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Competence in an ever-changing asset environment

Pragma Modern Training infographic
Pragma Modern Training infographic

How many times has it been said that people are our most valuable assets? Typically, we think of assets as items that are of value to an organisation – but without people, the value of physical assets is seldom realised. We need to take a look at the impact of Industry 4.0, the spread of technology and its effect on people, how we train people and how we drive competence in our people in order to realise the true value potential of our assets. The starting point is to understand the people that we rely on to deliver the value – and the challenges that come with them.

Challenge 1: Closing the competence gap

Every organisation faces the challenge of having an aging, skilled and experienced workforce working alongside young newcomers who lack knowledge and experience but are enthusiastic and tech-savvy, often using technology that their older colleagues don’t yet understand. Now add another ingredient to this challenge – incompetence. There are two types:

  • Conscious incompetence – I know I don’t know this, and it challenges me or overwhelms me.
  • Unconscious incompetence – I believe that I truly know something and consequently make significant errors of judgement in my work.

Learning and development is critical to overcoming incompetence. Research shows that learning is the main reason why people will join your organisation – or leave it. So while we can agree that learning is important, the traditional way of learning (let’s call it cramming – because three to five days of immersion in new ideas shouldn’t be called anything else) is more likely to result in an increase in unconscious incompetence.

The solution lies in ensuring that those people who recognise that they are incompetent are provided with the training and learning material that allows them to find the knowledge they need to grow their competence. While this has always been the goal of training, it will fail miserably if we keep using the cramming method.

Formal training is necessary to push the boundaries of learning and to create the awareness of unconscious incompetence, but it must be reinforced with smaller learning interventions that are very informal and supportive.

Challenge 2: The modern learner

Modern learners are hungry to learn and keen to grow their skills and if their employer won’t help them, they will leave. They are untethered – frequently working remotely, and they often contract or freelance to accommodate their lifestyle. They access information on demand via their smartphone, collaboratively from peers and colleagues, and seldom from traditional training content because the learning content has to be useful and relevant to them in their immediate situation. The average modern learner gives a page of content around seven seconds of attention before deciding if it’s relevant to them – and 70% of users will leave if it’s not. (See https://www.elucidat.com/blog/modern-learner-profile-infographic/ for more on the modern learner profile.)

Modern learners are also future focused. As job roles become more fluid and their lifestyle expectations more flexible, they look out for skills that will serve them well into the future. The modern learner is constantly looking for integration between their learning and their work – they want the learning to be as relevant and practical to their work situation as possible.

The problems of today and the problems of tomorrow

With these challenges in mind, we need to satisfy the short-term goal of providing our employees with the skills and competence to meet current demands while also considering the long term, creating a work environment that can provide learning and knowledge that is relevant, available and adaptive to employees’ individual requirements. How do we do this?

Solving the problems of today
For starters, companies need appropriate organisational design and structural clarity. Organisational systems must be aligned with the purpose and objectives of the organisation. Roles and responsibilities must be defined according to a RACI matrix (responsibility, accountability, consulted, informed) that clearly lists the relevant organisational management practices and the impact of the role. Why? Because this will highlight competence gaps which can then be used to manage career expectations and set targets for personal development.

There also needs to be an enabling “ecosystem” for learning and development in the organisation: access to learning material via smartphones, and technology that enables employees to get information that is relevant and available instantly when needed. On top of that the content must be effectively curated so that it retains the user beyond those all-important first seven seconds. Technology plays a huge role here – use it to set up communities of practice that will enable learning through on the job experience, mentorship programmes, and collaboration and knowledge sharing between peers. Tools such as Slack, LinkedIn Learning, Degreed and Axonify are great for facilitating learning.

Just a further note on the importance of mentorship: for the modern learner to confidently apply their learning, mentoring from experienced colleagues can be very supportive and effective.

Solving the problems of tomorrow
“Skills change, but capabilities endure” – this is the title of a Deloitte Insights article, and it basically sums up the emphasis for the future. What’s becoming increasingly important is not skills themselves, but capabilities. Capabilities are essential for learning new skills, applying skills and adapting to a rapidly changing world. The article’s authors propose that the following capabilities underlie individual effort:

  • Emotional intelligence: Understanding other people’s emotions and experiences and how they shape human interactions
  • Teaming: Collaborating effectively across spatial, organisational and cultural boundaries
  • Social intelligence: Understanding interpersonal dynamics and behavioural impacts of human interactions
  • Sense-making: Creating awareness and meaning out of collective experiences
  • Critical thinking: Analysing, evaluating, synthesising and reconstructing information
  • Adaptive thinking: Recognising new patterns and applying patterns in new contexts.

So the sustainable way forward for organisations is to not only focus on skills, but to develop and emphasise capabilities – they are more fundamental and enduring than skills and will give a workforce a strategic advantage.

Taking stock
Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence and all the recent advances in technology will change the way we recruit, develop and retain skills and competence in the future. What we need most is people with the skills and capabilities to be flexible and adaptable in a fast-changing employment environment. We need adaptable learning to support the modern learner. Stay ahead by taking some time to assess whether your organisation is meeting these needs – and take action if it’s not.

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