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Nov 8, 2022

If your company is facing a skills crisis, then one crumb of solace is that you are not alone.

According to McKinsey & Company, 87% of companies either have skills gaps now or expect to have them over the next several years. In fact, by 2030, more than 85 million jobs will go unfilled due to talent shortages, at a global cost of $8.5 trillion.

This is a problem, because demand for emerging skills in fields such as cyber security, data, sustainability, and digital transformation is only set to grow. Yet, workers in the United States recently scored just 36 out of 100 on Salesforce’s Digital Skills Readiness Index, pointing to an ever-growing skills gap.

It’s not just older workers failing to adapt

Contrary to popular belief however, the skills challenge facing America is not simply the result of technology changing at a faster pace than some of our more senior members of the workforce can adapt to. For only 31% of Gen Z staff (the youngest members of the economy), say feel “very equipped” for a digital-first job either.

In other words, up-skilling and re-skilling of ‘all’ is key

So what have organizations so far started to do? Well, in response to the skills crisis, many organizations have turned to solutions like Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs), or corporate training courses, or commercially available content libraries to educate their employees. The trouble is, these have had very mixed results. Too often these training programs are abstract in nature; learners don’t have the opportunity to apply and reinforce their learning; and they lack the institutional support to invest sufficient time and attention in up-skilling and re-skilling.

Learning academies: An emerging solution

One emerging solution that addresses these challenges is the learning academy model.

Academies are curated learning pathways that include courses, lectures, and on-the-job learning opportunities delivered to workers within a company in order to build specific desired skills that align with the organization’s transformation efforts. Content and delivery are tailored to the specific context of the company to ensure that they are both relevant and immediately applicable.

Learning academies in action

While specifics may vary, learning academies focus on helping learners apply new concepts directly to their day-to-day work. Most also offer different learning tracks for employees at all levels of an organization, based on their level of knowledge and roles within the organization.

For example, a company might develop a data analytics academy in response to a growing need for data-driven decision-making and data-intensive work. This academy might offer three tracks: one for executives and decision-makers focused on high-level strategy; one for technical leaders focused on implementation; and an additional general track aimed at developing company-wide data literacy for rising professionals.

The academy model combines short courses, technical certification programs, explainer videos and resources, lectures, and Q&As from academic or industry leaders. While employees’ outcomes vary based on their roles, in this example all participants develop a shared language around data and its use within the organization. On-the-job use cases can then be applied immediately after the coursework to ensure employees are equipped to handle new challenges and apply what they learned.

The origins of learning academies

Corporate learning academies are not a new concept. As L& D thought leader Josh Bersin explains, many major corporations used to run in-person university-style programs, complete with dedicated campuses, for specific functions like sales and management (GE’s in Crotonville was established in 1956!). But with the emergence of digital learning platforms, in-person corporate academies were largely phased out.

The new model of online learning academies brings corporate learning full circle, combining – as it does – the structure of once-popular in-person programs with the flexibility and reach of online learning.

Today’s academies are a response to organizations’ need for high-quality, comprehensive programs emphasizing capability-building and application rather than discrete coursework.

These academies are super-charged when the benefits of in-person interaction are retained during programs, sometimes virtually but often as a complement to the work cohorts do online.

Why up-skilling pays off

According to The World Economic Forum, for workers remaining in current roles, the share of core skills that will change in the next five years is 40%, and 50% of all employees will need re-skilling.

Although organizational learning academies require significant upfront investment, they lead to significant long-term cost savings as. In many cases, companies simply can’t find the talent they need on the open market, making internal up-skilling and reskilling a compelling alternative.

But not only are company skills levels raised, internal up-skilling and reskilling programs offer significant retention benefits. Salesforce found that by giving staff access to on-the-job learning and development, 66% of employees said they would be more likely to stay with their companies long-term.

Moving Forward

Every organization’s response to the talent crisis will differ.

In some cases – like when a company is in need of immediate expertise, or of only a few employees with specific capabilities – looking to external hires may be a logical choice.

But very often, developing employees in-house is the better long-term play.

Given the inconsistent outcomes of traditional approaches to corporate development, the emergence of learning academies offers a welcome new approach for organizations ready to invest in the workforces of the future.

Taking innovative approaches, like rolling out academies to employees, will help organizations combat challenges such as the Great Resignation and the growing talent war to hire and retain great people.



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