The Learning & Development Podcast: Actually Addressing Skills Gaps with Simon Gibson

March 2, 2021

Written by Kiren Kahlon

Skills gap

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The Learning & Development podcast is hosted by our Chief Learning Officer David James. Featuring L&D leaders from across the globe, each conversation focuses on hot topics in the profession. This transcript is from the conversation between David and Simon Gibson on addressing skills gaps.

Listen to episode 64 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

David James: Welcome to The Learning & Development Podcast. I’m David James from Looop. In each episode, I chat with guests about what lights them up in the world of people development. In this episode, I’m speaking with Simon Gibson, an experienced and esteemed Learning OD and talent leader about really addressing skills gaps. Before we get into it, if you’re enjoying this podcast, please do give us a five-star rating on your podcast app of choice, and that will help others to find us. Thank you if you’ve done so already. Now, let’s get into it. Simon, welcome back to the Learning & Development Podcast.

Simon Gibson: Thank you very much. Pleased to be here.

David: You’re very much interested in the skills gap and its impact on organisations and economies. What are you seeing that’s causing you concern?

Simon: A big place to start! I suppose what’s causing me concern at the moment is twofold. One is a growing noise across high-level macroeconomics. We can talk to that shortly. There is a skill shortage, not just in our own country, not just in Europe, but globally. From a business sense, it makes a lot of sense to me, you can then say, “Well, we can’t just go out and recruit all these people to make our business successful. We’re going to have to grow some.” The other side is just the impact of our learning profession, some of the technologies, it’s not answering the exam question. If that’s the big exam question, we’ve gone off and answered a completely different question. Hopefully, we get to talk a bit about that today.

David: Yes, we certainly will. I’d certainly say the efforts so far would have been a big fail if it was an exam question. 

Simon: Yes. Must try harder.

David: Now, this situation with regards to skills has been building for a while now, and yet, so little progress seems to be made. Is it because few are really taking charge of addressing it?

Simon: Quick answer, yes. I go back to what I said at the start. You can find lots of this research and we’ll probably reference lots of it throughout this chat, World Economic Forum, UK reports, Microsoft’s just done an interesting report. I just found one before talking to you actually. CBI and McKinsey just before COVID. Again, I don’t want to get sucked into a big COVID debate, but interestingly, there’s lots of connecting narratives around what have people been doing for the last 10, 11, 12 months when they couldn’t go and do all these regular learning interventions? We will carry on. We will carry on.

David: This is a loaded question, I think it cuts to the heart a bit. To what extent is the rhetoric “We’ll invest more in training” part of the problem?

Simon: I’m doing well to sit on my hands! 

David: Put the boxing gloves on, Simon.

Simon: Let’s pick some of that apart. Training and learning are very different things. We know, and this is no disrespect to anybody that works in a teaching stand-up lecture-type environment, but that we’re creating a flawed system through our own education and most education institutions as you get older and leave school that then it seems business, or personally, you have to pick up. You’re taught at school, what does this mean in a metric table, or what does that mean in multiplication. What you’re not taught is how to apply– Can I just use coding as an example? What language do we code in? Everybody codes in the same language. It’s English, but it’s not because it’s English, they code in the same coding language. It’s growing faster than we can upskill.

Investing in training and maintaining this status quo of you’re a “learning professional”, you do “good stuff”. I liked David, so I’m going to go back to him and say, “Can I have some more of your good stuff?” In my experience, and what I’m seeing and hearing and feeling, is not addressing a skills gap, it’s just keeping a nice chat going. Broadly, this is where you do some good stuff, that makes me feel good. This is the old world in terms of pre-COVID, it makes me feel good. Lo and behold, look at some of the macro numbers around unemployment. Look at some of the macro numbers around youth unemployment, 16 to 24-year-olds, look at the technical challenges we have and businesses have had ironically being digitised, moving to automation, moving online. Moving online, what? That just sounds very 1980s, doesn’t it? It is still happening today. Why? Because businesses, teams that work in those businesses, haven’t invested, haven’t grown, haven’t developed, haven’t tried the right skills and capabilities.

Buying an LXP Filled With Content Is Not the Solution to Addressing Skills Gaps

David: Yes. So much for me smacks of infrastructure problems. It really struck me that David Cameron, the previous Prime Minister in the UK, would often say, “We’re invested in training. We’re going to invest in training.” He always used to drive me bonkers. I’m thinking, “What specifically do you mean here?” If we’re talking about sending people on training courses here, it just seems like a very easy solution that everybody kind of gets their head around to poorly defined problems that- “If these people aren’t working and they don’t have the skills, oh, give them training.” It just really grates me because not only does it remain in that language at a governmental level, I think it enters organisations at that level for which learning development there- we always talk about as being the order takers, sometimes we are the masters of our own downfall here by positioning these solutions to these complex problems ourselves.

If I just stick with the UK, and I know this only accounts for half of the listenership of the podcast, I’ve done some reading as far as the skills gaps concerned more broadly as you have. It’s been recognised in a report published by the Industrial Strategy Council. The report itself is called UK Skills Mismatch in 2030. I’ll post the link to it in the show notes. It’s highlighted that there are four key areas to the skills gap. 5 million workers could become acutely under-skilled in basic digital skills by 2030. 2.1 million workers are likely to be acutely under-skilled in at least one core management skill, so leadership, decision-making, or advanced communication. Of which 400,000 of those managers are also likely to be acutely under-skilled in basic digital. There seems to be some themes here. With 1.5 million workers likely to be acutely under-skilled in at least one STEM workplace skill, we’re talking science, technology, engineering, maths, and perhaps most disturbingly, 800,000 workers are likely to face an acute shortage in teaching and training skills, so the ability of those in the work and environment to upskill others. This under-skilling as the report states needs to be addressed, or the delivery of broad-based re-skilling efforts are likely to be significantly hampered. Should we in L&D be alarmed by this, Simon?

Simon: I’m going to have to say a big fat yes. I’ll build on your point of the research and some scary numbers. Just to put into the UK context, we’ve been bouncing around for probably the last 10 years, approximately 12 million people. I would probably argue it’s bigger, but let’s stick with the 12 million people who need significant reskilling in a role in the not too distant future. We’ve had- what, approximately a million people made redundant in this country in the last 12 months. We’ve got two-point-something million, not in education or training, 16 to 24 year-olds, we’ve got record levels of people on unemployment benefits in the millions. Massive opportunity for re-skilling and changing what we do. We’ve got another headwind of Brexit. We’ve got an interesting dynamic with a new US president. This isn’t a political podcast, by the way.

David: No, I know. There were macro-

Simon: Big massive impacts on our economy. Should we be worried? I’m like, “Yeah!” I’ve been on forums recently where we’re talking about the technologies that you and I are talking on now. I don’t profess to be an expert on the technology of how to use video conferencing, how it might work. I can get around it. I can use it. There’s many, many people that are struggling with this tech. It’s 20 years old. It’s 20 years old. As a profession, as a learning profession, we have turned the other way, we have followed the classroom model, massive generalisation, and kind of gone, “That’s not going to work for us. We need to be face to face. We need to do this stuff.”

Listen to episode 64 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

Again, I’m not here to argue about the mode. What I’m saying is I’m worried about our skill, our own skill, and capability. When I say us, our, the learning profession, to use these multimode, multi-format things in a way that will help business, macro business. Whether you are a charity, not-for-profit, commercial entity, FTSE listed, Fortune, whatever, I don’t care, you’ve got to be doing something that impacts your business and using those modes. Again, you’re referencing research. It’s coming up to nearly 10 years old now. Again, we’re going to talk about others that bring it much more up to date. It’s not a new problem. It’s like it’s been in the room the entire time and everybody’s going, “What problem? Someone else can deal with that.” I’ll come back to your research. Again, earlier, we created the apprenticeship levy in the United Kingdom to help with training. I’m doing bunny ears for anybody that could have seen it. “Training.”

It’s got 2 million pounds in it unspent. Sorry, 2 billion pounds unspent that could be used to upscale people. Now, interestingly, as you and I know, most of those programs are 12 to 18 months long. This isn’t “Pop along to have a chat for a few hours, a few days,” this is “Learn something, apply it, come back, prove,” some complexities in it. Again, we’re not here to dig out the apprenticeship fund, but it’s another medium. There’s still businesses today that aren’t using all the avenues, all the things that are open to them to change how they skill and develop their people, and maybe whisper it quietly, I mean, the answer to your question, we’re part of the problem.

David: A big part of the problem. Somewhere within that 800,000 people, we can split out the teachers and the trainers, but what it comes down to is this is broad-based reskilling efforts for business. You mentioned there about- we’ve preferred a classroom for a great deal of that time. That’s not to say that we’ve not tried to address the skills gap, but it’s a personal beef that I have that it’s deemed that buying an LXP filled with content will address the skills gap, and why wouldn’t it?

An LXP filled with content does not fix the skills gap

The procurement and launch of platforms gets L&D a lot of credit in organisations, but haven’t we got to admit that platforms and content aren’t solutions, but they’re only tools that in the hands of teams who don’t invest in, say, analysis and how to address the actual problems within their organisations, then they’re just an expensive waste of time and money, aren’t they?

Simon: Completely right. Style over substance. Again, back to my point before, I don’t care what platform your organisation uses. I don’t care what mode they feel is appropriate. I don’t care what they feel we’re culturally ready for. I had a conversation this morning, everybody says, “Oh, yes, but we’re not culturally ready for this. We’re a bit different and we’re a bit challenged.” I’m like, “Who’s got a mobile phone? How many people are–” “But I don’t want to use it for work.” I’m like, “All right. They just use it to control their own finances, book a holiday when you can book a holiday, order food, get other things, play games, they let third parties that they don’t know access all the data about them and create a profile or persona that you don’t really realise, but they won’t do that in work. Yes, that’s us. That’s us.”

I think we, like the government, have fallen very very far behind the pace of technology. Yes, somebody can come along with a flashy system that’s all bells and whistles and looking amazing and you guys say, “See, that’s exactly what we need,” I will keep going back to my point at the start, if that’s not your exam question, how’s that going to help us upscale quicker, faster? What’s the commercial impact of us buying that? Actually, what is the cost of us really- what’s the fully loaded cost of us doing that?

If you’ve got thousands of employees, you’ll have to spend thousands of hours every month on your system typing something in, recording something. I think their time would be better spent probably doing their job. I know there’s lots of variants in that continuum. I know there’s many differences that people would argue. Coming along with a nice swishy catalog that happens to be digitised, I don’t think it’s going to solve anything. It’s going to create more problems if anything.

David: It usually only solves the problem that we don’t have any online content. That’s the only problem it seems to solve because if you haven’t done the analysis, then you don’t know what the real problems are. I remember speaking to somebody, a senior in L&D once, who just said to me, “People don’t like online learning,” and I just replied, “No, they don’t like your online learning.”

That’s what it comes down to. There’s no reticence. As you said, everybody’s googling. When the company Wi-Fi goes down and if people need help, they’ll get out their phone and they’ll look for the problem. I mean, people are pretty well resourceful like this, but if they are resisting your animated gamified facile e-learning, there’s going to be a good reason.

I always like to look back to- it must have been about 10 years ago. Simon, where’s the interactive video now? That was all the rage. People spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on interactive video back then. We thought that was the answer. It’s by the wayside now when people are investing in the next novel thing, but it goes back to your point before. We’ve gone down a path of- “We want this because this provides us the opportunity to give all of this stuff.” When it comes down to it, what’s the exact question again? It’s not stuff.

Simon: You’re getting lost. Again, it’s interesting because your argument could be, and the audience might come back and tell us this, the argument could be- “It’s all about the experience, Simon. David, you’re wrong. It is the experience, it has to be a rich, rich experience.” It could be for your organisation, but what was your exam question again?

If your exam question was to create rich experiences, I’m like, “Okay, there’s a million ways to do that again.” You don’t have to be proficient in all of them. You’ve just got to be able to ask the right question. If we’re talking about skills and capabilities, I’m pretty sure you can’t fix that in seven minutes online with your interactive video.

There is a Very Real and Urgent Skills Gap That’s Being Experienced Globally

David: That’s right, without actually doing the analysis to find out what it is that people are trying to do. Let’s come right back to this because it’s easy for anybody who has gone for a jog or gone to take the dogs for a walk and then thought, “Oh, yes, this is the L&D bashing podcast.” Let’s take this right back. There is a very real and very urgent skills gap that’s being experienced globally. What do organisations and L&D teams need to do to actually address the skills gaps that they’re experiencing either now in their organisations or perhaps industry-wide within any particular field?

Simon: Look, again, I’ve got a view. I’m always happy to be challenged and talk about it further. To me, it’s quite simple. The first point is to understand your own value chain. How does your business thing make money, make things, deliver services? Understand what the pain points are, and work out how you’re addressing those. That’s today’s activity, isn’t it? This is how we make money today. We take something from A, we apply this and this and this, and we sell it at B. Great. Somewhere along that line, I would expect a huge percentage of your current activity to be going, “We’re helping here, we’re helping here, because the insight that we got, the connections that we’ve got is that’s a problem. That’s a problem.” That’s one area.

The second area, we can explore these, the second area is where are you going? Your “strategy” says we’re going to get here by 2025. We’re going to get here by 2020. Do you know, could you articulate your role in connection to where that business is going? Because if not, if you don’t do one of those two things, I don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t care what you use. I don’t care what technology you own. I don’t care how big your team is, how much money you spend. Is it quick stack for you?

According to the CBI research that I found just before we came on, we’re spending approximately 44 billion pounds, pounds not dollars, not euros, pounds a year on L&D. Well, where has that gone? What is the return? Wonderful, wonderful. What is the impact of that? What is the outcome that we have delivered for that spend year-on-year?

David: Not the hours of training, not the satisfaction, not the passing of quizzes, not the NPS. You are talking about- in terms of what an organisation requires, in terms of performance, the way the work is done, the results that then delivers and shoring up its pipeline of skilled people to be able to perform and gets results tomorrow, what is the return on that? I bet you, there’s a great big “I don’t know” at the end of that.

Simon: It’s flatlined, right? I’m going to keep going because it gets me frustrated. So, a piece of research from Microsoft, and again, we can share it at the end, says 69% of business leaders know that their organisation is facing a business skills gap. You know you haven’t got the skills and capability to get to my point on your strategy. You know you can’t go out to market and go and recruit them. Have you got some sort of magic pill you’re going to give everybody? 

David: You’re going to sack everyone, you’re going to re-hire all your staff?

Simon: Have you got a load of lottery tickets that we don’t know about? Wait a minute, that’s us!

David: That’s us right now. You’ve got a team in your organisation that does this stuff. What I think it comes down to, Simon, is how urgently an organisation recognises it needs to do something. There’ll be plenty of organisations who think they have to do something, but they don’t do the kind of planning required to know. You’re talking about your 69% of execs that probably go, “Yes, we don’t have the skills,” but perhaps they don’t know fully to what extent that they do, the depth, and what that skills gap actually is, and because they don’t know and there’s no planning required, any “solution” will actually do. I like “solution” with your bunny ears if you don’t mind me borrowing those.

Listen to episode 64 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

An example of a pressing skills gap is in hospitality. If I could point to the UK as an example here, where the pipeline of skilled and willing employees, prospects, has been obstructed by Brexit. The industry is going to have to develop internal talent despite jobs not being that appealing to many UK residents. It’s not about the skill, it’s deemed low status. Hospitality a lot of the time is deemed low status, and UK residents, generally speaking, aren’t willing to put up with those kinds of conditions, whereas perhaps, it’s deemed higher status in other countries. This is very real and requires an industry response. Have you worked in organisations that have and haven’t recognised the urgency of action required?

Simon: Yes, both sides. It’s interesting, isn’t it? To build on your hospitality point, and I’ll give a real-life example as well, with hospitality, you got an interesting thing around volume. We’ve got a perfect storm at the moment, as we said a few moments ago, many, many people now unemployed, or finding themselves potentially unemployed, thinking, “I can go and do this. I can go and do X.” That’s interesting, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way to anyone, but in a low-skill job with high volume, “Can you drive?” “Yes.” You can be a delivery driver, maybe, as a similar adjacent example.

There’s something around whose responsibility is that? To either go and get those skills, or what’s the driver to go and acquire something else? Is it personal? Is it business? Is it government? Is it education? There’s a bit of a cross-over between all of those things and how that might play out. organisations I’ve been in, we’ve always been through, it’s no secret, I’ve always been through significant restructures and sadly many people have lost their job. If we connect it to what we’re talking about, automation, ergo, is going to reduce high volume manual tasks, right? It’s pretty simple. A computer can work a lot faster than we can on certain initiatives, more of those you’ve got.

What you then need, if you’ve followed my narrative, if you knew you were building out that capability in your organisation, you’re going to need a different set of people with skills and experiences to run, maintain, and grow those things. I’ve worked most recently in distribution environments. Automation in a warehouse, we need less pickers and packers, Amazon-esque style, but what you do need is someone who can program the picker and packer, someone who can understand the data and, “Oh, blimey. We don’t stop those things there anymore. Why should we move things further away? What gets picked fastest? What’s on high repeat?” It has loads of connotations connected to it, and the really interesting thing is, do you know in your organisation who’s interested in becoming differently skilled and up for being reskilled? Have you got something that can help that? Have you got the support and endorsement to get that through? Otherwise, at some point, you’re going to hit a wall.

We are living in a very real, rough environment. Take a look outside your organisation and business, things are falling over because they haven’t looked that far down the line. Coming back to your point, the CEO bit of we know 69%, we need these skills, CEO shelf life, the number one job in your company, is getting shorter. Why is that? Because if they’re listed, obviously they’ve got to provide quarterly returns, there’s high pressure, there’s shareholders, but we kind of know. 

If I got into an organisation and they say, “We’re into automation, we’re going this way, we need 250 people that are like this.” 250, that’s a really small number, right? No way in the world are we going to go and recruit 250 people. Again, you can do the commercial economics on that, what it would cost on average for a person in that type of role, recruit, fees, time, etc. You’re going to have to invest in them, it’s going to take 12 to 18 months. CEO shelf life is getting close to less than two years, right?

David: Yes.

Simon: I’m surprised to your point and I’m probably supporting it and then challenging it for us., A lot of people can’t really get past, in our profession, “Well, I’ve got a plan.” “I’ve got an L&D roadmap.” “This year we’re going to do leadership training.” “This year we’re going to do these skills, we’re going to do some culture stuff, all this is really important.” That doesn’t matter if you haven’t got the people that can do your automated picking and packing in 12 to 18 months time-

David: That’s right.

Simon: -when your new facility is being built. That’s recruitment’s job, ain’t it?

David: Yes.

Simon: It gets stuck, it will break, things will fall over. Businesses will stop, you will become redundant yourselves. You will talk yourselves out of a job. Recost what you’re doing to help us grow, nothing.

Digital and Technology is Advancing Rapidly and the Skills Gap is Not Closing Quickly Enough

David: Yes, that’s right. What we’ve just discussed, those numbers. 800,000 which picked the bones from teaching and training, that’s not a secret. We’re not revealing this for the first time. That report was published in October 2019, again pre-COVID, but with more remote working and more pressure on supply chains, there is only going to be more digital, and of course, advancements in technology. There’s only going to be more automation. There’s only going to be more integration with AI technologies, so either the Learning & Development function maintains a calendar of programs and then looks at how that might support the strategy, again, solutions looking for problems, or otherwise it flips the model and L&D people look at themselves and admit, “I’m probably not equipped to do much more than run these programs 12 people at a time when things were face to face and now deliver these shorter webinars.”

We have got to look at ourselves and say, “That isn’t actually helping address the skills gap within our organisations.” It’s literally just keeping the lights on, rather than running any kind of operation, isn’t it? Or am I being harsh?

Simon: I don’t think you are being harsh. For a long time, people that know me and people that don’t- I will happily connect with, talk to anybody outside this forum afterwards, answer any questions, happy to share experiences, challenges, etc. We’ve been part of the same conspiracy for a long time. We’re a part of a multi-billion dollar industry, and that industry sells technology, sells catalogs of stuff. Think how complex our learning technology has become. Just in the last, let’s say five years, how many vendors can do the same thing for you, in terms of capture, record, and provide access to digital learning? Thousands, thousands, no disrespect to anybody, thousands. There’s some behemoths, there’s some cool, really small, nimble, agile, funky little startups. Thousands, thousands, and thousands.

Then it’s hard, isn’t it? This is where it does get to the person a bit. It’s hard if you’ve been part of that conspiracy and gone, “Mm,” had a bit of a light bulb moment, “I’ve not really added any value to my organisation in the last X amount of months, quarters, whatever.” Who wants to talk themselves out of a job right now? I get it, but we’re here, we talk, I’m passionate about our industries, but there is an opportunity and the opportunity is, everything is evolving. Your point about the skills and data, every single day, your organisation has more data. Every single day. What are you doing with it? Where’s it going? Who’s looking at it? Who’s not looking at it? Why’s that? Does it help somebody do their job? I’m pretty sure it would. 

David: That’s right, yes. Turn those needs that you recognise into assumptions and then go try to prove or disprove that they are real needs for data. Just go and have a look. A lot of people do confuse digital with just knowing what the technology landscape looks like outside. Digital doesn’t actually start with that, it starts with questioning rather than accepting that this is actually a need. Do your prove/ disprove, go find the data that says that that is an actual problem, and then use a more agile approach to working with and for the client. Well, first of all, it’s data and evidence-based, isn’t it? Then I’ll move on to work with them for the client to determine what they are actually experiencing in the context of their performance. Sometimes we need to debunk that, how they do their job, and results that they get by doing the job that way and whether they need to change that. You’re working with and for them.

Use data to recognise problems

This is the point where people say- and I have this all the time, Simon, and I’m sure you do as well, where people say, “But I have hundreds of thousands,” and sometimes millions of people, and they are only looking at things top-down, which is, “I must have a silver bullet that I can drop on everything and it solves all my problems. I need an algorithm that can sift through generic content and service this to people top-down because otherwise, I can’t address this.”

It always comes back to if you don’t know what the problem is of the people you’re seeking to influence, you have not a hope in hell of addressing it. Your top-down, plug-and-play AI-driven this, that, and the other will not work if you don’t invest in the analysis at the beginning. Admit that it might not be a learning problem. You might not be able to deliver something or surface something to solve this, but unless you know what it is, you don’t have a chance of addressing it.

Simon: It’s a fabulous point, isn’t it? If you’ve addressed the wrong exam question, if you’re attacking the “wrong problem”, here is a solution to a problem you didn’t know you had. That’s not our issue. Our issue in this race- and it is a race, skills race, because other countries will adopt different approaches, will evolve in different ways, I know there’s a huge investment in the United States. Again, I would argue not to attack anybody, a lot of that is for corporate social responsibility and big behemoths to go look at what we’re doing for our economy.

Just to give a slight tangent, Amazon has about 10,000 global vacancies at the moment. That’s bigger than many, many, many companies. Amazon’s worth more than the UK’s entire FTSE 100. One company is worth more than our 100 best. Just get commercial about it, get appointed. Understand your own businesses’ angle. Again, there’s going to be some tension because the business’ driver might be, “Let’s follow it through. Yes, we’re going to get into automation, we’re going to get more data-savvy, we’re going to need 25% less staff.”

If you understand that direction of travel, yes, it’s hard that you may have to lose 25% of your staff, or it could be that you upskill 25%. It may be more actually, probably more of your staff, not all of them are going to stay. To me, and back to your question right at the start, the responsibility sits with business, sits with government, sits with education, sits with the not-for-profit sector. At some moment in time, some very difficult decisions have got to be made. If your difficult decision is, “Should we do our big leadership course or our not so big leadership course?” it’s not the right question. 

David: No, it’s a solution looking for a problem. It’s got to be, what are the biggest blockers to your organisation surviving today and thriving tomorrow? The one thing that is hardening, I think, Simon over the last 10, 11, 12 months, depending on where you are in the world, is that L&D has been very quick to align itself to the biggest priorities of the organisation, whether it is with the transition to remote working. What comes with that is remote leadership. There’s something around employee well-being with trying to manage pressures and stuff. Some of those are the biggest problems that an organisation would then be facing, but we’ve got to stay aligned and stop there looking and thinking, “Okay, we’ve done that stuff. When do we do purpose-driven leadership?” 

Listen to episode 64 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

Simon: You’ve got to be careful. Again, it’s a really good point. Bringing it back into today, the last year, 9, 10, 11, 12 months have really challenged some learning teams from what I’ve seen, some HR directors who I’ve spoken to, the businesses, what are we really doing to help our people? Now, there is a really fine line, as I’ve said, between- the business in its entirety as an organism has a view, and an individual, because every individual’s circumstances are now different, and everybody’s got a different COVID story to tell and will do for a number of months to come.

However, if you want your business to survive, we know all the data is telling us, it’s told us for a long time, back to economics, what I said right at the start, there is a big skills gap. It is growing, we are not closing it fast enough. Technology’s moving faster. Big gets bigger. Really, you cannot compare yourself to Amazon. That’s why I do that tongue-in-cheek joke. Nobody can compare themselves to Amazon because there isn’t an– Maybe Alibaba, but there isn’t another one. You cannot recruit people like they recruit people. You probably can’t skill people in the way they do.

Guess what one of their biggest challenges is? Having people skilled in Amazon Web Services. What have they done? They’ve given it to the channel. They’ve said, “It’s not our problem. You want to sell our product, service, solution, Amazon Web Services, you have to have these people skilled in this way.” I know because I had to do that for thousands of engineers. That was a real, real hot topic.

“You want to sell our product, do it this way.” Finding the hot problem, finding the critical exam question, addressing it with the right solution. Don’t get sucked into shiny bright lights, different systems, catalog technology. Again, we could bury people in data. There’s great data about the start of lockdown globally, how people like Udemy, Coursera, their usage went through the roof, not through business, personal. People went, “Well, I’ve got some time. I will look at something like this. I will look at another.” Great. Brilliant. To me, that’s just proof that people are smart and are motivated when there is a need and/ or match desire to fulfill that need, and they’ll go off and do it. Nobody told people to do that stuff, they’re all on furlough. You’re not supposed to be working. What was your learning team doing then?

David: Probably stating that their culture wasn’t ready for those types of solutions. I hope that the listeners heard that there are huge opportunities in here for Learning & Development. The need for our function is tantamount. If we are going to actually address these skills gaps, then somebody as we’ve mentioned earlier has got to take ownership of this, but what’s the risk of doing nothing or L&D continuing to over-rely on platforms of content and dropping those onto unsuspecting audiences and expecting them to make the difference? What’s the risk to us?

Simon: If we continue in this kind of vein, and again, broad-brush strokes across our industry, if we continue in this vein of saying, “Here’s a new system, here’s a load more stuff, here’s 1,000 things you could learn,” you’re just going to make yourself redundant, I mean that in the loosest sense. You’re not going to be of value to your organisation. I feel as the world turns- I probably sound really commercial, but guess what? That pays the bills. That keeps the lights on, that keeps people in work. I’m not being harsh or critical, but it’s not going to address your skills gap.

I’ve got a really simple thing. Apologies if I’ve said it before. If I was to come into any organisation and say, “Right, let’s have a look at your L&D spend. Don’t tell me what you do. It’s all white label, I’ll look at your L&D spend, and roughly I’ll be able to work out what you do, what your strategy is.” That would make sense, wouldn’t it?

David: Yes.

Simon: That would make a lot of sense. It doesn’t look like that though, does it? Because the macro numbers go, “Well, we spend billions on leadership.” We’re not all leadership consultants. I don’t understand. Get your spend right, get it aligned to your strategy, or somebody else will. That might sound scary, but that’s a very real probability. At the other end of the spectrum, your business won’t be around in two-three, I’m probably being really kind, five years’ time.

David: It is dangerous. Simon, there’s plenty for people to be reading and following up in terms of the reports we’ve had, we’ll put those in the show notes. If people wish to follow your work and connect with you, how can they do so?

Simon: They can hunt me down on LinkedIn. I’m a bit of a watcher on Twitter at the moment, Simon1Gibson. They can find me on LinkedIn and connect. I’m happy to chat and share and talk further as I’ve said.

David: Wonderful. Okay, Simon, thank you very much. As I said, we’ll put those in the show notes, but all that’s left to say is thank you very much for being a guest on The Learning & Development Podcast.

Simon: Appreciate it. Thank you, David. Thanks, all.

David: For organisational development to be called out as one of the four major skills gaps is damning on our profession. We cannot rely on vendors to send us platforms and content packages to address very real and very urgent skills gaps. We must invest in our capabilities to both analyse and address real needs with relevant approaches. There’s no shortcuts to this and we all need to step up urgently. If you’d like to get in touch with me, perhaps to suggest topics you’d like to hear discussed, you can tweet me @DavidInLearning and connect on LinkedIn for which you’ll find the links in the show notes, and goodbye for now.

Listen to episode 64 of the Learning & Development podcast here or book a free demo to find out more about addressing skills gaps.

About Simon Gibson

Simon is a modern and experienced Executive-level People Leader who has delivered meaningful commercial Change and Transformation via appropriate Learning, Organisational Development and Talent initiatives. Simon has a varied history and experience of working in different sectors and economic climates. From start-up to large multi-national companies, including NBC Universal, Fujitsu, Sonnedix and NatWest / RBS. 

Connect with Simon on Twitter and LinkedIn

Connect with David on LinkedIn and Twitter

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