Motivate Employees to Reskill for the Digital Age

Many HR leaders champion continuous learning to close skill gaps, but a ‘connected learner’ approach is more effective at helping employees reskill for the digital age.

Is your organization in the midst of becoming more digital? The answer is most likely yes —  which also means you’ve probably been on a continuous-learning drive to reskill and upskill your workforce to try and fill those skill gaps that exist today and those that will emerge as needs continue to evolve.

But despite your best efforts, employees feel ill-equipped. In Gartner’s 2018 Shifting Skills Survey, we asked over 7,000 employees to self-assess their level of proficiency in in-demand skills.

  • 70% said they haven’t mastered the skills they need for their jobs today.
  • 80% said they lack both the skills they need both for their current role and their future career.

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The problem, it turns out, is that the approach most organizations take to create continuous learners actually undermines skills preparedness. In fact, our research shows that building continuous learners actually decreases skills preparedness — by as much as 22% — thus hindering employees’ ability to keep pace.

Don’t despair: HR leaders can help employees keep pace with shifting skills needs — and generate tangible business value — by evolving their approach to employee learning and development to focus on building ‘connected’ learners. Unlike continuous learners, connected learners are in tune with in-demand market skills, the organization’s needs and the skill development opportunities they themselves need.

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3 ways to build connected learners

“To compete in the increasingly digital world, companies must ensure that their workforce has the necessary skills for today and tomorrow,” says Sari J. Wilde, Research Leader at Gartner. “This means considering the skills that the market is calling for, and showing employees the personal benefit of acquiring these new skills.”

Connected learners, like Connector managers, foster meaningful connections to and among employees, teams and the enterprise. Building connected learners requires a three-pronged approach:

  • Take a market-driven, predictive approach to skills identification. Gather more objective, expansive and ongoing data on shifting skill needs by diversifying the inputs used for needs analysis. Don’t just rely on conversations with business leaders, who look internally but often lack the big picture. Determining the most pressing skill needs in this way forges a closer connection between employees and the market.
  • Challenge employees to be more. Employees must own their own career development, but all too often feel disconnected from the organization’s development asks. Demonstrate to employees how they will grow personally by developing the skills the organization and market needs. HR already communicates heavily what the business’s requirements are, and you still need to do that, but 70% of communications should be targeted to employees as individuals.
  • Connect employees to skill-building opportunities beyond their roles. Due to the pace of change, employees may not be able to upskill on-the-job for the skills they will need to succeed. Don’t just curate new learning content and provide self-service development options, which can be overwhelming and unfocused. Instead, broker learning experiences to accelerate new skill development and connect employees to cross-organizational and even extra-organizational skill-building opportunities. You can also encourage employees to use real-life applications to develop the skills they need.

Learn more: Reskilling the workforce

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Connected-learner approach delivers business benefits

Gartner research shows that building connected learners boosts different elements of skills preparedness by 28%-39%, and delivers other benefits to employees and the organization. For example, connected learners are eight times more likely to be high performers.

Gartner shows that building 'connected' learners delivers benefits to employees and the organization.

This article has been updated from the original, published on September 6, 2018, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.


Gartner for HR clients can read more about reskilling the workforce.

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