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Skills Lifecycle Part 4: Skill Development

You’ve heard of The Beatles, right? The first iconic boy band from Liverpool who crafted lyrics, legacy, and legend in the 1960s. But they didn’t get there overnight.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, features the story of The Beatles as one of the proof points of his assertion that mastery is achieved through the dedication of 10,000 hours of effort. In the case of The Beatles, that mastery was achieved in part from trips to Hamburg playing an estimated 1,200 performances before most had considered beetles to be anything other than bugs. 

But before you clear your calendar until 2025 to master the bass guitar, let’s explore how we can effectively develop our skills — and those of our workforce — more efficiently. 

We’ve explored the first three stages of the Skills Lifecycle in previous posts below, with this final installment covering development. This Lifecycle is comprised of a fabulous foursome of steps:

  1. Alignment
  2. Skill Benchmarking
  3. Content Curation
  4. Skill Development


Some of you reading this will be in roles dedicated to developing others, but all of us should have some awareness of development, as we know technologies and jobs will change radically over the next decade.

The 2018 Future of Jobs Report predicts that by 2022, 75 million jobs will be displaced. However, these technological advances will also create 133 million new positions, which will work largely with machines and algorithms. To meet the requirements of these new roles, the report predicts that at least 54% of employees will need reskilling and upskilling by 2022.

The Future of How the Workforce Learns


With all that change, how can we effectively build skills in ourselves and others? Traditionally, L&D programs took cues from the school systems and created classroom courses. Many studies (and honestly, just a bit of reflection on your own personal experience with learning that way) can tell us we can’t rely solely on the classroom for development. Our most recent research on how the workforce learns today suggests that traditional methods used in corporate learning are not working for a variety of reasons — namely, they’ve been designed for scale rather than impact. 

Come Together

Our same 2019 report, done in partnership with Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, revealed that while classroom training remains essential to learning strategies, employees are far more frequently developing skills on their own. A progressive learning strategy should have the ability to harness these efforts, monitor them, and allow them to indicate where to invest more L&D resources. The first step to developing a progressive L&D strategy is to shift the focus to skills.

To make the shift from learning to skilling, we need to start with a few premises about skill development:

  • People develop skills all the time, everywhere, and through a variety of formats. Driving ownership to the learner and building a culture of autonomy will increase the pace at which development occurs.
  • Skill development happens formally, but more frequently informally, through experience, trial and error, feedback, and collaboration.
  • Humans are social and prefer to learn and develop from and with each other. Teamwork and collaboration is a key component of skill development.
  • Building skills takes time, and acquiring knowledge is just one of the steps. Another is teaching others, and the relationships created through that teaching is vital to skill development. 

Here Comes the Sun

Listen, folks, our time is now. What got you here will not get you there; we exist in a world where jobs are changing rapidly, skills are the currency, and old methods for development simply can’t keep up. There is great need as the world shifts and folks need upskilling. 

Many companies are starting to take this to heart, such as Amazon, who recently committed $700 million dollars to upskill a third of its workforce by 2025. This means their current warehouse employees could develop skills to become future nurses. Or data scientists. Or futurists.

You don’t have to allocate huge budgets to be successful here. It starts with a mindset within your organization: moving from the traditional assembly line of building and delivering learning to providing a holistic approach to development that truly builds and measures. 

If you’re stuck, the good news is that you’re likely already somewhat familiar with models that introduce organizational change and focus on people, process, technology, and culture. Let’s explore how to apply a similar model to shift to a skills approach.

4 Questions to Help Kickstart a Skill Development Strategy

People: Do you have the right skills and roles within your own team? Identify where you need to fill skill gaps, and how you will create plans to develop or buy those skills (think hiring internally vs. externally).

Process: Are your processes nimble enough to shift to a rapidly changing world? Assess where skill development is working best; document what’s working and fix what is not.

Technology: Do you have the right tools to align, benchmark, curate, and develop people? Surface expertise within your organization and then make it discoverable for those building skills. It’s important to present ample ways for your workforce to build skills and continuously measure progress to enable a cycle of development.

Culture: Do you have shared beliefs, values, and behaviors that can address the evolving needs of your workforce? This means celebrating learning opportunities that come from both successes and failures and ensuring they become engrained in the culture moving forward.

We don’t become experts overnight. Skill development requires practice and commitment on a company-wide level. The Beatles put in many A Hard Day’s Night to build their mastery of music. Are you prepared to lead yourselves and your workforce on the road to expertise?

Degreed can help wherever you are in the Skills Lifecycle. In fact, We Can Work It Out right here

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