The New Role for Managers in Workplace Learning

Skills are the currency of the expertise economy, and managers have a vital role for building successful learning cultures.

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What’s the biggest threat facing businesses today? When PricewaterhouseCoopers polled CEOs across the world about this at the end of 2018, the top three responses were virtually tied: overregulation, policy uncertainty, and availability of key skills. The data shows that for many global leaders, the concern over skill gaps outranks trade conflicts, cyber threats, geopolitical uncertainty, and other issues that regularly dominate the news cycle.

To me, this finding came as little surprise. As chief learning officer of Degreed and coauthor of The Expertise Economy, a book about the urgent need to upskill and re-skill the workforce, I travel across the world working with businesses and professional organizations. Executives are worried about how to build an agile workforce that’s constantly developing new skills so that they can respond to the changing technologies and dynamics of business.

One of the most important suggestions I offer them: It’s time to revolutionize how we think about and manage skill development in the workplace.

A new survey by Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning shows just how much change is needed at the managerial level. Only 40% of workers agreed that their manager helps them to understand what skills they need to advance in their careers. More than 1 in 5 (22%) workers said their managers do not encourage or enable learning at all, and just 17% said their managers help create a plan or set goals for developing skills.

These figures are dismal, but not surprising. While companies talk more and more about the importance of skill-building initiatives, many simply don’t know what actions to take. With change in the workplace happening so fast, managers can no longer focus on multiyear development strategies directing employees to climb the corporate ladder.

Today, individuals are owning much more of their development. But there’s also a vital new role for managers.

A commitment to learning needs to begin at the top, with C-suite leadership communicating a vision and mission for skill development. For any plan to be successful, employees will need to see the value and embrace it. It’s up to leaders in the organization to support that commitment and make sure learning happens. That’s why managers are really the linchpin of a successful learning culture.

Establish Learning Plans

Managers should meet individually with their reports to discuss plans to upskill and re-skill.

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