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Ideas Made to Matter


3 elements to developing and improving a skilled workforce


As businesses undergo digital transformation, the one constant is that things are always changing. For managers, the challenge is to help train and develop workers and ready them for the unknowns of the future.

“People need to grow and thrive in their careers,” said MIT Sloan senior lecturer “Digital transformation is happening everywhere. One reason people who switch jobs are doing so is because they’re not getting development opportunities. That is a real loss for companies.”

In a recent MIT Sloan Executive Education webinar, Westerman shared findings from a recent survey he co-led that included interviews with leaders from 25 companies. He outlined three elements to developing and improving a skilled workforce.

1. Make career paths visible to all.

It’s not enough for employees to hear about or have a sense of the career development opportunities available to them; they need a clear view of the different paths they can take.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for example, makes portions of its personnel system available to employees. If someone is curious about the career path of an employee who held a similar role, they can access the system and view their progression within the medical center.

“What UPMC does is show what’s possible,” Westerman said. For employees who might not be ready to take a formal step toward a new position, “it’s very low risk, because you call the person in the job; you’re not calling HR. So whether or not you trust HR, you have an opportunity to see what might happen and to make a contact you wouldn’t have had before.”

2. Provide an agile approach to learning.

Not everyone has the time or resources to earn a certification or an advanced degree. That means organizations need to provide that education in a way that meets employees’ needs.

The Fidelity Investments call center is a high-stakes environment in which customer calls often involve questions around regulated products. Employees need to be careful about what they say and ensure that their advice is accurate.

To train workers, Westerman said, Fidelity uses the three i’s: instruction, immersion, and introspection.

In the morning, workers are instructed on the product they’re supporting. In the afternoon, they’re immersed in the call center environment, fielding and answering questions while under supervision. The next day, the workers share what they’ve learned with their in-training colleagues.

“They’re learning and they’re practicing in the same moment,” Westerman said.

Schneider Electric offers an internal talent market in which managers can post help-wanted ads. For example, a manager might post about a data science project that will appeal to an employee who just took a data science course and wants to apply what they’ve learned.

The temporary project is a low-risk way to meaningfully contribute, Westerman said. Additionally, “you now have met a manager you wouldn’t have met before, and you can make those connections happen in ways that you didn’t have before.”

3. Providing rich feedback and coaching.

When it comes to career development, feedback can be tricky, Westerman said, because it tends to be about how someone is doing in their current job, not how they’re developing or stretching themselves.

At steelmaker Amsted Industries, every nonunion employee has a career development program built into their role. This means that the employee not only has a manager who’s responsible for giving feedback and making sure they’re doing their job well but also a separate manager helping their career development. This person sits down with the employee to discuss what the employee wants to accomplish. Those goals are then brought to the management team, which finds a path for reaching the targets.

At annual review time, the employee’s performance is assessed by their manager, and the career manager is evaluated on how well they helped the employee take steps on their development path.

"It’s fascinating because it gets your manager out of that discussion,” Westerman said. “Secondly, it makes it really, really explicit that this matters to [the company].”

For more info Meredith Somers News Writer (617) 715-4216