MIT SMR Connections
MIT SMR Connections is the custom content creation unit within MIT Sloan Management Review.
In this Q&A, Rashim Mogha, customer market leader for business and leadership development solutions at Skillsoft, provides an update on professional learning and development (L&D). She shares insights on L&D opportunities and trends, describes the educational needs of today’s millennial employees and business leaders, and discusses COVID-19’s current and future impact on workplace learning.
This conversation has been edited for clarity, length, and editorial style.
Q: According to a recent Gallup poll, only 4 out of 10 employees strongly agree that they have opportunities to learn and grow at work. What’s the reason behind the real — or perceived — lack of access to work-based learning?
Mogha: I believe it’s less a matter of too few learning opportunities and more about people having too little time in their schedules to utilize opportunities. I’m based in Silicon Valley, where there’s a huge startup culture; people work 16 to 18 hours a day. They can’t carve out time in their schedules to dedicate to learning. So for them, most learning is on the job.
L&D organizations need to start thinking about how to integrate learning into people’s day-to-day jobs and how to make it valuable so that not just individuals, but leadership teams as well, can carve out time for everybody to learn.
Q: Millennials — generally defined as people who are now about 25 to 40 years old — consistently rank L&D opportunities as a top career priority. What should employers do to meet this population’s needs?
Mogha: Gen X [now about 40 to 55 years old] was all about, “I’m dedicated to my work; I want to do what I have degrees in, and I’m going to give 200% to it.” Millennials are all about, “How do I integrate work into my life?” They see it as a holistic goal.
They’re also very resourceful. They’ve always had technology at their fingertips. They grew up learning to use the internet and looking for content. So they are curators, not necessarily creators. For example, when I learned coding, I understood the basics of coding. Millennials do that today too, but they don’t always code from scratch. They leverage places like GitHub and other resources to get base content, then work on it to make it better.
So how do you approach this generation? With quick, experiential learning. Millennials like to access just-in-time information: “Today I’m stuck at home. What microlearning can I take? What short video can I watch to move on to the next piece or the next level in my work?” Look for ways to help people build 10 or 15 minutes into their daily work lives to integrate learning.
Millennials specifically do not want to be in cookie-cutter mode. So another option is to ask them, “How much time do you have to invest in yourself today — 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 45 minutes?” Giving them that flexibility to invest in themselves, depending on what their schedule looks like, changes the game. It gives them back the power to drive their learning.
In addition, millennials are used to working with multimodalities. Think about providing opportunities for consumption in different media forms: audiobooks, microlearning videos, podcasts, PDFs on Kindle, books.
Finally, it’s important to build a continuous-learning culture. Millennials like learning every day. They’re innovative — and they’re not afraid to change jobs. They want to find the right companies that work for them and are invested in them. So companies have to up their game to provide the right culture and growth opportunities to help this generation become a productive and engaged workforce.
Q: It seems as if today’s leaders need to engage in continuous learning themselves, in addition to providing it for their employees. Could you speak to that?
Mogha: When we ask customers about their biggest challenges related to digital transformation, they say, “Leaders making decisions on yesterday’s information.” So I think that more organizations now recognize the critical nature of developing leaders. They’re paying attention to it not just as a “nice to have,” but as a true business sustainability model.
That means leaders need to recognize the importance of developing themselves. Invest in yourself so that you’re able to better manage people who might be younger joining your team with different types of expertise. Listen to them, learn from them, establish the proper vocabulary and collaboration skills, and still manage the dynamics of a team to get things done.
Management’s relationship with L&D has also changed significantly. Five or 10 years ago, L&D teams would decide what programs were needed, and the company would roll them out. Today, business leaders play an equal role in those decisions. For instance, as a business leader, I’ve requested courses on encouraging diverse thinking in innovation programs and on changing long-standing team mindsets. Business leaders are now partners with L&D teams in a big way, helping them determine what the business’s learning needs are.
Q: Where are Skillsoft customers focusing their efforts in terms of reskilling or upskilling employees?
Mogha: We are in the middle of a fourth Industrial Revolution. None of us will be doing the same work we’re doing today five years from now, maybe not even two years from now. We are already seeing technologies like automation having an impact on the job roles. People who used to work with spreadsheets and create tabular reports have, or will soon have, tools at their fingertips to automatically do the work they used to do. They might take on new roles as data analysts. They’ll have to consume and look at the data differently and build patterns out of it. How do they reskill or upskill themselves for the jobs to bring in the creative side? They do that by upskilling and reskilling themselves.
With so many businesses moving from traditional “on-prem” models to software-as-a-service subscriptions, we’ve seen high demand for courses on the business aspects of cloud computing. But the people who take these courses aren’t necessarily technologists. They’re business people, finance people, and HR people who want to understand what moving to cloud means from a business perspective.
We’ve also seen an increase in demand for productivity and tools learning, such as the Agile methodology and DevOps, and even Excel and Office 365. And then there’s demand for improving skills in areas such as establishing effective virtual teams, communicating with confidence, maximizing your time, and being a great listener. That all speaks to a strong need to have an organizational platform that can supply the full spectrum of learning options covering the whole enterprise.
Q: Could you share examples of organizations that are doing things right in terms of providing L&D opportunities?
Mogha: A global financial institution and a leading scientific-engineering organization both come to mind. One thing they’re both doing well is recognizing that having a mindset to reskill internally — to take the expertise that you have, but make it better — happens at that intersection of technical skills and business skills. Both recognized that their business models are changing and therefore the work people do that has value is changing. So how do they help people become more digitally intelligent? By building a path to digital competence. It starts with thinking about what skill sets and mindsets they need to be more digital and giving everyone the vision they need to go in the same direction. They have done a good job of identifying who and how, and of using our digital transformation content, even for leaders — because again, these people are leading teams with new technology and creating their paths to digital dexterity.
Q: How has COVID-19 affected workplace learning, and what will L&D look like when the pandemic has passed?
Mogha: The pandemic has affected the way we live. We communicate differently now. We learn differently. We do business differently. We’ve moved to a virtual world.
That means individuals and leaders must think about problems differently as well. They have to be innovative. They have to preemptively design solutions that the customers haven’t even started articulating as problems. They have to look at how to be agile and nimble. They have to practice empathy in their conversations, not just with employees, but with customers and vendors. They have to build an agile, empathetic, customer-centric, innovative culture that values diversity so that the solutions they create work for everybody. And they have to weave it in the DNA of the company.
That’s why there’s more responsibility now than ever on L&D teams to bring in solutions that help leaders achieve this. Skillsoft pivoted in a big way in 2020 — for example, by building our courses around how to work in shared spaces. We’ve added diversity, equity, and inclusion courses because the underlying causes of the social unrest we saw last year are something we don’t want to see continue.
From a technology perspective, we added a lot more content to our library as well. We introduced Leadercamps, where we basically pick a topical leadership challenge, bring in an expert, and deliver that value to our customers. We’ve seen that people have really invested in spending time in learning during the pandemic because they realize that what’s been thrown at them isn’t an anomaly. It’s going to be our new normal moving forward.
Again, that’s why continuous learning is so important. The good thing is that we all recognize that; leaders recognize that. The next piece is to create those pathways to continuous learning. With every little step, people are future-proofing themselves, making sure that they are prepared for the new model.