In 2019, pre-pandemic, the talk of many company HR departments was all about how fast jobs were changing and the need to teach new skills.  Today the Great Resignation and continuing baby boomer retirements have thinned the ranks of the workforce making this subject that much more important!  Productivity has taken center stage. This has increased the importance of professional development departments developing an Upskilling Strategy.   Welcome to post-pandemic Up Skilling 2.0.  How can associations participate during this next phase?

Typically, the primary venue for providing proprietary (expert-driven relevant content) information has been through annual meeting sessions.  Over the last decade, associations have enhanced content delivery through an online learning portal.  Associations have prided themselves in sharing member expert proprietary information.  It is an expected member benefit.  However, when it comes to helping professionals adapt by acquiring new skills, associations have been behind corporate efforts to formally upskill and reskill.  That is about to change!   

I recently set out to talk to eLearning experts about how associations could do more by accurately defining skills for industry jobs, creating graphical career and job pathways, and offering bundles of existing online courses around a specific upskilling objective. 

These skills are not confined to the trendy tech topics of artificial intelligence and machine learning or even data science, more than ever associations (communities of practice) are looking at skilling community members in such soft topics as change management, emotional intelligence, teamwork, problem-solving, and creativity.  Courses are currently available for licensing which would allow associations to offer an upskilling curriculum within weeks (more on that later).  Now here’s getting back to my interviews with Learning & Development pundits.

I’ll start with our inhouse Web Courseworks eLearning Hype Curve Predictions guru, Andy Hicken, and what he had to say pre-pandemic:

An article in none other than The Atlantic digs into how the United States Navy anticipates a  future of work in which traditional expertise is abandoned in favor of “hybrid” employees who can (in the words of one quoted expert) “be all, do all, and pivot on a dime to solve any problem.”

Like learning culture, the future of work is driven by the sense that skills quickly grow irrelevant: “The half-life of skills is getting shorter,” says another expert quoted in the Atlantic story. Crucially, the short half-life of skills is tied to the sense that artificial intelligence (see below) and automation will quickly take over any new human competency. Here, then, is the connection to learning culture: both learning culture and the future of work hope for employees who pick up new expertise on the job, probably from eLearning, and implement it quickly.

The best skill is the ability to pick up new skills quickly – even if imperfectly.

For workers, this sounds head-spinning; thus we have ATD advising us to befriend the machines and build personal resilience.

On the corporate side, eLearning analyst, Craig Weiss, of The Craig Weiss Group has been studying this need for upskilling, for several years, especially from a systems point of view.  He stressed the importance of getting the definitions right.  “What job are we talking about and what specific skills need to be trained.”  He pointed me to his massive online repository of knowledge documents he calls his Learning System Library to locate his “skills template” and the questions vendors should be asked around supporting upskilling. Questions like…

1. Did you create your own skills taxonomy? 

2. Does your data come from any of the following sources? (EMSI, Burning Glass, IBM Talent Watson, Another 3rd party deep integration provider, Job Boards, LinkedIn, Public sources, etc.) If yes, please list which ones

I remember back about ten years ago when the Credit Union National Association set out to define “competencies” for various positions in a credit union.  Today there are 3rd party sources for such information.  Nevertheless, it made sense then and makes more sense now that the association (trade or professional) takes on the responsibility to define the skills needed for each position in their industry or profession.  

Here is one example: 

At the American Planners Association, the Education Director, Kimberley Jacques, is working on re-organizing their online course catalog to emphasize upskilling. She said APA is in the process of creating learning maps and development activities associated with those paths. They are evaluating APA existing online content to identify content gaps. Decisions will be made to balance the impact and effectiveness of the content to define the entire learning journey. All upskilling courses will provide methodologies, techniques, and novel approaches that help a learner enact effective change with a deep understanding of when and how to use what they are learning. The APA learning map will highlight the pathway a learner takes to gain knowledge, skills, and outcomes.

When talking about Upskilling 2.0 we cannot ignore the expediency of course aggregators like Open Sesame. They will bundle existing courses from their vast catalog of existing content.  Open Sesame has been promoting Upskilling with a webinar available online called How and why future skilling your public sector workforce is more important than ever to promote upskilling and reskilling. Open Sesame will work with associations to create upskilling curricula by selecting the courses desired to meet a job role’s upskilling goal.

One example from Open Sesame is a bundle of courses organized to cover the topic of Change Management.  Course title examples include:

  •         Raising Resiliency: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
  •         Leading Change: McKinsey’s 7-S Change Model
  •         Managing Change
  •         The Manager’s Role During Change

Taking advantage of already available courses is the quickest way to offer your members an upskilling curriculum.  Consider augmenting these courses with association-developed content.

We are now post-pandemic; association digital transformations have come a long way. Association Boards are investing more in online learning initiatives for members. It is now time for associations to consider an upskilling strategy for their professional development curricula.  Like the American Planners Association, it is important to look at all course offerings and organize the next generation of content around the skills needed by tomorrow’s workforce.

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