Learning Strategy Skills

How To Close The Skills Gap

Ok, we’ve spent the previous edition in this series getting super nerdy about skills.

Find those here:

Now it’s time to get really tactical.

That means taking action people. We’re going to shift gears to unpack how you can close the skills gap not only in your company but in your skillset too. What a fabulous 2-for-1 offer!

We know from our exploration so far that skills are the biggest barrier to business transformation for many companies. The same goes for each of us with our career opportunities.

If we don’t have the right skills, we don’t have access to the best opportunities.

Data from the World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs report in 2023 tells us that companies are focusing on the below practices to bridge skills gaps.

Let’s unpack the top 3:

→ Improve progression and promotion processes

→ Offer more money

→ Provide effective reskilling and upskilling

Only one of these is an L&D thing. I’ll let you guess which one.

Progression and promotion processes

This can be a very fickle conversation.

If you want a quick way to scare any line manager and HR partner at one time, ask about progression and promotion processes.

They’re almost like a secret central intelligence file that no one can view.

They exist, but how one navigates these is a mystery in most businesses. However, the pressure these days to be more transparent on just how the hell does one move from here to here has never been bigger.

In reality, we have a really easy fix here.

Just make it very clear and transparent on how all this works. As much as you can of course (calm down HR managers, I’m still looking out for you).

You’ll most likely solve 70% of issues here.

It’s never going to be straightforward but a bit of clear structure will go far.

Money, money, money

Let me be straight with you – I don’t have the answer to this.

I’ve been in the HR and L&D space for over 16 years. There’s never an easy answer to this.

It’s contextual to each person, company and moment.

I’ll leave it at that because this isn’t my zone of expertise.

Effective upskilling and reskilling

Finally, something we can get our teeth into.

We know how important this is for every human on this spinning blue rock to survive. So, forgive me for not covering this like many of the fluff pieces do.

Instead, we’re getting right into the components of a killer upskilling or reskilling programme.

How to build high-quality and effective skilling programmes

I see too much junk on this topic online.

Too much focus on the how, aka the delivery of using ‘x’ tool to do this, and not enough on the what and why behind this.

You can’t have the former without the latter.

Here’s the basic principles to consider:

1/ Identify real business performance enhancers

Get clear on specific skills gaps within your organisations.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it. This data is the bedrock from which you ensure your efforts are focused on the right things. Ignore the assumptions and biased opinions behind closed doors.

→ Engage with department heads and conduct surveys or focus groups with employees to gain insights.

2/ Understand employee aspirations

You don’t want to build stuff no one wants.

People often don’t know what they should focus on. Yet, you should still have your finger on the pulse of what the voice of the business is saying about the skills they value.

Employee surveys are useful data mines for this.

If you don’t have this, get out into your company to run mini-focus groups and surveys. You’ll be surprised what comes back.

Your goal is to align business and employees as much as possible.

3/ Establish clear objectives and outcomes

This should be obvious.

Yet, it seems to get lost in the excitement of the ‘how’.

Always know your measure of success. Without this, nothing else is worth much. You’re essentially throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks.

→ Work with key stakeholders to define and review these. It’s a team effort after all.

4/ Practical application

Every learning experience should have this.

It’s the measure of value with any experience. We all need a safe environment and an opportunity to put what we’ve absorbed into practice.

This could take many forms including:

  • Stretch projects
  • Digital and real-life simulations
  • One-time scenarios and events

Whatever it is, you want to work with teams across your organisation to create something that best fits the culture and context of the work people need to do.

5/ Create a supportive environment

This is where leveraging line managers works well.

Often, I find, managers don’t take enough accountability for the development of their team. Too many are confused about their job. It’s not about the doing, it’s all focused on the people.

We can only be successful based on the environment we create and that others do too.

It doesn’t matter how much ‘learning’ or training’ a company provides. Without this practical application, it’s money down the drain.

Ideas for this include:

  • Line manager coaching and mentoring
  • External mentoring
  • Group Slack and/or Teams communities, or go rogue and do a real-life group session

6/ Evaluate and improve

Setting goals that you don’t track is dumb.

Sorry. It’s true.

I see this all the time. The common situation is to track none of the agreed metrics through an experience, only to wait until it’s complete and realise none of them was achieved 🤦.

Feedback and/or retro loops in every meeting are useful to combat this.

This doesn’t need to be heavy.

Spare 5 minutes at the end of every update meeting to evaluate where you are today, and how everything is performing and review if anything needs to be adapted.

Those 5 minutes could save you months of work and lots of money!

7/ Building Partnerships to cement success

This is all about social proof.

Nothing sells and cements the reputation of an experience more than endorsements.

Here, I suggest leveraging your senior leaders and well-respected team members to become part of your endorsement campaign. Imagine it like a political race without all the crazy backstabbing.

Case studies and personal stories work well here.

Speaking of case studies. Keep scrolling for inspiration from some of the world’s largest retailers.

Two case studies to inspire you

🛒 IKEA: Upskilling 8,500 employees to boost sales by $1.4 billion

This is the most popular case study on the blog.

You can read the full piece here. Get the TL;DR below:

→ 8,500 call centre workers were transformed into interior design advisors.

→ Billie, the AI bot, effectively managed 47% of customer inquiries.

→ Sales through remote interior design consultations amounted to 1.3 billion euros(~$1.4 billion).

🥐 Carrefour: Upskilling 320,00 employees for the Digital World

This French Grocery retailer is on a mission to future-proof its employees for the evolving digital world.

Get the full case study here. TL;DR below:

→ Carrefour aims for a digital-first retail model by 2026.

→ The ‘Tous digital!’ initiative equips all employees, notably frontline staff, with essential digital skills.

→ In 3 weeks they upskilled 60,000 employees, aligning with EU’s 2023 Year of Skills.

→ Future plans include an exploration of emerging tech like Generative AI.

Steal this framework for easy skill-building conversations

I’ve shared this before and I’m doing it again because the drum beat needs to keep going.

I find we never do enough skill health checks.

They’re the objects that grant us the power to improve our earnings and freedom, yet we don’t tend to them like you would a garden. Your skills need constant attention in the form of watering and pruning ya know.

Every quarter I recommend you do this:

  • Open a doc or grab a notebook
  • Create a 3-column table
  • Place these 3 headers – ‘expiring’, ‘evolving’ and ‘emerging’ in one of the column headers
  • Now, the good stuff. Reflect on your current skills and place each of them in the best column.

The power of this exercise enables you to:

  1. Chuck out the skills which no longer serve you and the world
  2. Double down on the skills that can give you a performance advantage
  3. Identify advantageous skills to add to separate you from the crowd

Be human skills-focused

As I say nearly every week, I’m all in for a human-powered future. Digital technology is a beautiful enabler, but it is nothing without humanness.

Your biggest advantage in this world is your human skills.

Technical skills are incredibly important, but your human capabilities are what makes the difference. I’m hoping this has come through in all the data and insights we’ve explored across November.

→ Unlock human capabilities at the heart of everything you build.

The Skills Trilogy: Today, Tomorrow and Always

Ok, we’ve reached the end of the first trilogy in the series.

Fret not, we have much more to come on the future of skills for 2024 before the year is out.

For now, feed your brain with the previous instalments.

  1. Today’s Skills: The 5 skills that matter most
  2. Tomorrow’s Skills: The skills we need to build to succeed for the next 5 years
  3. Always: How to build effective skill strategies (you’re reading it)


Before you go… 👋

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

You can join me every Tuesday morning for more tools, templates and insights for the modern L&D pro in my weekly newsletter.

Explore more thoughts ↓

Learning Strategy Skills

The Skills To Thrive For The Next 5 Years

Survival is the game of the human race.

At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to figure out how to survive. Skills are the currency of that game. They’re how we position ourselves in the marketplace of employability.

That was a rather philosophical line.

Last week, we focused on the 5 skills that matter most, and why too many companies are ignoring the most important skill of this year in AI delegation. Today we’ll unpack how these skills co-exist with each other and the next 5 year outlook for our skills.

The Skills Brain

This viz is from the Microsoft Work Trend report. I’ve adapted it for purposes of clarity.

Newsflash: Learning isn’t keeping up with the pace of work.

You probably knew that already.

It’s not just AI skills that leaders are looking for employees to develop. They want those that will enhance an AI-powered future too. As we covered last time, the future is human-powered.

Human + AI skills are the winning combo.

You’ve probably seen that line in some form on social media. I believe it’s the future we’re currently building. Look at generative AI as a tool. Like any tool, it has a time and place for use, and its real power is in the hands of a skilled operator.

If these are the baseline skills, what else can we expect to craft in the next 5 years of both reskilling and upskilling programmes?

Let’s dive deeper down the rabbit hole, friend.

Back to the future…or 2027

Like many other reports, WSE drops their 10 skills for the reskilling and upskilling scene:

  1. Analytical thinking
  2. Creative thinking
  3. AI and big data
  4. Leadership and social influence
  5. Resilience, flexibility and agility
  6. Curiosity and lifelong learning
  7. Technological literacy
  8. Design and user experience
  9. Motivation and self-awareness
  10. Empathy and active listening

The takeaway: Skills are always being disrupted. It is the nature of life.

Are you seeing the pattern here?

Human + digital technology together. These are the perfect combo to navigate the career game.

In the year of AI, is it any surprise companies rank analytical thinking as the #1 core skill for work?

Human thinking on any level is something generative AI can’t do.

In an evolving workplace where we’ll likely partner with AI tools, the ability to think like a human will be a prized asset. That’s why it’s no surprise, critical thinking came in at #2 on this list.

The social skills pandemic

Digital technology is beautiful.

I’m a huge fan of what it’s contributed to and enabled in society. Yet, I’m also aware of what we’ve lost.

I feel like we struggle to talk with and engage with each other more as the years pass by. I heard from organisations recently how their next generation of talent struggles to do simple things outside of a screen.

More data on this is now coming to light.

That’s why it’s no surprise this report’s top 10 skills for the future are stuffed with social skills like:

  • Leading: As workplaces become more collaborative and less hierarchical, the ability to lead and influence others is no longer restricted to the C-suite.

  • Empathy and Active Listening: With remote work and digital communication becoming the norm, the need for empathy and active listening skyrockets. These skills are vital for effective communication and teamwork, particularly when face-to-face interactions are limited.

  • Emotional Intelligence: High EQ, represented by these social skills, is increasingly seen as a predictor of success, sometimes even over IQ. It’s not just about being smart. It’s about being smart with people.

Evolving & emerging skills

I find we never do enough skill health checks.

Which is weird, IMO.

They’re the objects that grant us the power to improve our earnings and freedom, yet we don’t tend to them like you would a garden. Your skills need constant attention in the form of watering and pruning ya know.

  • Every quarter I recommend you do this:
  • Open a doc or grab a notebook
  • Create a 3-column table
  • Place these 3 headers – ‘expiring’, ‘evolving’ and ‘emerging’ in one of the column headers
  • Now, the good stuff. Reflect on your current skills and place each of them in the best column.

The power of this exercise enables you to:

  1. Chuck out the skills which no longer serve you and the world
  2. Double down on the skills that can give you a performance advantage
  3. Identify advantageous skills to add to separate you from the crowd

To help you with the last two columns, here’s what the World Economic Forums identified as the most pressing evolving and emerging skills across industries:

Skills are the biggest barrier to success

This is true for both you personally, and organisations.

We cannot understate the importance of skills in life and work. We each partake in the career marketplace. The currency in this market is skills.

The better skills you have, the better opportunities you can unlock.

You will see the reverse of this on the company side. For any company to succeed, they need the people with the best skills. And, those with the best skills can command the best opportunities.

Are you following me? Good.

We see this backed up in more data from the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report. The single biggest barrier to businesses evolving is skills.

We have two big opportunities as L&D operators and leaders here:

1/ Focus deeply on your skills

As those often responsible for helping others improve, we tend to forget ourselves.

Don’t make this mistake.

You play in the career marketplace with the rest of the world. Spend time investing in the skills explored above with the how-to frameworks shared last time. These will be your route to being a high-performing operator with opportunities knocking at your door and a strategic L&D leader, should that be the path you want.

Pair these human skills with the 7 skills L&D pros need today and you will be unstoppable.

2/ Crafting the right skills strategies

Let’s be real, most companies have no clue what skills they have or need.

I see a lot of posturing online but very few have a real grasp on this. In next week’s chat, I’m going to share ideas and examples to help you close your company’s skills gap. For now, I’ll say this.

Lean on your internal and external market data to focus on the right skills, not more skills.

Too many of these fancy skill-based organisation strategies are focused on opinions rather than concrete evidence.

Questions to consider right now are:

  • Do I have a view of the key skills my organisation needs to succeed today
  • If not, how can I get this? (talent management data, HR and L&D systems etc)
  • Are these skills aligned with my organisation’s goals?
  • What are the skills we need to be successful in the next 3 years? Future-proof your workforce
  • How do I get the answers to these in the simplest and most minimal way? This is very important ←

You can learn more about skill-based organisations in this piece from Degreed.

Final thoughts

In sum:

  • Don’t forget to invest in your own skills
  • Focus on the right skills, not more skills
  • Skill strategies are worthless without the right data

Also read: The 5 skills that matter for work and how to build them

Before you go… 👋

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

You can join me every Tuesday morning for more tools, templates and insights for the modern L&D pro in my weekly newsletter.


The 5 Skills That Matter For The Future of Work And How To Build Them

Ok, we kick off our series at the most logical place.

The beginning. Of course!

Now we’ve solved that mystery, let’s get serious (or as serious as my brain will allow me)

I hope you’ve noticed the weekly report breakdowns in Tuesday’s edition. I mean, I’m really hoping. Otherwise, I might be heartbroken.

→ At this point, I’ve analysed nearly 20 reports on the Future of Skills.

Yes, riveting, I’m aware.

Over the next month, my goal is to unpack the key insights with you. I aim to equip you with the stuff you actually need to know and how to apply it in your work and career.

Our first stop is getting to the good stuff immediately.

The 5 skills that matter in the Future of Work

I hate presentations where you wait an hour or two for the answer.

That’s not how I work, so here’s the headline data you need to know.

From my report crunching, these 5 skills appeared in the top 10 of every single one I read.

We can call these the top trending skills across the dataset.

If you take only one thing away from today’s conversation, let it be this:

 Double down on these 5 skills to go far in your career.

Simple, right?

And… maybe an even more important takeaway, the future is certainly human-powered.

Trust but verify: The data behind this

The last year of report breakdowns has given me a Sherlock Holmes worth of investigative material.

I’m not going to list every single report. I highly doubt you’ll delve into them as it’s my job to make it easier for you after all. However, these are the 5 companies from which I’ve pulled the most insights with their large reach.

  • Microsoft
  • Boston Consulting Group
  • McKinsey & Company
  • World Economic Forum
  • Bain & Company

You’ve probably seen breakdowns from these in past editions.

Find a library of these here ←

The great disruptor: Generative AI

2023 will go down as the year of AI.

Each of the reports I’ve analysed takes in the meteoric rise of this technology and how it influences our modern skills. I don’t believe we can talk about skills this year without those two little letters in AI. The way we live and work is obviously affected by this.

It’s happening whether we like it or not.

The real question is how does it impact the skills we need to succeed?

From my analysis so far my bet is firmly on doubling down on our human skills. With each new report I sink my brain into, this only solidifies the need to tap into our most human abilities.

We must be aware of this societal shift but not consumed by it.

An ominous statement I’m aware.

Deconstructing the 5 skills

Fret not, I’m not going to leave you high and dry with no actionable takeaways.

Let’s dive into each of the 5 skills to unpack what they mean and how you can nurture these in your work.

1/ Analytical Judgement

This goes beyond merely crunching numbers or drawing conclusions from a set of data. It’s a cognitive process that involves several interconnected abilities:

  1. Critical Thinking
    This is the foundational element of analytical judgement. Critical thinking enables you to objectively evaluate information and issues by breaking them down into their core components.

    It involves questioning assumptions, identifying biases, and understanding various viewpoints.

  2. Problem-Solving
    Analytical judgement is often employed in problem-solving scenarios. It involves a combination of creative thinking to generate solutions and analytical thinking to evaluate them.

  3. Logical Reasoning
    This is the ability to sequence information in a way that allows for sound conclusions. Logical reasoning often involves the use of frameworks or models to make sense of a complex situation.

    Basically, it makes the complex sound simple.

  4. Decision-Making
    Ultimately, analytical judgement is aimed at making informed decisions.

    You synthesise all the information you’ve gathered and weigh against the potential risks and benefits, to choose the best course of action.

→ How to Improve

  • Explore critical thinking exercises: Seek out different points of view. Be intentional in how you assimilate information to make your conclusions.

  • Get comfy with data: Understanding the basics of data analysis can your thinking processes.

  • Decision-Making frameworks: Familiarise yourself with popular decision-making frameworks like SWOT analysis or the Eisenhower Box to improve your decision-making skills.

2/ Creative Thinking

I get this one can always sound a bit ambiguous.

Let’s bring some structure to this together.

Creative thinking is not just an innate talent but a skill that can be developed and honed. It’s a cognitive process that allows you to break free from conventional thought patterns and explore new ways of solving problems.

Its various dimensions include:

  1. Divergent Thinking
    The ability to generate multiple solutions to a single problem.

    Unlike convergent thinking, which aims to find the single best answer to a problem, divergent thinking opens up the field of possibilities.

  2. Innovation
    Creative thinking is closely tied to innovation.

    It’s about not just solving problems but doing so in new and unique ways that add value.

  3. Imagination
    The ability to visualise scenarios and solutions that do not yet exist. Imagination allows you to explore ‘what could be,’ providing a playground for your creative thoughts.

  4. Flexibility
    Creative thinking often involves the ability to switch between different types of thought processes and perspectives.

  5. Risk-Taking
    Creative thinking often involves stepping out of your comfort zone and being willing to take risks. This doesn’t mean reckless abandon but a calculated approach to trying something new.

→ How to Improve

  • Collaborate with Others: Different perspectives can spark new ideas, so don’t pass up the chance to connect with your fellow humans.

  • Set aside time for creativity: Whether it’s a ‘creative hour’ each week or a day each month, make time for brainstorming and free thinking. I like to partake in a bit of mind-wandering myself.

3/ Digital Intelligence

I hope this is a straightforward one.

We live in a world dominated, connected and integrated with digital technology. The best way to survive and thrive in it is by understanding how to leverage all of its tools.

You can’t stick your head in the sand anymore because that sand is now a digitally connected landscape.

Your digital intelligence is a blend of technical proficiency, digital citizenship, and cognitive skills.

Here’s a more nuanced look at its various components:

  1. Technical proficiency
    Understanding how to operate various digital tools and platforms, from basic software like Microsoft Office to more specialised tools like Adobe Creative Suite or programming languages.

  2. Digital literacy
    Beyond just knowing how to use tools, digital literacy involves understanding the “language” of these tools.

    This includes everything from understanding user interfaces to interpreting data analytics.

  3. Protect your data
    With the increasing number of cyber threats, a key aspect of digital intelligence is understanding how to protect oneself and your organisation from digital risks.

    This includes everything from password management to understanding how to identify phishing scams.

  4. Be good 
    Tech use involves understanding the ethical implications of your digital actions. Think about copyright laws and understand the societal impact of algorithms.

  5. Adaptability
    The digital landscape is ever-changing. New tools and platforms emerge daily. Be an early adopter always.

→ How to Improve

  • Experiment: Try new tools and don’t be afraid to fail. You gotta find what works for you and enhances your life and work. Ignore the market.

  • Engage in digital conversations: Blogs, social media and newsletters (like this one) can keep you in the loop of the latest, greatest and most useful stuff you need to know.

4/ Adaptability

I know this is an overused word both in life and work.

Yet, we can’t deny its importance. Essentially, it’s being a chameleon and moving with change rather than resisting it. A real mind-f**k for our biology.

Although it sounds simple, it’s a more complex interplay of several attributes and attitudes:

  1. Emotional resilience
    The ability to stay calm under pressure and maintain a positive outlook despite challenges.

    Let’s be real, this is super hard and to be quite honest, I don’t have all the answers to it. We each have our own methods.

  2. Learning agility: Be willing to quickly learn new information and skills, especially in the face of new challenges. This enables you to smoothly pivot in your career.

  3. Open-mindedness 
    We all need to listen to others’ perspectives.

    Being willing to change your own views and approaches when presented with new information is hard, yet can be a great unlock for each of us.

→ How to Improve

  • Embrace Change: Mix up small habits in your daily routine to become more comfortable with change. Take different paths when you go for a walk or go to the gym at a different time. Make the mind build new experiences.

  • Seek different experiences: The more diverse your experiences, the more adaptable you’ll become. This could mean taking on different types of projects at work or travelling to new places.

  • Listen closely: Spend more time actually listening to people rather than considering your response. You’ll be amazed at what you can pick up.

5/ Social Influence

Don’t get confused.

This has nothing to do with having a large online following or being popular. This is a nuanced skill that involves a range of competencies and attributes.

Here’s a more in-depth look:

  1. Communication
    This is the cornerstone of social influence. This is more than talking to fellow humans. It’s about actively listening and being able to read between the lines.

  2. Emotional Intelligence
    Often classed as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as those of others. A high emotional intelligence can help to navigate social situations effectively, build rapport, and influence people positively.

  3. Leadership Skills
    This isn’t about directing people but inspiring and motivating them to achieve a common goal.

  4. Credibility
    To influence others, you need to be seen as credible and trustworthy. This means shaving a track history of actually doing the things you talk about.

→ How to Improve

  • Get comfortable talking: Whether it’s through public speaking, talking to a friend or watching others. Improving your communication is key to increasing your social influence.

  • Build Emotional Intelligence: Practice empathy and active listening to understand others better. Easier said than done, of course.

  • Be consistent: Do what you say you will do and live by your actions not just words.

Final thoughts

Ok friend. Let’s leave it here for today.

Next time, we’ll explore the next 5 year outlook for the skills economy.

You might also like

Before you go… 👋

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

You can join me every Tuesday morning for more tools, templates and insights for the modern L&D pro in my weekly newsletter.

Artificial intelligence Skills

How IKEA Upskilled 8,500 Employees Using AI To Boost Sales by $1.4 Billion

I’m going to walk you through a revolutionary approach by IKEA.

The Swedish furniture behemoth who used an AI-driven skills strategy to transform their call centre workforce into interior design advisors.

This initiative aimed to improve customer service while allowing an AI bot, aptly named Billie, to handle routine customer inquiries.

It’s a tale of innovation, learning, and a dash of machine intelligence.

Curious about how they pulled it off? Let’s dive in.

L&D Tools Skills

How Data-Informed L&D Design Unlocks Better Solution Design

Leveraging a data-informed approach has more benefits than just in your work.

As L&D pros, we constantly hear the drum beat of “We need to get better with data”.

That’s cool. But no one ever explains why we need to do it (you might say it’s obvious, but stick with me here). Let’s take a shared experience many of us can understand: Taking your driving license test.