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Trouble Hiring? Develop Your People!

Canceled job announcements. Lists of candidates deemed “eligible” by HR, but lacking the required skills or potential. Candidates turning down government jobs for more lucrative and flexible offers elsewhere. Deepening skills gaps.

How do you get your mission done in a historically tight labor market that is making it nearly impossible to bring in the talent you need in your organization?

The answer: Train the people you have.  

Employees consistently rate the opportunity to learn as a top factor in choosing where to work — or deciding to head out the door for new opportunities. Digital natives expect learning to be personalized to their needs and preferences. This means accessing learning on demand, through multiple channels, to build both technical skills and critical capabilities for growth like leadership, strategic thinking, teamwork and collaboration.  

How can managers provide the education and development their people need and want, quickly and strategically? Here are five best practices to adopt in your organization.

1. Listen to your employees’ learning and development desires

Experiential learning is the way adults acquire skills that “stick.” Understanding the experiences your employees prefer will help you reap the benefits of investing in their development. Use automated listening posts — like surveys that ask structured and open-ended questions — to find out what skills and training your employees need, and how they want to develop. The goal is to uncover the drivers of their educational preferences — like the desire for more in-person learning to develop interpersonal skills, or the need to engage in training on their own flexible time schedule.  

2. Invest in team development for shared learning needs

All too often, we send one or two people to specialized training, only to discover later that most people in our organization would benefit from the same skills. Look for shared learning needs on the front end, so you know when to invest in larger group development. Even if the skills needed are technical, group education events — when designed as interactive, team-building experiences — can improve team dynamics and move your organization toward high performance.

3. Crowd-source learning

Equip your employees with the tools they need to find the learning that is right for them. Often, employees are already aware of the skills and experiences they need to improve. High quality instruction can be obtained through cost-effective, or even free, resources like YouTube, LinkedIn Learning or Google Scholar. Employees can even obtain needed credentials through educational providers like edX, a consortium of top flight universities that provide heavily discounted access to courses that count toward certifications and some degrees. Giving employees the freedom to choose the resource that works best for them improves the odds of their full engagement in improving their skills and performance.

4. Help employees see the connection between learning resources and their individual career path

Employees want to know that the time and effort they put into learning will deliver a return on their investment. Government leaders like the U.S. Department of Defense are creating the building blocks of a future learning ecosystem. Its Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative’s digital environment will connect employees to the learning they need based on the competencies they have today, and what they need to learn to progress in their chosen career.

5. Build learning and development into your organizational DNA

If we expect our employees to continuously learn and develop, our organizations must learn and develop alongside them. Workforce agility is only possible when organizations are designed for continuous improvement. Agencies should build learning and development systems that have constant change in mind. Systems should continuously assess people’s experiences with the instruction being delivered and their emerging needs for new skills. By embracing and enacting a willingness to learn and grow, organizations can nurture the curiosity, creativity and continuous improvement that engage and retain high performing employees. 

Being intentional about developing your employees is a win-win for all. Meeting employees’ current and future needs for learning with the growing number of resources available today — and connecting that growth to a career path — will help create a culture of continuous learning that keeps employees motivated to serve your organization and all of us who depend on it.   

Dr. Sydney Heimbrock is Chief Industry Advisor for Government at Qualtrics, where she uses her global experience transforming governments through investments in workforce development and policy reform to help federal, state and local government organizations design experiences that build public trust. She previously held various Federal executive positions including leadership of the President’s Management Agenda workforce initiatives under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Sydney works at the nexus of customer experience, human capital and process improvement to drive organizational transformation in government. She has designed and implemented numerous high impact programs across a diverse range of mission areas to reconnect employees with the people they serve and engage them in creating a culture of continuous improvement. Sydney holds degrees from Stanford, Syracuse, London School of Economics and Miami University of Ohio.

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