Employees want learning opportunities. Employers want skilled people on their teams.
Offering this perk makes all kinds of sense in a tightening job market, and it has the added advantage of enabling employees to boost their own value while also closing skills gaps.
"Learning is the new hot benefit," said Darren Shimkus, VP and general manager at Udemy for Business, an online learning provider.
Employees, particularly millennials, see continued learning as a core benefit, Shimkus told Bloomberg Law. End users are driving this change in the organization; employees want to develop their skills, and employers see the upside in providing the opportunity, he said.
Riding the Tech Wave
The arrival of new technologies has a lot to do with the need for new skills. And in spite of fears about computers and robots taking away jobs, many people have positive attitudes about future employment in a high-tech world.
According to a survey from ZipRecruiter, most job seekers are assured about what’s to come, and 60 percent think the potential disruptiveness of technology has been overhyped.
"A lot of prognostication about significant disruption in the job market around automation and AI is really overblown," said Ian Siegel, co-founder and CEO of ZipRecruiter. He said he doesn’t know of any period in history when job growth spurred by new technology hasn’t outpaced the number of jobs taken away.
The advent of the smart phone provides one good example, Siegel told Bloomberg Law. Smart phones created the app economy, and now there are 200,000 people with jobs creating apps, he said. "You couldn’t predict that 12 years ago," he added.
It’s easy to look at how technology is disruptive, but more difficult to forecast the changes and benefits, he said.
Prepping Skills for Future
People often emphasize the need for skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. But that emphasis can be misleading, since many people already possess STEM skills needed for most jobs, according to Siegel.
In fact, his organization’s survey shows that more than half of employed job seekers have STEM skills. By generation, millennials are most widely equipped with such skills, the survey found.
Siegel contends that when organizations complain of an inability to find needed skills, it’s because they’re looking for relatively specialized skills with experience in certain industries.
"STEM sounds really intimidating, but really, a lot of STEM skills are already in use. Are you computer literate? Can you use a smart phone? Used Google? A lot is practical day-to-day skill sets. We all use an ever-increasing amount of technology," Siegel said.
Keeping It Fresh
One issue employers and employees confront in today’s environment of rapid technological change is a shrinking shelf life for skills, said Shimkus. The learning paths his organization develops quickly become obsolete, he said.
"The skills gap will only be closed if we are able to teach the right courses. What are the jobs being created? What are those topics and skills for the next generation?"
Shimkus said it’s difficult to predict what skills will be needed in the future, and what will make employees most valuable. "What are the skills that will be really hard to automate?" he asked.
Most employees understand what skills they need, but there is always a role for the manager to drive and inform that journey, Shimkus said. Technology can also play a role in advising what courses an employee might be interested in.
Algorithms in Udemy’s programs suggest courses for employees to take next, based on the course patterns of over 18 million past users combined with individual history, he said. For example, someone who takes an online course on Python coding is likely to take a class on machine learning, followed by data science.
Specific Skills Have More Appeal
Narrowing down and detailing the skills required for a job also matters within job postings, according to Patrick Dean, director of talent management at Advanced Technology Services.
Job seekers are more likely to click through on a job posting when it has a specific title, Dean told Bloomberg Law. For example, a posting that says control engineer instead of simply engineer tends to get more click-throughs, he said.
"The appeal is because of that uniqueness and becoming an expert in a smaller portion of the field," Dean said.
Workers want to develop in-demand skills, and some of the top talent favors specialization because it will make them more valuable in the workforce, Dean said.
Job seekers are looking for greater opportunities and faster change, according to Dean. "They don’t know what their job is going to be in three to five years," he said.
Technology is helping employees find more satisfaction in their jobs by automating the less interesting tasks, Dean added. Younger employees in particular veer toward a job that has more innovation and less gritty, repetitive work, he said.
Options for Learning Delivery
Because today’s labor force comprises multiple generations and includes workers with different learning styles, organizations should consider offering multiple options for learning, according to Shimkus. For example, younger workers tend to be more comfortable with online learning, yet even millennials prefer one-on-one coaching if given the option.
Companies typically allow employees to use time on the job for online learning, but some employees prefer to download courses and complete them during their off times, Shimkus said. "People are consuming learning everywhere," he added.
The importance of learning as an employee benefit will continue to increase as the competition for talent increases, according to Siegel. When job markets get tighter, employers boost pay and invest more in employees, and they "care more about a happy workforce and job seeker satisfaction," he said.
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