Transferable Skills Are Key to Today’s Learning and Development Programs

Learning and development programs that focus on transferable skills are more adaptable when businesses make new demands on talent resources.

learning and development - training magazine

Over the last year, the pandemic has brought about massive disruptions and shifts in talent utilization: from significant layoffs at some companies to the need to re-train, re-deploy or hire at an unprecedented scale at others. This sudden jolt to the labor market has only accelerated trends that were already moving quickly pre-COVID-19. One notable new reality is that skills — not degree or pedigree — have emerged as the common currency for getting a new job or retaining the one you have.

Confronted with solving for rapidly changing staffing needs at scale — and doing so with greater intention than ever before to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce — organizations are now actively reassessing the outdated proxies they used to lean on to narrow pools of eligible candidates and make human capital decisions. They are instead now looking for trusted signals for actual skills at the top and bottom of the funnel, before summarily dismissing talent that doesn’t happen to have a traditional degree or credential.

Companies that rely on skills as currency see dividends across all aspects of the talent landscape, with a more cohesive approach to talent mobility, learning, and hiring. One major upside to describing needs, roles, and credentials using the common language of skills are that you discover that many skills are transferable across job functions. You can also more easily identify those who might be just one or two trainable skills away from filling a need. As such, learning and development (L&D) programs that pay attention to transferable skills are well-positioned to adapt when business changes make new demands on talent resources.

Transferable skills apply across teams and fields

While every job requires some combination of skills, transferable skills are unique in that they can be deployed across multiple job functions, and even across seemingly disparate industries. These can include technical skills like cloud computing or data security, as well as human skills like teamwork and time management.

Transferable skills speak to the need for employees to be adaptable — a need that’s grown considerably since this time last year. If professionals want to compete in a fluid job market, they need skills that enable them to easily pivot into new roles or change fields entirely without starting from scratch.

This makes employees more marketable and discoverable — whether it is to new or current employers looking for qualified talent from unexpected settings. That’s a win-win for the employee from an engagement perspective (they stay longer to develop more skills) and the employer who values retention (re-positioning current talent is more cost-effective than recruiting externally). Employees who can easily be identified for having the right transferable skills can move between jobs or departments with greater ease and confidence.

Incorporating transferable skills into L&D programs

Investing in employee learning and development was important for long-term employee retention and growth even before the pandemic. A report from LinkedIn found 94% of employees would stay at their company longer if it invested in their learning. The desire for growth already exists within the workforce — L&D programs are the key to unlocking that growth. Now, companies must include transferable skills in those programs if they want to maximize their benefit. It’s better to begin now, as the need for transferable skills will only increase with time — especially as the pace of work and change accelerate. To incorporate and make this kind of skills visible in your L&D programs, consider the following:

Identify your company’s most valuable skills

While transferable skills make it easier for employees to move between jobs or companies, they’re not exact matches. Every organization will have its own set of expected competencies. L&D programs can help nurture the skills that stand to benefit your company the most. Start by identifying what those key skills and competencies are and how they’ll help you achieve your organizational goals. Break down your roles and hone in on the specific skills needed to perform well in them. You can then determine which roles have overlapping skills.

Map identified skills with training opportunities

With a list of transferable skills in hand, your next step is to map those identified competencies to training aligned with obtaining them. Many of the most in-demand transferable skills are human skills and it might be tempting to believe they can’t easily be trained. But, courses and learning programs abound for everything from emotional intelligence to collaboration. Whether you’re building a new L&D program or augmenting your current one, investigate specific courses that can train and practice your identified skills. This ensures your team develops the right skill sets to thrive in their roles and widens their career paths while helping your company succeed overall.

Take a data-driven approach to track your workforce’s skills

A truly effective learning and development program isn’t complete once the skills are learned; it needs a data infrastructure that quickly provides insights so you can respond to the changing needs of your business. Provide digital credentials in recognition of your company-provided training, and encourage employees to share digital credentials issued by other organizations, as well. These data points provide you with information that will help you deploy resources, staff projects, and plan for the future more effectively.

In a rapidly changing work environment, employees and employers alike need transferable skills to meet new and increasing demands. Place transferable skills at the center of your latest learning and development programs, and you can equip your workforce with valuable skills and future-proof your organization.

Jonathan Finkelstein
A nationally-recognized innovator in workforce development and learning, Jonathan is the CEO of Credly. Previously, he co-founded HorizonLive (acquired by Blackboard) and LearningTimes and has co-authored numerous articles and reports on digital credentials, employee engagement, and up-skilling in the workforce. He also authored the book “Learning in Real-Time”. The son of two New York City public school teachers who inspired lifelong learning, Jonathan received his AB with honors from Harvard.