IBM Research: The Social Imperative in Workforce Skills Development

Today’s changing workforce dynamics, economic challenges, and technological advances are placing immense pressure on business leaders to turn their focus to people—their most valuable asset—in order to remain competitive. Organizations that engage their people and empower them with social technology can recognize significant competitive differentiation and market leadership. McKinsey’s 2012 Global Institute Report, “The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity Through Social Technologies,” found companies can achieve up to 60 percent increase in margins in industries such as consumer packaged goods by leveraging social business technologies to connect more effectively with customers.

IBM Institute for Business Value’s 2010 “Working Beyond Borders, Insights from the Global Chief Human Resource Officer” Study of more than 700 CHROs revealed that business leaders are focused on three priorities:

  1. Cultivating creative leaders
  2. Mobilizing for speed and flexibility to address market changes
  3. Capitalizing on collective intelligence

But the dynamics of the modern workforce are making it difficult for companies to achieve these objectives and to find and keep talented workers. A full 90 percent of organizations do not have all the skills they need to be successful, according to the 2012 IBM Center For Applied Insights Tech Trends Report, “Fast Track to the Future.”

And despite the high unemployment rates in many countries, more than 65 percent of global leaders cite “talent and leadership shortages” as their No. 1 business challenge, according to Bersin & Associates’ Fall 2012 TalentTrends.

Leaders must look within their organizations to improve employee engagement, unlock lost productivity, and develop the skills of their existing base. According to the McKinsey study, organizations can achieve up to between a 20 and 25 percent increase in the productivity of knowledge workers using social technologies. Using such technologies, organizations can develop a workforce development program in which employees can develop skills on the job by collaborating with experts and sharing tacit knowledge. Organizations that develop a social learning program will improve employee engagement, reduce attrition, and decrease the amount of time employees waste searching for expertise and information.

Changing Workforce Needs

Everywhere we look, we see new evidence that our hyper-connected environment fundamentally changes how people engage with each other. Digital, social, and mobile spheres quickly are converging—connecting customers, employees, and partners to organizations and to each other. As a result, employees are beginning to be empowered as part of open, less rigidly controlled organizations (“Connected Generation: Perspectives from tomorrow’s leaders in a digital world,” Insights from the 2012 IBM Global Student Study, IBM Institute for Business Value, November 2012).

The demographics of the workforce also are changing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 47 percent of U.S. employees will be those born after 1977 by the end of 2013. Since members of the Millennial generation soon will bear responsibility for moving organizations toward successful outcomes, it is important to understand their particular capabilities, expectations, and needs. It is also important to anticipate opportunities to capitalize on the differing perspectives that inevitably will emerge from divergent but overlapping generational viewpoints, IBM’s “Connected Generation” study concluded.

For example, today’s workers do not expect to retire in their current organization. According to Mercer LLC’s 2011 “What’s Working” survey, the number of employees who were “seriously considering leaving” their employers grew from 23 percent in 2005 to 32 percent in 2010. Potentially, an entire workforce could turn over in three years, significantly draining an organization of its knowledge base.

To reduce defections, improve engagement, and capitalize on collective intelligence to build skills, organizations must adapt their systems and polices to reflect the needs of the changing workforce. Social technologies can provide significant benefits in the area of learning and skills development and solve the growing skills crisis organizations face. According to the McKinsey report, the use of social technologies can reduce time employees spend searching for people and company information by 35 percent.

Solving the Skills Problem with Social Technologies and Learning

By incorporating social technologies into a workforce development program, organizations can quickly and dramatically improve employees’ skills, creating a global forum for ongoing enablement and development. Employees can get instant answers from experts, train with peers in a virtual auditorium, and refresh their knowledge anywhere and anytime with “snack-sized learning on the go.” Social learning communities create a virtual water cooler, where the tacit knowledge of experts is surfaced and retained as a valuable company asset.

By capturing and capitalizing on the collective intelligence in the organization, corporate knowledge is always current, globally consistent, and enriched with expert sourced content. In a social learning environment, organizations benefit from a unified talent record where each employee’s skills are inventoried to make it easy to match the right people with the right jobs and careers. And social and predictive analytics identify resource and skills gaps; reduce compliance risks; and provide targeted, prescriptive skills roadmaps to rapidly and affordably develop a well-skilled workforce.

Social learning delivers measurable results. AMD reduced the time sales staff spent searching for content from 8.5 hours per week to 5.5 hours per week as noted in a 2013 IBM case study. And best-in-class organizations are 93 percent more likely to have social learning as part of their formal learning strategy, 94 percent more likely to leverage user-created video content, and 119 percent more likely to utilize mobile learning solutions, according to Aberdeen’s 2013 study, “Zoom in on Video Learning.”

Social learning helps organizations solve cross-organizational and cultural problems. Here are a few problems they consistently cite:

  • High turnover and time constraints prevent the organization from maintaining a high skill level.
  • Employees are underutilized because organizations don’t have a good understanding of skills and skills gaps.
  • It takes new employees a long time to become productive.
  • The speed of business is accelerating, and it’s difficult to stay ahead of the change.
  • The costs associated with employee training are high.
  • Some job functions require employees to retain a high level of knowledge/information to excel.
  • Learning experiences and resources are inconsistent across the company, and they don’t leverage the best an organization can provide.
  • Expertise and collective intelligence are not utilized to elevate the entire organization’s skill level.
  • The tacit knowledge of employees is not shared and retained; intellectual property is at risk.
  • Varying generational, organizational, and job family differences require a variety of learning methods.
  • Continual learning is not a priority.

For more information:

Originally published by David Leaser, Senior Manager, IBM Global Skills Initiative


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