Businesses need to future-proof their workforce and embrace new approaches when it comes to skills development.

“You can’t hire your way out of a skills shortage. Your team can’t Google their way to proficiency. If you held in-person training before every project, you’d never deliver anything,” said Aaron Skonnard, the cofounder and CEO of Pluralsight, an enterprise technology skills platform that provides online learning tools to help individuals and companies better understand what skills they lack and how to acquire new one.

It’s well documented that there is a massive global technology skills shortage across a variety of industries, so having access to skilled workers is a critical factor that sets successful companies apart from failing ones.

The skills gap is likely to get worse with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other emerging technologies, while the very nature of jobs is also changing.

Successful companies are so because they re-skill their workforce and, according to the World Economic Forum, this enables them to, “harness new and emerging technologies to reach higher levels of efficiency of production and expand into new markets.”

With advances in technology there is strong demand for technical skills like programming and app development, but also for creative thinking, problem-solving and negotiating skills. As new roles emerge, skills requirements will change and the size of the existing pool of skilled workers isn’t going to be big enough to meet demand.

Assessing the skills gap

“It’s critical that you understand your strengths and weaknesses at both a personal and company level. How large is your skills gap and how are you going to close it. Those are fundamental questions,” explains Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA, Pluralsight.

Traditionally gaps have been addressed by hiring the necessary talent but for many companies this is a short-term solution and as technology advances new skills will be required in what is a never ending cycle.

While companies can look to develop their own courseware for reskilling and up-skilling employees, Pluralsight is one of a number of online learning platforms that helps businesses stay ahead of digital disruption, offering a mixture of online courses in areas including software development, data science, machine learning and AI.

“Pluralsight provides the content, tools and analytics to enable companies and employees to remain current and upgrade their skills in new areas. The methods traditionally used to build technology skills are no longer sustainable as they are failing to keep up with the speed of technological change,” Farrington suggests.

“Pluralsight is about developing technology skills whether that’s helping organisations to remain current with technology, or upgrading skills by retraining or cross-skilling people, so that they can work in new areas.

“Everything we do is about ensuring people and organisations have the relevant technology skills.”

As new technologies appear so the pressure on the skills gap will intensify.

“Traditional forms of teaching are failing and are no longer relevant. People want to have the ability to learn new skills but they want to be taught in a more effective and efficient manner.

“The changes we’re seeing in learning modalities has influenced both Pluralsight and the companies we work with,” says Farrington. Content remains king but Pluralsight, which offers over 7000 different online courses, tends to focus on developing practical skills rather than simply theoretical knowledge.

“In order to do that we have developed an Index that assesses individual skill levels by using AI and machine learning techniques to better understand skills levels with particular technologies. The platform is able to identify gaps and then provide a fast path for the individual or company to move forwards. It is able to personalise the learning experience depending on what level is required and what someone’s working experience has been.

“At a company level we are able to aggregate these insights through skills profiling, developing an inventory of skills across a business so as to better understand hotspots and gaps.”

At a time when companies are reinventing themselves their priorities will be changing.

“By identifying priorities we can look inside the organisation and conduct a skills inventory. Is it possible to up-skill existing workers, do workers need to be re-skilled and if that’s not possible will it be simply quicker, and more effective, to acquire the necessary skills?

“When it comes to established brands it’s not always best to bring people in from outside, there is real value in taking your current employees with you, where you can. There’s a collective intelligence, or an institutional understanding, that simply can’t be brought it.

“Companies are getting better at re-skilling, but there’s still a very big technology skills gap out there,” warns Farrington.

Managing talent

The Covid pandemic has forced companies to think more carefully about where they get their talent, according to Farrington.

“Certainly, many more are now looking inside their businesses rather than recruiting from outside.”

Pluralsight had been growing rapidly prior to the pandemic as more organisations looked to leverage its platform and capabilities.

With thousands of courses Pluralsight identifies which technologies and skills are being searched for by companies and individuals, and with that data develops and extends its programme.

“We use data that identifies the most searched for skills and then tailor our courses to meet that need. It’s our insight into what’s hot.”

Content is provided by academics, industry experts and companies, such as Google and Microsoft, and Pluralsight, which uses a franchise model, rewards contributors with royalties determined by how often their content is accessed.

“We provide curriculum guidance so that contributors can fine tune their content and ensure that we’re delivering skills from a practical perspective.

“We use video, interactive sessions and assessments, so there is considerable flexibility in terms of delivery. Our focus is on giving users the best experience and, as a result, the platform is constantly changing.

“For companies using our platform it’s important that they are able to understand rates of progression and speed of re-skilling. New roles require a mix of skills and different levels of proficiency so we understand the importance of personalising the learning experience.”

When it comes to re-skilling companies are certainly adapting. “There’s more openness and Covid has highlighted how essential digital transformation will be if businesses are to survive and prosper.

“Companies will succeed if they embrace new technology, but that will require them having the employees with the right skills.”

However, while most companies agree that up-skilling their workforce is critical many don’t have the right skill development tools or programmes in place to succeed, that’s why Pluralsight’s assessments, learning paths and courses to improve skills are becoming more popular.

“Back in April during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic we made access to our courses free and we saw over 1m new people sign up in order to gain new technology skills.

“That increase in engagement was very encouraging and there was a lot of interest in technology such as Cloud IT, mobile devices and AI, IT certifications and Javascript,” adds Farrington.

“It’s never been more important in having the right skills. It’s an imperative for both individuals and companies so we’re aiming to give them easy access to the practical skills they will need whether that’s data science and cloud computing or AI and machine learning.”