Amar Kulkarni, Managing Partner, Skills U

Amar Kulkarni is a leading Strategy, Leadership, and Technology consultant and Managing Partner at Skills U, a skill and learning experience platform for SMBs and enterprises. Skills U is your fractional CLO, meeting the demands of your modern workforce including closing the skill gap. Amar has over 20 years of experience working with SMBs and global enterprises such as Deloitte, Capgemini, IBM, Target, and Scholastic, with a focus on business transformation, digital strategy, organizational change, and CX. In addition to business transformation thought leadership, Amar has written countless articles on utilizing human-centered design, psychology, mindset, personal growth, leadership, productivity, and well-being in the workplace. Amar has a BEng and MBA and a passion for working with leaders, individuals, and teams to unlock their highest potential.


The challenge of employee retention and upskilling is top of mind for organizations to remain competitive. “With 93% of organizations worried about holding onto their talent, the focus is now on more than just paychecks,” says a recent Gallup report.

With the macroeconomic influences, including the COVID-19 pandemic and advancements in technology especially in generative AI and automation, organizations must reset their people experience strategy to focus on skills.

According to Deloitte, three out of five business executives say new technologies — such as AI and automation — will be a primary driver of their organization adopting a skills-based approach. As businesses confront an $8.5 trillion skills gap, as outlined by the World Economic Forum, the need for upskilling and reskilling is and will be, a top organizational priority for leaders.

Learning and Growth is a Driver for Employee Engagement and Retention

The role of learning and development, along with career mobility are playing a greater role in employee engagement and retention. LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report reveals a crucial insight: “Employees who feel their skills aren’t being put to good use in their current job are 10 times more likely to look for a new job than those who feel their skills are being utilized effectively.” There is a clear correlation between engagement and growth.

For engaged employees, learning is key to their career progression. In addition, employees want to stay up to date in their fields and want to invest in not only their jobs but also their interests, careers, and life goals. Personal and professional growth are not separate paths to success.

The Cultural Learning Gap

Concurrently, C-suites are now hyper-focused on mobilizing employees. Given the high costs of turnover and acquiring new talent, organizations’ top priority is “keeping employees motivated and engaged,” which will address the retention issue. Forward-looking organizations’ second priority is “giving employees opportunities to move into different roles within the business,” aimed at building business resiliency and productivity.

Continuous learning is a driver of employee and organizational performance. A learning culture starts with leaders encouraging an environment for employees to learn and grow. Despite the recognized value of learning, a disconnect remains. “Employees are eager to learn, but they’re not getting the support they need,” shares an HR director from a leading tech company.

This gap is evident in traditional and emergent online learning platforms, which frequently experience low completion rates. Empowerment of employee learning development has taken a back seat, with only 35% of learners feeling encouraged to learn by their manager in the past six months according to the latest LinkedIn learning report.

Employees want to be in the driver’s seat of their career and personal growth objectives. With support from managers and HR partners, employees should be empowered to own their career plans, while aligning individual goals with business objectives, to create a win-win scenario for the organization.

Personalized Learning as a Solution

Personalized learning is an enabler for employee growth, as demonstrated by a case study from Siemens. They implemented a detailed skills assessment and tailored learning paths, leading to a significant increase in employee satisfaction and performance. “It’s about aligning learning with the individual’s career ambitions and the company’s direction,” a Siemens L&D manager explains.

The organization may have set out career paths for example, an individual contributor to a manager, or a junior developer to an intermediate developer to a senior developer. Still, each individual has a unique career journey based on life circumstances, opportunities, and personal interests.

The key to continuous learning is that the employee is motivated, growing, and thriving in meeting the next milestone. A personalized learning plan with visibility into the skills required gives the employee a natural career roadmap that can be used as dialogue for regular check-ins, goal planning, and performance reviews.

Creating Active Learning Cultures as a Solution:

Let’s create cultures of active learning and engagement. The 2023 L&D report from LinkedIn emphasizes the top priorities: aligning learning with business goals and creating a continuous learning culture. For instance, Google’s ‘20% time’ philosophy, where employees spend 20% of their time on personal projects, has led to innovations like Gmail and AdSense.

“It’s about fostering an environment where learning and innovation go hand in hand,” says a Google HR executive. With a clear learning plan including a skills framework, learning plan, and mentorships, employees can bring learning into their everyday work.

The 70-20-10 model for learning and development, which holds that 70% of their knowledge comes from job-related experiences, 20% comes from interactions with others, and 10% from formal educational events will be more important than ever. We see a future of learning on the job in which the employee doesn’t need as much formal training but is equipped with “just-in-time learning” that enables them to do the job effectively.

Leveraging Technology as a Solution:

With the onset of AI and other technology accelerators, the right tools must be activated to get the desired business outcomes. This can be in the form of an AI advisor, connection with a peer to complete an impromptu peer-to-peer session, or setting up a functional mentorship or peer group arrangement. Many organizations are following; Walmart is currently experimenting with an AI assistant for its team members to help with onboarding and skills development.

So, what is going to be most important in this new learning and development landscape? First, clarity in career paths is crucial. As an HR leader from Adobe notes, “Transparent career trajectories contribute to employee motivation and retention.”

Second, data tracking in learning and development is key. An HR analyst at IBM shares, “Through our learning platform, we’ve been able to track skill development and align it with our business goals effectively.”

Third, the necessity of a comprehensive learning marketplace that leverages multiple forms of content is evident. “Offering a variety of learning resources caters to diverse employee needs,” comments a LinkedIn Learning executive.

Based on individual learning styles and preferences, having highly engaging content and multi-channel learning activities centralized in one place will be essential for the ideal employee learning experience. For example, MasterClass, a platform that provides expert advice on topics such as leadership has an 80% engagement rate. Employees expect content that is timely, relevant, and interesting.

“Learning and development are not just HR issues; they are business issues,” a Gallup analyst remarks, and we can expect many more organizations to fill the gap of a “CLO” or Chief Learning Officer, either in a full time, or in a fractional capacity.

Other organizations may centralize this responsibility to HR or decentralize it across functional groups. Many are looking to leverage technology to fill the void. Either way, the opportunity remains: investing in learning is essential for addressing the skills gap, career mobility, and ensuring a competitive, successful organization.

Conclusion: Close Your Organizational Skills Gap

Technology is advancing so rapidly that organizations will need to re-think not only how people learn but also how the organization responds to change, for example, what business functions can be optimized by advanced technology? What is the resulting impact on existing roles and responsibilities? A role today will not look the same in a few years.

First, organizations must identify the skills people have. Second, they must identify the skills they need. Third, they must determine how to close the gap quickly.

The future of learning and development is transforming, but one thing is for sure: as organizations invest in holistic learning and development that empowers employees to develop without limitations, they will surely reap financial benefits and gain a competitive advantage. With an emphasis on personalized learning plans and skills upgrades, individual employees flourish, and as a result, so does the organization.

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