Employee learning and development has perhaps never been as critical as it is today. Technology and other factors have completely changed how people work and live—constant change is now the norm, as is the overcommitted and undertrained employee.
The skills gap itself presents a significant challenge. Companies need to assess which skills are needed and which ones are lacking in their organization and respond quickly with a learning strategy. Employees also face hurdles—they need to keep up with their day-to-day work and find more time for learning. But recent studies suggest that workers feel an additional pressure—they want their employers to provide training, but they fear that asking for it will make them appear incompetent. Consider these findings from recent studies:
- About half of workers responding to a survey by Sitel Group said their employer penalizes them for not having the right skills, and about one-third said they have avoided asking for training for fear of seeming incompetent.
- In the same study, 26 percent of employees said they have not attended, participated in or completed training in the past because their manager did not encourage them to attend or they felt their manager did not think it was important.
- More than a third of employees do not believe their employer understands their skills gaps and doesn’t offer training to help them advance, according to the Sitel study.
- Workers are struggling to remain relevant—according to a 2018 survey conducted by EdX, only a fifth of people consider their education from their college major to be translatable to their current field.
- In the EdX survey, 29 percent of respondents said they have completely changed fields since starting their first job after college.
While organizations must assume some of the responsibility, employees must also take charge—they cannot afford to do nothing, especially considering the World Economic Forum’s prediction that technology will disrupt 1.4 million U.S. jobs by 2026.
How can you overcome the fear of seeming incompetent? What can you do to gain more support from managers? How can you ensure you are getting the learning you need from employers? You must equip yourself, and here’s how:
1 Keep a learning wish list. Opportunities for learning and growth present themselves all the time, but people are usually too busy to notice or take advantage of them. A smart approach is to keep a learning wish list that includes features, applications and tools you are struggling with or would like to learn how to use. Be sure to include how you might apply those skills to your current tasks—providing managers with your own use case scenario can help them to better understand training’s value to you and to the organization.
2 Make learning part of your job. Commit to learning one new skill per day/per week/per month. It can be as simple as using Office’s @mentions feature or as advanced as creating workspaces to collaborate with PowerBI. Keep track of what you’ve learned and how it has improved your productivity to make your case for more training.
3 Make the case for more training. When your company is implementing new technology, find out why—Is it to smooth out a previously fragmented technology landscape? Is it to increase efficiency, productivity, innovation, and successful outcomes? Knowing why it’s being introduced strengthens your argument.
The good news is that organizations are beginning to prioritize employee learning and development. According to the 2018 State of the Industry report by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), per-employee spending on learning grew in 2017—the sixth consecutive year it has increased. For you, the employee, that means letting go of the idea that asking for training is akin to admitting incompetence. Indeed, it’s the opposite—the smartest people are the ones who ask for help.
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.