Thrivner ThoughtCast | Workforce Development
Purpose: To explore the importance of workforce development in ways that will benefit an organization, the workplace community, and the individual.
In any organization, there is a myriad of employees needing to advance their learning in a wide range of areas. For example, a recent college graduate needs techniques on how to close a deal face-to-face, a 20-year company veteran needs to understand and utilize the latest software, a middle-skills employee desires career advancement. All have the need for workforce development.
Workforce development focuses on an individual’s ability to grow their skills and acquire the tools they need to flourish in the workplace. A proactive employee can singularly expand their abilities and advance their career trajectory through a series of self-directed learning opportunities. Some forward-thinking organizations also have employee developing and thriving systems in place to invest in their most valuable asset. When organizations prioritize and empower their employees with workplace education and skills refinement there are multiple mutual benefits. Investing in employees creates a positive workplace atmosphere, increasing employee job satisfaction, team morale, operational efficiency, and productivity. With a highly skilled team, an organization stays competitive in a global market, significantly reduces the turnover rate, and increases industry credibility. Workforce development – whether obtained individually or organizationally – has the potential to encourage, motivate, and inspire in areas of strategic management, production procedures, technological updates, and product innovation.
Employers scan resumes seeking candidates that offer not only the hard skills necessary to perform the technical tasks in a job but also the soft skills essential to create a positive and functional work environment. Hard skills are the industry-specific knowledge or training gained through life experiences, especially in your education and career (e.g., statistical analysis, programming languages, database management, etc.). Alternately, soft skills are interpersonal aptitudes and traits that shape how you work independently and with others (e.g., dependability, team player, work ethic, etc.). People with soft skills tend to have strong situational awareness and emotional intelligence to navigate difficult working environments while still producing positive results and demonstrate the resilience to adapt to changing environments. While both skill sets are indispensable for success in the workplace, soft skills are more difficult to develop and therefore more valuable to some employers. The following are five soft skills that will increase your worth within an organization:
1. Master problem-solving. Decision-making is a daily task. When a problem arises involving clients or colleagues, it can get complicated. Resolve to address workplace challenges with a mindset of being proactive versus reactive. How the process is approached, managed, and resolved will test your knowledge of operations, critical thinking, communication, and diplomacy.
Workplace Problem Solving Steps1
- Define the problem: Analyze the situation to determine the cause of the problem. It is critical to separate facts from opinions as information is gathered from affected clients and team members. If necessary, review company policies and procedures.
While defining a problem, make sure you stay focused on the problem rather than trying to define it in terms of a solution at this stage. For example, “We need to rewrite the training documents” focuses on the solution rather than the problem. Instead, saying, “Training documents are inconsistent” is a better way to define a problem.
- Identify solutions: Brainstorm all possible solutions. Distinguish between short and long-term alternatives and make sure ideas are consistent with the organization’s relevant goals and objectives. Invite everyone that the problem affects to participate in idea generation and consult experienced colleagues for advice on this type of challenge.
- Evaluate solutions: Assess the positive and negative consequences of each solution, then compare them in terms of resources required for implementation including, time, data, personnel, and budget.
- Select a solution: Choose the solution that best solves the problem. When the answer is “Yes” to each of the following questions (and company leadership gives their stamp of approval), proceed with implementation.
- “Does it solve the existing problem without creating new ones?”
- “Is it acceptable to everyone involved?”
- “Is it practical and easy to implement?”
- “Does it fit within the organization’s policies and procedures?”
- Implement the solution: Move forward with a plan of action, including timelines. Define objectives and separate them into measurable targets. Identify and task the team members responsible for executing the solution and communicate the plan to everyone involved. Make all necessary resources available to produce the desired result and develop feedback channels.
- Monitor progress: Continuously measure progress to ensure the solution works and that the problem is solved. Collect feedback and data from others.
- Make adjustments: Finally, expect the unexpected. Make adjustments as needed. If the solution does not work out as planned, return to the alternate solutions and implement a new plan.
A single situation may involve multiple problems. Apply the steps above to each specific problem.
2. Practice Active Listening. 2 One of the most critical skills in effective communication is active listening. Developing this soft skill will help build and maintain relationships, detect and solve problems, improve processes and retain information such as instructions, procedures, and expectations.
- Attentive listening involves holding eye contact, nodding, leaning forward, and allowing the speaker to complete their entire thought before asking open-ended questions.
- Reflective listening involves repeating and paraphrasing what the speaker has said to show a true understanding of what they tell you.
Sincerely and actively listening to what people have to say shows respect for their thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Try to use short verbal affirmations such as, “I see,” “I understand,” or “I agree.” Empathize and share similar experiences, (if appropriate). Most importantly, avoid disrespectful behaviors such as interrupting, talking too much, looking distracted, and checking your phone.
3. Develop Innovative Thinking. The ability to come up with creative ideas and novel approaches to workplace problems is an invaluable skill most employers welcome. New strategies that produce improved outcomes are sought and desired in most organizations and increase your standing with your team. Embrace change and challenge yourself to search for ineffective or problematic situations that could be improved. Gather diverse, energetic colleagues to begin idea stimulation both individually and as a group. Apply the problem-solving steps listed above, and set pertinent parameters such as time, resources, and capabilities. Inspiration strikes at odd moments when you are away from your desk and your mind wanders freely, so keep your iPad or pen and paper handy. Also, research how other industries have solved similar problems, striving to be open and flexible to exploring multiple possibilities that may include an intertwining of ideas. Life-changing concepts, processes, and products have sometimes originated by accident; innovation never ends.
4. Take initiative 3
- Do more than is required. Attempt every day to do something extra that would make an impact on your team. It could be as simple as washing the coffee cups in the sink, or it could be something more complex, such as drafting a plan to solve an annoying workplace problem. The goal is to actively demonstrate your commitment to the team and not as an attention-grabbing tactic.
- Think as a team member. Care about each detail and dedicate all efforts to achieving excellent outcomes. Continue to bolster relationships within your team and genuinely distribute kudos and compliments. Each achievement of the organization belongs to the team, and when the organization prospers, the team prospers.
- Speak up and share. Bring your ideas and viewpoint to the table and speak them. There is always a need for fresh perspectives. When you share, be concise, articulate, and focused on the topic at hand. Be prepared with a plan of action to achieve an idea and include its intended value to the organization. Even if your idea is dismissed, it could be the spark to give rise to new concepts or areas of discussion.
- Anticipate needs. One result of active listening is becoming more attuned and aware of the needs of others. In many situations, you will be able to satisfy a request or complete the next step required in advance. Meeting expectations ahead of time helps you gain trust and confidence.
- Put feedback into action. Feedback from supervisors during performance reviews, collaboration with colleagues, or advice from career counselors provides a significant growth opportunity. This provides an exchange where you can learn from mistakes, see another’s point of view, and gather constructive ideas for moving forward in your career. It requires courage and determination to accept and tackle the challenges offered.
Take this chance to highlight your dedication to the organization; make your best work better and own your learning, actions, and behaviors.
A million wonderful ideas have not meant anything to this world just because they were not told; no one knew about them.
Almost all employers value soft skills to aid in the day-to-day functioning of the organization. Tackle these skills with intentionality, curiosity, and drive to increase your self-worth and organizational profile. These skills will serve you for the entirety of your career.
Today, there is a gap between what employers want and the skills employees have. Many careers that did not even exist a decade ago are now an integral part of how organizations function. Knowledge transfer is one integral piece to closing the gap. Higher education and training, whether self-directed or organizational, are vital to improving the future workplace to provide theoretical, practical, and productive contributions.
Organizations desiring to stay relevant and competitive in this changing climate are incorporating a multi-pronged approach into their blueprint for up-skilling. The first step is conducting a skills gap analysis and compiling a list of required skills and competencies necessary for each role that will work well at present and for the future. After evaluating an employee’s current skills, organizations partner them with educators or programs best designed to boost collaboration, communication, and critical thinking with virtual or in-person classes, internal training, coaching, internships, or apprenticeships. Running a pilot program with a robust support system and offering certifications can encourage participation and add value to participants. Once plans are in place, it sets the stage for a win/win outcome for both employees and the organization, especially if they create a company culture where everyone is invested in generating growth.
Leverage Industry Expertise
A significant shift is occurring in the workforce as “Traditionalists” and “Baby Boomers” are heading toward retirement, and “Gen-Xers” and “Millennials” are stepping into their roles. Specialized skills, institutional knowledge, and on-the-job expertise accumulated over decades are in jeopardy of being lost. Smoothly transferring this job knowledge from one generation to the next is vital to an organization’s stability and growth. Industries recognize that fostering intergenerational relationships is the best way to transfer this knowledge. Senior experts and leaders need opportunities to share the implicit skills acquired during their tenure, while new and Junior employees need to embody and apply the knowledge gained.
Explicit: Easily codified and conveyed to others, such as handbooks, training seminars, and procedural manuals
Implicit: Experiential, such as wisdom, discernment, hunches, instinct, and personal insight 5
Passing the torch requires effective engagement to create a climate conducive to knowledge transfer where everyone is comfortable talking about what they know and what they don’t know. Organizations that recognize the value of their industry experts will provide learning exchange opportunities such as mentorship programs. Individuals can also leverage industry expertise through networking.
- Mentorship Programs: Typically, Senior executives provide one-on-one mentorship to impart advice, insight, and counsel to navigate situations based on their real-world experiences. Reverse mentorship creates an opportunity for Junior staff to offer fresh perspectives, trend spotting, and technical guidance.
- Networking Events:
- Traditional: “Lunch and Learn” gatherings, informal roundtable discussions, support workshops, book clubs, local business groups, Chamber of Commerce activities, industry conferences, and hosted social/happy hours.
- Virtual: LinkedIn, alumni groups, community forums, and various social media groups. [More virtual networking ideas can be found here]
- Media: Blogs, podcasts, video interviews, interactive virtual presentations, industry magazines, etc.
- Thinking Outside the Box: Games, team challenges, and offsite experiences such as karaoke, hiking, bowling, or any creative activity that invites communication between colleagues
The goal is to build genuine and trusting relationships to advance both an organization and its employees. Leveraging industry expertise is more than the acquisition of job skills; it allows everyone involved to become fuller versions of themselves.
Four Generations at Work and How They Learn 6
The learning styles of employees within an organization vary generationally as well as educationally. Consider that some employees vividly remember watching television in black and white while others have never known a world without the internet. The graphic below shows a few noteworthy distinctions in generational learning styles.
The abilities of the current workforce does not match the speed and magnitude of change in technology markets and business models. Bold new approaches are needed to answer the succession planning crisis and to close the workforce skills gap. For organizations to survive, and for the workforce to thrive, on-going education and training programs paired with knowledge transfer and talent development are the future.
- Effective problem solving steps in the workplace. (2020, October 01). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/effective-problem-solving-steps
- Active listening skills: Definition and examples. (2021, February 08). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/active-listening-skills
- Cole, S. (2018, December 04). 9 ways to take more initiative at work. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3037092/9-ways-to-take-more-initiative-at-work
- Selig, M. (2018, August 06). 11 ways to project confidence and be taken seriously. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/changepower/201808/11-ways-project-confidence-and-be-taken-seriously
- Thielfoldt, D. (2014, February 01). Passing the Torch: Transferring knowledge from baby Boomer employees to the next generation(s). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://insulation.org/io/articles/passing-the-torch-transferring-knowledge-from-baby-boomer-employees-to-the-next-generations/
- Are you ready to support 4 generations of learners? (2020, August 24). Retrieved February 24, 2021, from https://www.panopto.com/blog/are-you-ready-to-support-4-generations-of-learners/#:~:text=Baby%20Boomers%20%E2%80%94%20Born%20between%201946,more%20directly%20into%20the%20process.