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Closing the Technology Skills Gap: Lessons From the Classroom

Closing the Technology Skills Gap: Lessons From the Classroom

Nov 08, 2017

Before considering any new technology implementation, organizations should take an honest and introspective look at how well they are using their existing technology. A common discovery is that the organization’s current users lack skills related to basic technology use and that functionality within current systems is not being used. Given this finding, does it really make sense to implement more technology when users don't know how to use the tech that is already in place? It’s a question many organizations find themselves asking, and it spans all industries of all shapes and sizes.

Throughout my 12+-year career in consulting, I have seen a huge skills gap when it comes to technology. In today’s modern world of ever-changing cloud application and multigenerational work environments, the tech skills gap is now compounded and continues to grow. So why haven't organizations been successful in closing the technology skills gap with traditional training options? The simple answer is that the way training is conducted is often flawed.

In 2014 I took a hiatus from consulting to teach IT Systems and Networking in a higher-education environment. During this experience, I noticed some consistent trends among the multigenerational cohorts I saw every day in the classroom. Here’s what I observed:

  1. People don't like to read...period. Online articles and books are best used as references for specific questions or tasks.
  2. The one-to-many lecture/demo style of instruction is great—but only for 20- to 30-minute increments, and only if all individuals within the group are at a similar skill level. Unfortunately, most in-person training is measured in days, not minutes, and skill levels vary greatly.
    For instance, I was recently working with a client to plan out two half-day sessions of Microsoft Office training. Prior to building out the material, I sent out a skills self-assessment survey asking training participants to rate their skill levels for various tasks on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being a beginner and 5 being an expert. The variance among the answers was even more drastic than I had predicted! Several of the questions/tasks had an almost even distribution across the rating scale! How does one effectively provide instruction to a group given that much variance in individual skill sets? Some will be bored, others will be lost, and you are likely providing benefit to only a fraction of the audience.
  3. Recorded videos are great, and if you keep them short, people might even watch them. There are numerous online resources that provide free content. The problem with video as a format is the element of distraction. When watching training videos, emails ding, cell phones buzz, and social media notifications pop up. To expect people to stay engaged with video-based instruction for long is unrealistic.

Instead, the "secret sauce" of learning is letting users get hands-on ("doing") in a comfortable environment, combined with a bit of guidance and some help along the way. Hands-on learning is best done in a test environment so people can explore and try different things without feeling like they are going to “mess things up.” Targeted instruction—either one-to-one or one-to-few—kicks in when people get stuck. If possible, I recommend leveraging “power users” for this role, since peers are often more effective and more approachable than a third party or someone unknown to the learner.

Another effective training tool is using a learning portal with training modules, a searchable knowledge base, and Q&A sections. It’s often an engaging and cost-effective training method and is especially effective when combined with the power-user approach.

It’s Time for Better Practices

It's time to close the technology skills gap. Get the most out of your existing technology investments by leveraging better practices. Train the smarter way.

Author(s)

Burger_Mark
Mark A. Burger, MCSA, MCTS
Senior Consultant
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