By Kelly Rider, Global Lead, Curriculum Design and Development, SAP

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Assess current skills, anticipate future needs, and develop the workforce accordingly.

With most companies struggling to respond to training that was needed yesterday, who has time to predict what learning the workforce of tomorrow needs? And even if there was enough time to think about the future, who could possibly know how to spot skills that may soon be obsolete? The answer is simple: Invest in strategic learning programs that make talent development a corporate priority.

Learning plays an essential role in developing talent, and there are certain tactics that talent development professionals can implement to ensure their employees’ skills stay uptodate. Here is what your talent development team can do now to set your organization’s workforce up for future success.

Identify critical skills for the future

How do you know where employees need to develop their skills to evolve with changes in the business? It begins by taking a deeper look at the workforce and understanding what the organization has today, what is needed, and how to get there.

Strategic workforce planning is an important activity that assesses how well the talent development function is positioned and aligned to achieve the company’s vision for the future. This includes identifying critical skills most needed to drive the business forward. Once these current and future skills gaps are known, strategic learning programs can be put in place to close them.

Can you still prepare your talent for the future without a workforce plan? Yes, but as an example, this might mean that you will continue to offer cursive when what your employees really need is coding skills.

Provide targeted development opportunities

Contrary to popular belief, learning is something that is done for employees, not to them. Corporate training often gets a bad reputation when employees can’t see the value in why it’s being offered. To enable employees to drive business goals, learning should become something people run to, rather than run from. This requires applying some rigor to the learning portfolio and only offering what’s needed.

In other words, if a company is offering learning that is not targeted at closing critical skills gaps or providing professional development targeted at growing the workforce, it should get rid of it.

At SAP, we retired more than 90 percent of our learning assets when we implemented our cloudbased learning management system (LMS). We audited more than 50,000 assets and only migrated those deemed most important to support the business and our people.

To help employees quickly find what they need, we are putting conventions in place to ensure all learning assets going into the new system are tagged and assigned competencies. We also use the system to build rolebased learning programs that prescribe recommended learning activities (formal, social, onthejob), so employees have a clear view of the knowledge and skills they need to develop.

Imagine how different a talent development function would be viewed if employees knew the areas where the business needed them to focus, and had access to programs that enabled them to do so. Take time to analyze and rationalize the offerings, and then retire the assets that do not directly improve performance and affect the business. Doing so will send a powerful message to employees that they can and should expand their skills to grow with changes in the business.

Design for the future workforce

According to an Oxford Economics report sponsored by SAP, the top skills needed for today and in the future are cloud, mobile, analytics, and social. Why would a learning design not change to reflect how people work?

Today’s savvy employees want quick access to enablement in the moment of need. They also want to be able to connect, collaborate, and contribute to what they learn. HR analyst Josh Bersin defines this as a “digital learning experience” that allows people to rapidly access content they need, helps them to find experts, and advises them on the formal training appropriate to their roles.

SAP’s learning architecture incorporates formal (instructorled and elearning), social, performance support, and onthejob experiences to make the most out of the learning experience. As an example, we launched a selfpaced enterprisewide learning program called the Talent Journey using our social platform, SAP Jam.

Content for an entire year’s worth of performance management activities were organized by role across our annual process via modular lessons, quickstart guides, performance support tools, and videos that our employees can access at any time. HR experts monitor discussion threads, and feedback from employees allows the program team to make quick adjustments to content where needed. It is a collaborative and evolving onthejob resource that simplifies how managers and employees engage throughout the year.

As another example, we are employing massive open online courses (MOOCs) to capture our leadership audience of approximately 7,500. Using a modular approach, lessons are organized into smaller chunks of learning that can be consumed in less than 10 minutes. Content is delivered using a variety of formats, including videos, job aids, and online discussions that leaders can access on their mobile devices. Peer learning—such as fellowships, job shadowing, or higher touch support via our internal mentoring and coaches community—is encouraged and embedded into the curriculum as gentle reminders to these valuable and free resources.

Key activities are captured and tracked in our LMS and reported back to the business. In some cases, we include virtual facilitated sessions to debrief and share what was learned. This approach represents a new way of learning at SAP, and will continue to evolve over time.

Advancements and innovations in technology will influence and change the way we all work. Don’t lose your audience with outdated approaches to your learning offerings. Look for ways to push your internal content developers or thirdparty suppliers to provide a digital learning experience that is designed in a way that people expect: simple, easy to consume, and accessible.

The long run

Learning plays a critical role in preparing your workforce for the future and spotting skills that may soon be obsolete. Get started by identifying the makeup of your current workforce and the skills needed to drive the business forward. Use learning as a strategic lever to close skills gaps by providing targeted programs. Create a digital learning experience that takes advantage of technology and allows employees to access content quickly and collaborate with others. Taking these actions will let employees know your company is invested in their longevity and growth.

To learn more about the importance of simplification in the workplace, check out the HR Simple Truths Digital Hub. From research studies to customer stories and webinars, there are a number of assets to take advantage of.

This piece originally published on Talent Development.

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