Published on: July 26, 2021

“I can’t find the digital talent I need for my business.” “Schools aren’t graduating the right skills!” “1 million more computing jobs than graduates to fill them.” We frequently hear these complaints and ominous forecasts but seldom see solutions that are working. Is this because we are looking in the wrong place?

We’ve been conditioned to think that learning and talent problems are best solved by schools, not by businesses. Yet, too many education and workforce initiatives look like a solution in search of a problem. They attempt to package modern digital skills in anachronistic delivery mechanisms far removed from the realities of a digitally disrupted workplace. A new college major or a series of online digital skills courses (MOOCs) can help address various aspects of the problem in a generalized way; they fail to customize to the needs of your business. Almost every school starts with a traditional framework of identifying general skills and then teaching those competencies in a highly standardized way at scale.

And almost every employer looks to schools for prepackaged solutions. These passive approaches result in tremendous waste and minor impacts. It might look like sending employees to MBA programs that don’t directly train or coach their employees on succeeding in their roles at work. Or, maybe implementing a tuition reimbursement program that pays for education with little relevance. The school first approaches; just don’t cut it.

Bridging the Gap

Real change comes when we start with the employer’s first approach. Our team is passionate about life transformation and solving the problem that over 40% of recent college graduates face, being underemployed with disappointing career prospects. But the change we seek for people’s lives will only take place when we ask, “What is it that the employers need?”

Our team is inspired by our mission to “partner with employers in transforming lives by bridging the gap between what schools teach and what the only experience can bring.” The transformation can only happen when we partner with your company. It’s top-down. However, almost every other form of education starts with a bottom-up approach. By the time they figure out how to deliver what their many stakeholders tell them is essential, there’s no additional room for adapting to the needs of your business. But you are expected to hire these graduates dutifully. Instead, imagine an approach that starts with you, the employer, figures out what is necessary and then delivers a customized learning experience tailored to your company’s specific needs – or better yet, tailored to the particular needs of a specific role in your company.

But starting with the employer first requires the employer to take an active role in the talent development process. The partnership relies on integration between the training provider and employer. We’re talking about a significant shift in your company’s mindset. Complaining about educational institutions failing to deliver precisely the kind of graduates your business needs to grow is akin to complaining that the pace of technology innovation is too fast and should slow down. Both are entirely unrealistic expectations founded upon a pre-digital reality that will never exist again. Further exacerbating this problem is the fact that with unemployment below 2%, the qualified and high-performing talent you need is not going to line up outside your door just because you posted a job.

The Hard Truth

The only way to get skilled talent is to develop training that helps front-line employees acquire the skills needed to do the job at your company. What car manufacturing company goes shopping for car parts and then tries to figure out how to configure this assortment of elements into an integrated design? In the digital economy more than ever before, your most significant competitive advantage is your people. So how is it that you have little influence in this most critical input of your business? If you operate your supply chain this way, your competitors will eat your lunch.

For decades, the education establishment has embraced the idea of creating jobs by turning out graduates. The strategy has failed. A more humble approach is to say, we don’t “create” jobs; we discover them. Once we find them out, we study them to figure out the best way to get the job done. So “what is the job to be done?” Start with asking, “What job is our customer trying to accomplish?” People don’t want to buy the drill; they want the hole. For years we’ve been selling prepackaged solutions like MBAs (the drill) when what employers want are the “skills that create success in MY company” (the hole).

What’s the context that the job is done in? Without the context, you don’t have a relevant solution. The employer first approach starts with the “job to be done interview” – what did you hire this person to do in YOUR company?

If you’ve hired talent, you’ve done so with a particular purpose in mind – there is a specific job to be done. Sure the role might be titled Social Media Specialist, but no two Social Media Specialists do the same job. Your unique brand, strategy, organizational culture, and values will require specialized skills and understanding from your new hire.

Implementing your employer first training strategy

First, here’s what it’s not: Convening an industry council. Industry collaboration is excellent and can result in more resources to create awareness of the opportunities and requirements to succeed in your industry. But again, we need to focus on your company’s unique needs, not the industry.

Here’s what it is: First, we define the business objectives and the hired job. Then we can identify the most relevant skills and begin selecting customizable training. A timeline/sequence for training is agreed upon, and manager involvement and feedback are secured. Internal and external subject matter experts are identified to support the learning plan. Finally, you add to this customized program a performance coach to ensure ongoing alignment of priorities and contextualization of what is learned.

Here’s our vision for the future:

  • Every front-line employee starts at your company with a custom learning plan, ready access to experts, and a performance coach to push them to achieve optimal performance. As a result, front-line talent is seen as a far more valuable asset. And they stick around because they know they are rapidly expanding their skills and growing.
  • Employers respond to talent gaps by first evaluating what solutions they can design. And when it comes to selecting a delivery mechanism, apprenticeships are the go-to.
  • Talent looks first to employers for guidance on where to focus their training and skill development. And apprenticeships are the most competitive and sought-after roles.
  • Training providers make it easy for a business to implement turnkey solutions. The coach, community of experts, curriculum resources, and administration are ready for delivery.
  • Department of Labor and workforce funds are accessed by training providers to ensure cost is no longer a barrier to implementation. Companies do not have the burden of obtaining access and reporting to receive these funds because all administration is cared for by the training provider. No further bloating of Title IV funds fueling misaligned programs and piling on additional student debt.

Ready to become an active participant in developing your source of internal talent? Discover how everyone wins when we implement employer-first apprenticeship solutions.