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3 Ways to help employees learn new skills amid a crisis

Wilhelm Crous - Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Covid-19 crisis is necessitating employees to learn new skills quickly. Kelly Palmer (Chief Learning Officer at Degreed) and Aaron Hurst (CEO of Imperative, a peer coaching platform) recently wrote in Strategy + Business that even before the crisis, the skills gap was increasing. For example: CEOs indicated in PwC’s Talent Trends 2019 Report that 79 percent of CEOs worldwide were concerned that a lack of essential skills in their workforce was threatening the future growth of their organisations. That’s a staggering amount when compared to the 53 percent documented in 2012.

New ways of working and doing business have now aggregated this situation.  

Despite the fact that the majority of employees want to learn on the job, there are numerous factors that can demotivate them to develop new skills. 

Palmer and Hurst quote Chan Zuckerberg who says employees don’t value what they are learning or how they are learning it; they don’t believe that they can master the skills; they blame environmental circumstances (“I just don’t have time to learn”) and they struggle with negative emotional states that distract them from learning.

Palmer and Hurst recommend L&D departments follow these three steps to facilitate better learning: 
  1. Put an end to command and control: Organisations have told employees for far too long what to learn and when to learn it. However, they’ve found that workers are much more motivated to engage in learning opportunities when they are free to choose their own learning outcomes. Within this context, they should still be told which skills the organisation will need, now and in the future. Employees will still tend to choose from these skills because they want to be of maximum use to their employers. When employees choose their own learning paths, they align their development with their personal sense of fulfilment and purpose. Along the same vein, let employees choose when they will engage in learning.

  2. Teach employees how to learn. Many employees dread learning, mostly due to negative experiences during their schooling years. At the same time businesses have largely built learning around lectures or online programmes that have employees click through and answer a few test questions. Workers are still too rarely given opportunities to go put those new skills to use. Palmer and Hurst recommend a four-stage “learning loop” to overcome this constraint: First, the learner studies a skill through videos, online courses, articles, TedTalks or with access to a subject matter expert. Then, the learner practices the skill; they demonstrate the skill to a trusted expert; and get feedback; and finally considers that feedback and how to do a better job the rest of the time. The learner then repeats the process by studying the aspects of the skill that needs improvement.

  3. Schedule time for reflection through peer coaching. Ask employees to block out time in their schedules for reflection. They should take time to consider their career progress and what they need to learn to develop further. This will improve their motivation for learning. The authors suggest that this should be done through peer coaching. Here, two employees discuss their goals and futures and help each other to develop their plans. The two employees then hold each other accountable to seeing that plans are implemented. This process has the spinoff where employees have skills such as empathy, listening and communication. Peer coaching can also help reduce stress, which is high at the moment in our current working climate. 

By implementing these three steps, employees will believe they can master even the most difficult of skills, they’ll make the time to learn and their self-esteem will increase along with their motivation to continue with their professional development!

Don’t miss our 8th Annual Learning & Development Online Conference on 1-3 September 2020, when we’ll unpack how organisations can upskill and adapt in a changing world. We’ve secured international and local speakers from leading organisations such as: Ericsson, Old Mutual, Standard Bank Group, Sasol, Absa, EY, PwC (Luxembourg), GAN (Switzerland), Santam, Anglo American Platinum and more. Take a look at the programme line up here.

Reference: Palmer, K., & Hurst, A. (2020, April 24). How to help employees learn new skills amid a crisis. Retrieved from





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