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Employees use only 54% of newly learned skills, while a third of skills are no longer relevant - Gartner

Employees are applying only 54% of the new skills they learn, despite the number of skills required for a single job increasing by 10% year-over-year, according to new research from Gartner.

On top of that, Gartner data reveals that 33% of the skills needed three years ago are no longer relevant.

The business impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with other business disruptions like executive leadership turnover, continue to amplify the need for new skills as business strategies shift and employees adapt to new ways of working, the analyst says.

In response to the fast-changing skills environment, nearly two-thirds of HR leaders have had to take a reactive approach to addressing skill needs, which results in employees failing to apply almost half of the new skills they learn.

“While the majority of organisations are utilising a reactive approach to skills building that doesn’t work, most are still striving to be more predictive to get ahead of skill shifts,” says Sari Wilde, managing vice president in the Gartner HR practice.

“The problem is that a predictive approach predicated on HR identifying a specific skill set need for the future also fails.”

The research shows HR leaders are under pressure from all stakeholders to get ahead of future skills needs. 

Gartner’s 2020 Shifting Skills Survey for HR Executives reveals that 60% of HR leaders report pressure from the CEO to ensure employees have the skills needed in the future.

The same survey found that, compared with three years ago, 69% of HR executives report more pressure from employees to provide development opportunities that will prepare them for future roles.

"Unfortunately, predicting and committing to a defined set of future skills leads organisations to focus on the wrong skills. In fact, when HR leaders take a predictive approach to managing shifting skills, employees apply only 37% of the new skills they learn."

Gartner says the most effective HR functions use a dynamic skills approach focused on structuring HR and the organisation – people, systems and strategies – to be able to respond dynamically to changing skills needs. 

This approach helps HR sense shifting skills needs in real time, develop skills at the time of need and empowers employees to make informed skills decisions dynamically.

According to Gartner, leveraging a dynamic skills approach enables HR to do three critical things:

  • Sense shifting skills in real time. A dynamic skills approach anticipates skill shifts as they are occurring—rather than predicting the future—and adapts to those shifts in an iterative, course-corrective way. To sense shifting skills, organisations can facilitate cross-organisational networks of stakeholders that are sensitive to, and empowered to, address skills as they shift in real time.
  • Develop skills at the time of need. This approach goes beyond the realm of traditional learning and development (L&D) tactics, such as classroom training or curated e-learning libraries. To develop skills at the time of need, organisations are able to identify and implement skill accelerators — strategies HR can adapt by leveraging existing resources (e.g., content, people, skill adjacencies) to develop new skills solutions at speed.
  • Employees make skills decisions dynamically. A dynamic skills approach calls for two-way skills transparency between the organisation (e.g., what skills it needs, what skills it no longer needs, where it’s needs are unknown) and the employee (e.g., current skills and interests). HR is then able to create channels for employees and the organisation to exchange skills information, which facilitates a better match between employees and their organisation to pursue mutually beneficial and flexible skills development.

“Organisations that embrace a dynamic approach to developing skills find that employees are both learning the right skills and extracting the value from those skills in a way they do not within the reactive and predictive approaches,” says Wilde. 

“The result is that employees apply 75% of the new skills they learn.”

 The dynamic skills approach boosts other key talent outcomes as well, including a 24% improvement in employee performance and a 34% improvement in employees going above and beyond at work.