Skill Building in the Workplace: An HR’s Guide

Written by Rhonda Gardner
8 minutes read

One of the pillars of organizational success is the skills of its employees. Skill building is key to equipping your employees with what they need to perform at their best, now and in the future. If you want to continue to grow your business and succeed as an organization, addressing skills gaps is crucial. Let’s have a look at skill building, its benefits, and skill-building activities in more detail!

What are skills?
What is skill building?
Why is skill building important?
Identifying skills gaps
Skill-building activities
Tips for effective skill building at your organization

What are skills?

Skills are the abilities and competencies employees possess to function in their role effectively. People acquire and develop skills through learning and practice. You can measure skills in terms of levels of proficiency – beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert.

What is skill building?

Skill building is the process by which an organization helps its employees acquire skills needed to achieve its strategic objectives and gain a competitive advantage. This is accomplished by introducing skill-building activities, which aim to help employees improve specific skills.

The skill-building process starts with identifying and documenting the organization’s key competencies (knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors), identifying skills gaps, and then planning how to develop those skills within the organization.

The internal formation of skills that help employees develop in their career is an organizational, learning & development, and retention strategy.

According to Gartner, 59% of HR leaders consider building critical skills and competencies for the organization a top priority. What’s more, “40% of HR leaders say they can’t build skill development solutions fast enough to meet evolving skill needs”.

Skill Building
The process of building skills outlined.

Why is skill building important?

Skill building is beneficial to the organization and employees in the following areas:

  • Improving employee and organizational performance – Gaining new skills enables employees to be more productive, perform better, and have a positive impact on the bottom line. 
  • Helping employees and organizations prepare for the future – Skill building is about developing the skills that the company needs short- and long-term, aligned with the organization’s future plans.
  • Engaging and retaining employees – When an organization invests in the development of their employees, they’re likely to be more engaged and stay for longer. In fact, 94% of employees say that they would remain at a company longer if there’s an investment in their learning and development.

Identifying skills gaps

Before bridging skills gaps, organizations need to assess employees’ current skills. Then, they can determine the best methods through which the skills can be built. There are several ways how businesses can go about identifying skills gaps:

Training Needs Analysis (TNA)

TNA is the process by which an organization assesses the learning and development needs of its employees at every level of the organization so they can function in their jobs effectively.

Performance reviews

Performance reviews provide key data points about employees’ strengths and weaknesses. They surface skills that are lacking or are weak. The organization can then address these when creating development plans and identifying suitable skill-building activities.

Skill Will Matrix

As managers work with their employees, they will notice the strengths and weaknesses of their team. When targets are not met, or goals are not achieved due to inadequate skills set, managers may use a Skill Will Matrix.

It is a tool that compares willingness to perform a task to the degree of skill employees have to perform the task well. This is plotted on two axes – Skill and Will – creating four quadrants. Each quadrant indicates how the manager should engage with or manage the employees that fall in that specific quadrant.

Skill Will Matrix

The Skill Will Matrix enables managers to find suitable performance management and learning strategies for employees in every quadrant of the matrix. Managers should focus on building the skills of those employees within the ‘low skill’/’high will’ quadrant.

Employees’ requests

Employees may recognize their own inadequacies and request opportunities to develop skills to better perform their jobs as well as to advance in the organization.

It is the role of the manager and HR/Learning & Development Team to determine whether these requests are justified, affordable, and a priority for the team and organization. If they are, then the organization should invest in developing the requested skills.

Changes in the market

Changes in the market and industries often warrant changes in skill sets. Some skills become obsolete and new skills are needed. The pandemic resulted in a significant shift in what skills are gaining importance and skills that have lost value in the workplace.

Newsweek conducted a survey and found that “any skill that was required or heightened from face-to-face interactions was reduced or made obsolete during the pandemic. Virtual interactions are not the same as in-person interactions, whether casual or formal. Others said their existing time management skills or risk assessment and mitigation skills had become obsolete. Some said their technology skills were made obsolete by the quick rate of change of technological solutions enabling people to work from home.”

New skilling

As a result of this shift, new skilling is an emerging approach to employee development that diminishes the need to rely on reactive and costly solutions to address immediate skills needs.

Human Capital Institute and The Cornerstone People Research Lab looked into practices that high-performing organizations (HPOs) engage in to effectively navigate the changing needs of the organization and its employees. These are the six action items for building a new-skilling approach to learning and development:

  1. Understand which skills are needed now—and in the future 
  2. Anticipate skills gaps and identify skill adjacencies 
  3. Target learning to both roles and individuals 
  4. Make learning and development a shared effort 
  5. Diversify learning modalities 
  6. Leverage learning technology to uncover needs, monitor progress, and measure outcome

Skill-building activities

There are many skill-building activities that you can integrate into your learning & development strategy. You can customize the activities to job levels, individuals, and teams. When skill building within your organization, incorporate several learning methods to provide a rich learning environment for your employees.

Here are a couple of examples of skill-building activities:

Customer service

Employees within the service industry with a lot of customer interactions may find some of the following customer service skill-building activities proposed by TalentLMS helpful to be effective in their roles.

Daily dilemma scenariosThey enable employees to quickly and effectively resolve problems and make good decisions.
Communication skill simulationsThis type of training helps employees not only write and verbally communicate but also strengthens their ability to understand and read body language.
Problem-solving serious gamesThey introduce and strengthen employees’ ability to decipher problems with increasing complexity and find appropriate solutions.
Customer persona storiesThis activity helps employees tailor their responses to different customers and clientele by gaining insight into the psychology and behaviors of different types of customers.
Product know-how online training tutorialsTo sell a product, employees must understand it and know it inside out. These tutorials provide in-depth product information so employees can market and sell a specific product and also resolve any issues.
Expect-The-Unexpected case studiesThe use of case studies provides real examples of those unusual and rare situations that have the power to damage the image and brand of an organization. They provide employees with insight into these potential cases to prepare them to effectively handle any situation.
Stress testThis skill-building activity gauges employees’ reactions to situations involving unhappy customers, product mishaps, and other challenges in a form of an online training simulation, branching scenario, or a what-would-you-do assessment.

Management & leadership

The following are some skill-building activities particularly useful to managers and leaders.

Complementary leadership mentoringThis type of mentoring pairs potential leaders with leaders who are strong in the competencies they are weak in.
Executive coachingAn inquiry-based approach to personal and professional development that aims to create awareness, inspire action, and facilitate learning and growth. It focuses on improving performance by helping leaders to develop and sustain new perspectives, attitudes, skills, and behaviors.
Job shadowingThis allows the employee a realistic view of how a job flows, the opportunity to meet key stakeholders, and to have a realistic understanding of the challenges on the job.
Job rotationsThe employee assumes new roles for a period of three to six months before moving on to another position.
Professional development coursesThese are usually 2-3 days of offsite training for a particular skill or competency.
Professional certificationsEmployees may need to acquire and maintain professional certifications to function in specialized roles. For example, a future HR leader would benefit from a Strategic HR Leadership certificate.
Self-paced micro-learningSimilar to LinkedIn Learning, Google Grow, and on-demand learning available through Learning Management Systems.

Tips for effective skill building at your organization

  1. Develop, update and maintain a competency model for your organization. The process of developing a competency model may be an arduous one, but it is critical to identifying skills gaps and skill building. It is an investment that generates profitable returns from the beginning to the end of the employment life cycle.
  2. Consider short-term and long-term skills needs. Consider what your organization needs in 6 months and in 3-5-year horizon. For this, you need to understand where your business is headed and be able to forecast potential skill needs based on market changes.
  3. Conduct a skills gap analysis. A competency model should be the foundation for identifying and analyzing skills gaps. It will better assist you in understanding what you’re lacking. You can then design effective skill-building activities to close the gaps. Look for skills adjacencies in your employees – that’s where skill building will be easiest.
  4. Use a mix of learning formats. Similar to the skill-building activities mentioned above, organizations should have a wide variety of learning opportunities and methods to bridge the skills gaps for their employees. These include, for example, formal and informal learning, synchronous and asynchronous training, and digital and in-person learning. That way, you’re making sure you’re catering to different learning styles.
  5. Implement and encourage informal learning methods. Examples of such learning methods are lunch and learn sessions, exchanges of reading materials, podcasts or learning resources among peers, or sharing content on internal communication channels. These make for useful ways to engage employees to learn. What’s more, these opportunities build community and encourage conversations around engaging topics.
  6. Focus on soft and cognitive skills. More and more organizations are seeking employees with technical skills. However, these are not the only highly sought-after skills. According to McKinsey & Co., the state of continuous change has led organizations to focus more on developing social, emotional, and cognitive skills. These include skills like emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, problem-solving, leadership & management, and project management.
  7. Use targeted training. Targeted training means that you design your training to help develop specific skills gaps within the organization. You’re also making sure that you’re using your resources effectively, becoming more competitive, and strengthening your ability to retain staff.
  8. Track the results of your efforts. When you launch a skill-building activity in a specific team, you should track how it helped the team members perform better. You can evaluate immediate, short-term, and long-term impact on achieving individual and team goals. Consider using the Kirkpatrick’s Four-level Training Evaluation Model to measure effectiveness of your skill-building efforts.

To sum up

Skill building should be an essential part of your learning & development strategy if you want to ensure the long-term success of your organization. The pace of change requires organizations to develop and maintain agile skill-building and development strategies to remain competitive and retain key employees.

There is an increased focus on social, emotional, and cognitive skills to stay competitive. Developing a learning and retention strategy that targets all these areas will enable organizations to build a skilled, engaged workforce that will help grow the business.

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Rhonda Gardner

Rhonda Gardner has been a HR Professional for the past 19 years in diverse industries such as Banking & Insurance, Professional Consulting Services, and INGOs. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States of America.

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