this experience, it has become clear that we cannot predict the future. But we can focus on developing the right emerging skills that will allow us to respond easily to future challenges with a workforce that can move fluidly across projects, teams, and work.

In a recent MIT study, two-thirds of respondents felt that updating working practices and skills — along with adding new technologies — was key to managing disruption. So how can you ensure your people have the skills for today and for what’s next? Forward-thinking companies are redesigning their approach to employee learning to continuously uncover and cultivate emerging skills.

We’ve noticed while working closely with our clients that the companies most committed to building emerging skills do five things differently:

1. Build Skills from the Ground Up 

The search for emerging skills demands collaboration between learning, talent, and operating units to foster a bottom-up approach to skill-building. Agile companies get input from their workers and line managers to discover what’s needed for future projects, goals, and jobs. From there, they use those insights to form the basis of internal learning and upskilling.

In its research paper Building Capabilities for Performance, McKinsey & Company urges a cooperative strategy to develop skills. Rather than planning internal mobility, business strategy, and learning strategy separately, they bring business, finance, and HR leaders together for the conversation. This cooperative learning method reports having “a more structured approach to developing tools, methods, and procedures to support capability building.” 

2. Tap Into New Skills Where They Emerge Organically

Just as identifying emerging skills requires recognition, so should training for those emerging skills. That means going to the source: the everyday work of employees.

Qualcomm flipped the traditional top-down corporate learning model into a system mirroring how people consume information in their daily lives — through social networks, mobile devices, and curated content. Qualcomm’s Learning Center pushed employees to chart their own learning path to become experts and gave them new tools to develop more fluidly. Now employees regularly recommend and discuss content with colleagues.

3. Give Experts a Platform to Spread Their Knowledge

Companies can’t be told what skills they’ll need, and they can’t wait for universities to catch up. They have to be proactive in identifying and developing the skills of their workforce. The solution is designing upskilling programs that tap into existing talent, and pushing those in power to create, distribute, and consume knowledge with employee-centric tools.

An employee-driven upskilling program flourishes when employees have a say in shaping the learning experience and helping their peers grow. By giving employees a stake in their own career development and the future of the company, you’re supporting internal mobility structures, creating an opportunity for mentorship programs, and building channels to share critical knowledge. 

If you’re looking for the right platform for your organization, check out our Guide to Talent Development Technology for selection criteria, tools to navigate the marketplace, and business case templates. 

The importance of an employee-driven learning program

4. Give Feedback on Progress

Although informal employee-driven learning sounds attractive, it shouldn’t be a free-for-all. The best way to provide structure to this type of learning is to measure individual progress, confirm new skills, and refocus on what’s next. The idea should be mutually beneficial: each employee undergoes valuable, continuous improvement, which, in turn, creates value for the organization. 

To achieve ambitious growth goals, Photobox Group, Europe’s leading digital consumer service for personalized products, gifts, and digital prints, shifted its culture to foster employee learning and career growth. Photobox implemented a 360-degree feedback process that combines peer and manager feedback with self-reviews to give employees a complete picture of their performance and what skills they need to develop.

Photobox now offers more than 1,000 employees access to personalized learning Pathways that tie directly to feedback, cater to skill gaps, and support career development. Read more about how they were able to build this process in their complete case study.

5. Mining Data to Identify Emerging Skills

Learning and talent leaders can also strike emerging skills gold by mining data for trends. If you can’t do it yourself, government and commercial data sets like O*NET, or labor market analytics tools like Burning Glass and TalentNeuron, find emerging skills by analyzing daily job listings.

Additionally, Degreed gives voice to employees to share the skills they want to build by surfacing skill interests, skill-rating data, and search behavior. The person doing the work can be a powerful input in understanding the skills they need right now and those on the horizon.

When identifying your company’s emerging skills, consider their shelf lives. Flexible and more consistent skills will have long shelf lives (such as creativity and communication) while others may have shorter shelf lives (such as programming languages or software tools). Think of your skills in the context of these three buckets: emerging, evolving, and expiring.

If you can pinpoint these skills early, they will help indicate those that can help keep your workforce on the cutting edge of new ideas, processes, tools, and abilities — and keep you ahead of your competitors. Start by monitoring areas of your business that are most prone to disruption so you can quickly respond to patterns and changes in skills. 

Want to learn more about how to cultivate emerging skills at your organization? Download our full guide here

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