It would be natural for employers to think that feelings of job security are on the rise. The unemployment rate has declined over the past two years, and many job seekers can now afford to be more selective in their searches. Data scientists, for example, are in such high demand that employers are offering a variety of incentives, including flexible and remote work arrangements and more than competitive salaries, just to get them on board.

But as it turns out, the majority of today’s workers aren’t feeling so safe in their employment. In fact, they’re very uncertain about the futures of their careers. As new technologies, new ways of working, and a new generation entering the workforce drive rapid change, many workers fear they might be displaced by more qualified employees or even machines.

A recent Cornerstone report found that half of US workers don’t believe they have the skills they need to withstand a layoff, and a majority don’t feel supported by their employers to learn new skills.

With competition for talent so tight, organizations can either see this as a challenge, or they can take advantage of a unique opportunity. Development programs boost employees’ confidence, and in turn, result in higher engagement at work. By supporting skills development programs, organizations can build needed skill sets in house while improving both productivity and morale. Plus, when learning is prioritized, workers are more likely to push the envelope and contribute to innovation in the workplace. It’s a win-win-win situation.

This in itself may not be news to an HR manager tasked with developing training programs. Leading organizations should always be working to more effectively train employees to broaden competencies and bolster confidence. So what have we learned from the data? How can we leverage this sentiment to create a better future of work and navigate the changes that are to come? How can we use the demand for skills development as an opportunity to give organizations and employees an edge in today’s competitive talent market?

A Shared Responsibility

As the pace of change accelerates, successful learning and development (L&D) programs will only grow in importance. HR professionals must play an active part in implementing effective L&D programs, but managers also have a critical role. Not only are managers well positioned to help their employees identify skills gaps, but they can also help prioritize work, allowing employees to free up time to participate in development programs.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility for continuous learning falls on the employee. To stay ahead of the curve and remain competitive, employees must consistently develop their skills; they must become lifelong learners with unquenchable curiosity.

Rather than specializing their skill sets and thus narrowing their opportunities, employees should be encouraged to participate on projects outside their immediate jobs. This can give them opportunities to ask questions, meet new people in the organization, broaden their skill sets, and identify new areas of interest.

The good news is employees really do want to learn new skills. According to Cornerstone’s research, 83 percent of workers consider continuous professional development to be essential, and 76 percent believe that learning new skills would give them more confidence at work. This means investments in L&D programs and technology are generally good bets, as employees will embrace those investments.

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For companies that want to jump-start their training programs, a growing ecosystem of resources is available. For example, Cornerstone’s 5 for 20 Challenge offers one such framework: Companies that dedicate 5 percent of employees’ time to intentional learning can experience a reduction in turnover of up to 20 percent.

Slashing turnover is huge, and so is giving people the skills they need to excel. When people are given the opportunity to learn and grow, they are more engaged, and more engaged teams are 21 percent more productive. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, those numbers represent the kind of edge no company can afford to ignore.

As the Workforce Becomes More Diverse, So Should Training Programs

Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever before. There are more women — and mothers — in roles up and down the org chart. People from five different generations are working alongside each other, and those people come from countries and cultures spanning the globe.

The benefits of this widespread diversity are clear. McKinsey and others have developed a growing body of research that shows companies committed to diversity can improve their decision-making, their talent bases, and their financial performances. By committing to diversity, companies gain access to more perspectives and a broader range of skills, which benefits the organization’s culture and its bottom line.

This growing diversity in the workplace also means that companies need to rethink the spectrum of programs they offer to employees. Older workers, for example, often feel like they are getting left behind: 73 percent of baby boomers say their employers don’t help them identify the skills they need to develop for the future. At the same time, we have an incoming class of workers who require a unique type of training: professional skill development. As Gen. Z heads to work, there is a growing concern these digital natives have not yet developed the interpersonal skills required to succeed in the modern workplace.

To effectively tailor training programs for today’s diverse workforce, organizations have to know what their employees know and what they don’t. Some workers might be experts at verbal and written communications, but they may need training to navigate newer workplace tools like Slack and Zoom. A digital native just out of college, on the other hand, might need coaching to write that effective email or present themselves well in a client meeting.

With an understanding of how people’s skills, experiences, and perspectives differ from and complement one another, companies are in a better position to offer training solutions to fill the gaps and empower employees to take control of their own learning journeys.

Kimberly Cassady is chief talent officer at Cornerstone.

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