Targeted Training: 9 Steps to Close the Skills Gaps

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Targeted Training: 9 Steps to Close the Skills Gaps

Many organizations struggle with long-term skill development and find it challenging to equip employees with the right skills to succeed in their roles. Targeted training can help businesses upskill and reskill employees in the most crucial areas to reduce turnover and help meet the company’s goals. In this article, we’ll be outlining how to implement targeted training at your organization.

What is targeted training?
Tips for implementing targeted training at your organization

What is targeted training?

Targeted training uses a mix of formal and informal learning to close specific skills gaps within an organization. It helps ensure both new and existing employees are fully prepared and supported to perform in their roles. One study published in The Economic Journal found that one week of targeted training can boost employee productivity by 10% and increase informal learning. Such training can also:

  • speed up the ramp-up time for new hires,
  • have a positive impact on other employees around those who have received training,
  • and send a positive message to employees that you care about their welfare.

Additionally, targeted training helps organizations invest their resources effectively.

Technology is rapidly evolving and bringing with it new ways of working. For employees to successfully perform in their jobs, they require new, additional skills, so a healthy training budget and regular targeted training are vital.

Tips for implementing targeted training at your organization

1. Identify skills gaps

Before you decide what training needs to take place, you must identify where the current skills gaps are in your employees. A skills inventory is a good place to start. This is a list of all the qualifications, professional skills, and experiences that your employees have. The data is typically collected through a mix of employee self-assessments and skills assessments conducted by the business. A skills inventory can help organizations understand whether employees have the skills to meet the current demands placed on them and identify any skills gaps. This method also helps business leaders and stakeholders make key investment decisions, and HR professionals make strategic decisions in recruitment and learning and development.

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A skills gap analysis is another tool used to determine the gap between the current skill set of employees and the ideal skill set an organization would eventually like them to have. It helps organizations identify the critical skills employees need to perform certain tasks or meet goals but don’t currently possess. This enables HR to then address the skills gap through a range of upskilling, reskilling, and L&D investment decisions. They can identify the key training topics to focus on in the short- and long term.

ChildFund International’s IT team had plans to move from an in-house CRM software to a cloud-based one. To ensure a smooth transition, CIO Cheri Spence conducted a skills inventory of her team to see who would thrive and identify any critical skill gaps. This gave her a clear understanding of the skills needed for the transition to be a success. As a result, the company managed to save $200,000 in direct labor. 

2. Design training objectives with your business goals in mind

It’s easy to design and develop training initiatives for almost any line of work. But what’s important is that you first understand the business you’re in and what you ultimately want to achieve. When you have a clear idea of your short and long-term business goals and objectives, you can then work backward and design targeted training to help you get there. A deep understanding of your organization and industry and where it’s headed enables you to utilize a mix of formal and informal learning to develop targeted, focused training.

For example, it’s forecast that within 20 years, 90% of all national healthcare jobs in the UK will require digital literacy. Many workers currently lack this competency. In 2019 in the UK, Health Education England North East and North Cumbria contacted The Institute of Coding (IoC) to co-develop an introductory program for healthcare professionals to help address the digital skills gap within the industry and prepare them for a digitized future.  

3. Consider individual learning needs

Every employee at every organization is an individual with different skills, experiences, and preferred ways of learning. Whether there are 50 people in your organization, 500, or even 5000, there are many variables to consider. These include the following:

  • cultural diversity,
  • geographical location,
  • language barriers,
  • time constraints,
  • different knowledge base,
  • skill sets,
  • learning styles,
  • and access to technology. 

Therefore, different people will need to receive training differently. While there may be training that you can dispense to the masses (process changes, compliance matters, new product launches, etc.), there will also be times where training should be delivered to the individual and cater to different learning styles and skill levels. Organizations can achieve this through self-paced training programs as opposed to team workshops. Personalization like this is key to making your targeted training a success on a company-wide scale. 

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4. Communicate the value of the training

For your employees to make the most of targeted training, they must understand what they’re learning and why this matters. How will this training help them perform more effectively in their role? How will this training better equip them for the predicted future changes due to digitization? What are the benefits of this training to them, and are they aware of these?

It is the organization’s responsibility to clearly and authentically communicate the value of the training to all employees. That way, they become stakeholders in their own learning and development.

Implementing a Targeted Training Program

5. Set up a reasonable training schedule

In an ideal world, you would be able to identify the skills gap and immediately close it. However, this is not realistic. It’s essential that you create an achievable timeline for when you expect employees to have the skills you require them to and what you will provide them with to help them get there.

The first step is to set up a training schedule containing all of the training you plan to carry out over one month, six months, or even a year. Within this schedule, set specific dates for each training session and makeup dates for anyone unable to attend the first sessions. It’s important to consider employees’ current workloads and schedules and not cram too much onto their plates at once. 

When it comes to multi-session training, ensure sessions aren’t too far apart (so the previous session is forgotten) or too close together (creating overwhelm and overload). It’s also sensible to add a buffer period for trainees who would like extra training after a session before moving on to the next one.  

6. Combine formal and informal learning opportunities

Some organizations rely solely on formal training. This type of training includes days or weeks of intensive training in a classroom or online setting. The drawback with this method is that much information is thrown at employees in one go, which means much of it is not retained. Plus, new hires and existing employees have no on-the-job context to understand what they’re learning. This leads to a fraction of the training being remembered and applied.

Other organizations rely primarily on informal learning. It typically involves shadowing more experienced staff members, interacting with co-workers, receiving feedback, and coaching. This can lead to new hires learning the wrong things or having inconsistencies in their skills. One of two things happens: either the worker swims (they continue working until they figure out how to succeed in their role) or sinks (they realize they aren’t cut out for this job and either quit or have to be let go.

In a survey by The Center for Creative Leadership, they found that generally, only 10% of learning is formal, 20% is informal, and 70% is experiential (learning on the job). This is why a mix of learning opportunities is imperative for maximizing the effectiveness of the targeted training approach.

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The Water Quality Association (WQA) designed an integrated training program informed by key experts in each business area who identified critical competencies that all staff needs to perform well in their jobs.

The organization created a list of practical performance goals. Then, they identified a set of learning experiences to help employees achieve those competencies. To create a complex set of learning opportunities that help employees learn and retain the skills they need at work, they combined a mix of online reading and tutorials, mobile support and coaching, and structured on-the-job experiences.

7. Help learners apply their skills

If you want employees to truly retain what they’ve learned in your training programs, it’s vital that you present them with sufficient opportunities to apply their new skills. This can be, for example, through job rotation. Additionally, make sure to discuss in the training session how learners can use their training when they get back to their job.

Through their research, Gist, Bavetta, & Stevens found that when training participants are encouraged to set learning goals and self-manage as part of a training course, they have a significantly higher level of transfer of the skills they’ve learned. Therefore, helping learners think about how they’ll integrate their newfound skills into their jobs is a vital part of the learning process.

Following each training session, arrange to meet with the trainee and their managers to assess the potential difficulties the trainee might experience in applying their new skills on the job. Help management understand the results they can expect from the employee following the training. Ensure the training participant and their manager or supervisor meet regularly afterward to discuss progress and offer positive reinforcement. Failed attempts to apply new skills must not be punished or viewed as failures but rather as learning opportunities.

Remind management and co-workers that by acting as a role model using the skill in question, they can help the trainee apply what they’ve learned. Follow up with trainees and their managers after a training session to track their progress. 

8. Collect feedback

Throughout your targeted training program, seek out feedback from your employees. You can conduct anonymous surveys, interviews, and focus groups to determine whether your training is helping you meet your business objectives. Make sure your learners feel able to be honest and give critical feedback without fear of being punished or treated differently.

Pay attention to the feedback you receive. Then analyze it and look for the lessons on how to improve your targeted training. This should be a never-ending process of analysis and refinement to ensure your training remains effective.

9. Measure training effectiveness

Measuring training effectiveness helps you assess:

  • how effective your current program is,
  • whether it’s benefiting your employees,
  • whether it’s meeting your original goals,
  • and its effect on the overall performance of the business.

While you don’t need to measure the ROI of every training initiative you run, it is important to determine which level you need to evaluate them.  

You can measure training effectiveness through discussions, surveys, questionnaires, quizzes, assessments, and exams. Today, organizations utilize several proven evaluation models, including Kirkpatrick’s Four-level Training Evaluation Model and The Phillips ROI Model. 

A final word

The creation and implementation of a targeted training program is one of the key business strategies to help you effectively close skills gaps, boost your team’s productivity and drive significant improvements in performance, and manage your resources in an optimal way. Ultimately, such a high-quality training program will positively impact your organization’s bottom line.

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