Wednesday May 19th, 2021 | Webinar Recap: Faster Talent-Building in Practice

A conversation with Beth Davies, former Director of L&D @Tesla and host of Career Curves podcast.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss talent-building at scale with Beth Davies, former Director of L&D @Tesla, and host of Career Curves podcast during the webinar “Faster Talent-Building in Practice: Powerful Actions to Drive Results in 2021”. Beth’s journey has involved her pushing forward workforce development practices at once-in-a-generation brands like Apple, Microsoft, and Gap.

There is no doubt that with the increasing skills gap, and the shortening life of skills, driven by technology, has created a necessity for all companies to invest in learning opportunities for every employee. After several conversations with Beth, I realized that to implement a perpetual learning advantage inside of organizations, we need to go beyond the talk of “upskilling” and move towards a discussion about how we actually do it?

So Beth and I decided to share our conversation and what we discovered with the wider HCI audience. Here’s a recap.

Creating a “Perpetual Learning Advantage”.

We kicked off the conversation with a quick poll question where we asked: “Is learning contributing to your competitive advantage?” The majority of attendees (89%) responded yes.

Both Beth and I were really encouraged by this response. As Beth discussed, L&D leaders often think of themselves as a support function. Unfortunately, thinking like that means that many L&D leaders aren’t necessarily seeing themselves as contributing to the organization’s competitive advantage. It’s exciting to see this perspective shifting.

Upskilling is the “means to the end”, so why aren’t we doing it?

The term “upskilling” was originally about addressing two major future-of-work challenges (oh, and by the way, the future has become the reality of today in a post-COVID world): 

  • The need for new skills that don’t currently exist in our talent pool 
  • The obsolescence of skills as a result of automation and AI, and the moral imperative to reskill these workers to keep them in the workforce

We’ve all heard about the urgent need to upskill, and recognition for the importance of it was evident in the results of our second poll. We asked attendees “How much does not having the right skills keep your leadership up at night?”. The majority (57%) of attendees responded “A lot”, followed by “A little” (43%). 

So why aren’t more organizations succeeding with “upskilling”? The simple answer is because it’s really, really difficult! However, it’s critical work. It is not enough to rely on schools to build skills anymore. Organizations need to take the initiative to upskill at all levels across the entire population, otherwise they will not survive.

Achieving competitive advantage and skill readiness. ‍

Beth discussed what she sees as the five most powerful steps that HR and L&D leaders need to do to get to skill readiness: 

  • Gain buy-in. Start today by talking to your leaders. Share the data that shows the need for upskilling.
  • Prioritize the needs in partnership with the line of business. We can’t do everything at once, so set some shared goals. Some good questions to ask: How many people do we need with what skills? What is the timeframe? What will happen in our business if we don’t have these skills?  
  • Decide on build vs. buy vs. borrow. Have conversations with the line of business on whether you’re going to invest in existing talent, recruit for new talent, or hire temps and/or contractors. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that buying will be faster than building! We discussed the ROI on build vs. buy, and Beth shared some great points to consider – surprised a few of the attendees.
  • Implement a solution within the time horizon. Look at your menu of development options, and identify the one that fits with the time that you have. Pro tip: You must consider where and when people will be doing the learning, and how you will support them in getting it done.
  • Coach for success. For skills that take a long time to develop, learning persistence is a challenge because while starting is easy, finishing is a lot more difficult. Make sure supports are in place to help learners complete their programs.

Fewer constraints today mean a different way of thinking. 

In the past, access to learning was limited by how many learners could fit in a classroom. With the virtual learning options today, there’s an opportunity to think about things differently.

Beth shared a new way of thinking about upskilling, by comparing it to a traditional sales funnel, where we know that in order to close a sale, we need to generate interest from x number of prospects, and engage with them at various points along the sales cycle. 

Similar to a sales funnel, we can think about learning in terms of how many employees we need to have skills ready. We can start broadly by sharing the learning goals and inviting all employees to participate, understanding there will be some fallout along the way. This can effectively help to get to the needed number of upskilled employees, and can serve as a dashboard to track.

Upskilling requires intentional effort

More actions mean more or different responsibilities. Who gets involved? Whose responsibility is it? You can’t just add more things to someone’s already-more-than-full workload. Roles that are needed to support upskilling at scale: 

  • Perpetual Learning Strategist – Partners with the line of business and recruiting to identify top skills, determine build vs. buy strategy, and to secure the resources 
  • Perpetual Learning Operations – Sources programs, implements managing, manages vendor partnerships, and markets the programs internally
  • Learning Coach – Provides support to the learner, Creates learning plans, and does check-ins
  • Upskilling Analyst – Tracks the data, ensures learners are on track, and provides leaders with the info they need 

Upskilling is difficult work – and it’s important work

Getting your organization skill ready with a perpetual learning advantage will take leadership buy-in, collaboration across lines of business, dedicated resources, and new ways of thinking. At Learn In, we’re here to help on your upskilling journey. For more insights, watch the full webinar recordingfollow us on LinkedIn, or subscribe to our newsletter to stay in touch.


About Learn In‍‍

Learn In is the first talent-building platform designed for companies to solve every barrier that stands in the way of creating tomorrow’s workforce. Organizations use Learn In to identify talent-building goals, design skill-based programs, learn together in cohorts with coaches, and access flexible financing, delivering measurable outcomes for every dollar spent on upskilling the workforce. Co-founded by the founders of Degreed, Learn In is backed by leading edtech & future-of-work investors, including GSV, Album, Firework Ventures, and Village Global, and has been covered in CNBC, USA Today, EdTechReview, EdSurge, and Techcrunch.

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