Adults are struggling to learn in today’s fast-paced world, and leaders are having a tough time finding employees who already have both the technical and soft skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. But Mika Nash said learning leaders can find ways to elevate workforce knowledge. Nash, the Academic Dean of Champlain College Online in the Division of Continuing Professional Studies, spoke with Chief Learning Officer about how to address skills gaps and how to create an online curriculum that is highly relevant, career-focused and immediately applicable.
Chief Learning Officer: How severe is the skills gap in our knowledge-focused age? Why is it so great?
Mika Nash: Because the landscape is changing so much, particularly in technical areas, there are employees coming in, prospective employees, who don’t have more advanced expertise in the technical areas. [Employers are] hiring folks with potential and putting them through training and education to get them to the place they would like them to be. But what we hear most often is perhaps even much more serious, and that is around the softer skills — critical thinking, problem solving, troubleshooting — which [are] central to an employee’s ability to be valuable, contribute and produce. A lot of organizations and institutions aren’t teaching to fill those skills gaps in an integrated way.
Chief Learning Officer: High-growth job categories tend to require higher social skills, analytic savvy and technical prowess. What’s one way today’s learning leaders can build these skills?
Nash: Create an environment in your workplace where you encourage fast failure. It’s okay to make mistakes. Fast failure is one of those ideas that’s used in business a lot where you want people to make mistakes quickly, learn from it and move on. That kind of environment creates innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and energizes people because they don’t feel paralyzed with this fear around “what if I make a mistake?” or “what if I don’t hit some kind of arbitrary standard?” Once you release people from that fear, people often work at a much higher level.
Chief Learning Officer: Adults want meaningful ways to grow their skills and advance their careers. How should corporate learning leaders partner with higher education programs to get what employees want and what the business needs?
Nash: If you’re struggling to do something — maybe you’re not hitting numbers or there’s an issue that continues to be thorny in your work environment — a wonderful way of managing that is working with someone who is an expert in the field, and those folks are at higher education institutions all over the country. Bring those folks in to help do a gap analysis around what we have, what do we need, and then to start making connections. Where can we get those skills, those competencies? Are there programs that offer these types of outcomes, certificate programs, etc.? When we start being very deliberate and mindful about our approach to support employees, and we bring higher education into the equation, there’s such an incredible benefit to employees but also to employers.
Chief Learning Officer: How can learning leaders make sure their curriculum is career-focused, highly relevant and immediately applicable in the workforce?
Nash: The best way to manage this both for learning leaders who are internal to the business place and working in higher education organizations is, have a really free flow of information and communication happening. I’m very uncomfortable with that firewall that can sometimes exist between the “pure” education and business; like, somehow, we shouldn’t be engaging with one another. The goal is to create lots of opportunities to hear what are the problems cropping up in the workplace. Make sure your curriculum is responsive and agile to be able to respond to those changes.
Chief Learning Officer: Is there a foolproof methodology CLOs can use to create rigorous online curriculum that promotes critical thinking skills and lifelong learning?
Nash: Nothing is ever foolproof, but there is an equation that makes sense. Have curriculum that is highly applied, relevant and current, and I truly mean highly applied; we’re not living in a land of theory here. Every theory, every idea should be attached to something real. If you have that and you have faculty who are, in the best of all possible worlds, practitioners in the field, asking critical questions and engaging student in ways that makes them think very deeply about the materials, you will have a curriculum that is immediately useful in the workplace. It’s not foolproof, but it is darn near perfect.
Alice Keefe is a Chief Learning Officer editorial intern. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.