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4 Steps to Fill the Digital Skills Gap at Your Agency

The half-life of tech skills is shrinking. And that means skills gaps are growing at an exponential rate. Buying our way out of a tech skills deficit is no longer sustainable, either fiscally or operationally.

Agencies need a sustainable approach to meet the digital skills demand. They need to develop a culture of learning, according to Tony Holmes at Pluralsight, a tech workforce development company.

“A culture of learning is an environment that encourages, supports and recognizes learning as the lifeblood of not just personal growth, but organizational growth,” Holmes said.

Implementing a culture of learning will organically produce creative thinkers and problem-solvers. And, it has the power to positively impact at least five (including the top three) risks identified in the NASCIO State CIO Top 10 Enterprise Risks for 2022, not least of which is staff recruitment and retention.

The most important element to fostering this culture requires a cultural mind shift, and a deliberate, committed effort, particularly from the top. Holmes shared four best practices to create a
culture of learning at your agency.

Demonstrate the Priority of Learning

Historically, organizational attitudes view learning as time away from work. But learning is actually a key component to work, especially in this fast-paced digital world. Executives, leaders and managers need to understand this. And more, they need to champion it.

“Some of the best organizations I worked with have leaders who attend training with employees, saying, ‘I’m in there with you. Learning is as important to the C-suite as it is for everybody else,’” Holmes said.

“When you start seeing leadership lead by example, it resonates throughout the agency.”

Have Champions Across Roles and Departments

Of course, agencies don’t just need executives to change the culture. Everyone must buy in. To this end, a team of champions, from a variety of roles and departments, who understand the profound impact of a learning culture is irreplaceable. No amount of forced conscription to a team or project can replace the boost that harnessing passion can bring, Holmes said.

Make Training Accessible and Inviting

Many agencies deliver training as a “push” endeavor, forcing employees to learn skills the agency thinks they should be learning. Instead, they should shift to a “pull” approach, providing resources, such as Pluralsight’s library of 7,000- plus online courses, for employees to chart their own growth path — not just in specific areas, but in all aspects of learning. This attracts employees to take learning into their own hands.

Establish a Chief Learning Officer

A chief technology officer (CTO) focuses on investing in next-generation technology. But who will plan the equivalent strategic investment in staff to support the technology? Purchasing talent is no longer sustainable, especially as the skills shortage deepens. Agencies need an executive thinking about the future of talent development, and planning organic talent growth as a strategic priority.

“Everyone has a personal responsibility for theirlearning, but organizations can drive that from the top down through the chief learning officer,” Holmes said.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide “How to Provide People-Oriented Services: A Guide for State & Local Public Servants.”

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