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Training & Learning

Bridging the Skills Gap: 7 Steps To An Employee Development Plan That Works

There is no doubt that clear and present skills gaps are challenging L&D leaders worldwide. 

This has global implications. By 2030, worldwide markets are expected to experience a massive skills gap that could result in an $8.5 trillion potential revenue loss. The struggle is real, and 64% of L&D professionals say reskilling the current workforce to fill skills gaps is now a top priority.

Stats like these show us that we needed to start increasing employee skills within our organization's last decade. But with time travel off the table, the best way to upskill employees from within will be by leveraging collaborative learning and employee development plans.

Today, we will look at employee development plans through a lens of collaborative learning, highlight the concrete benefits it brings to organizations, and outline the seven key steps to creating a successful employee development plan.

First up, what exactly is an employee development plan?

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The employee development plan defined 

An employee development plan outlines the path an individual employee needs to follow to grow their skills and career within your organization.

Typically, these individualized action plans include an employee’s short- and long-term goals, ranging from obtaining a certification, developing new skills, or getting promoted. A career development plan will also involve using metrics to measure progress toward development goals, a timeline with milestones, and a schedule for tracking progress.

Providing a well-planned employee development program offers clear direction by highlighting career goals and opportunities for employees to upskill.  Some common types of employee development plans include:

  • A performance-based development plan: Centers on an individual employee’s performance to enhance their skills and competencies and empower their progress within the company.
  • Goal-based development plan: Focuses on the employee’s career goals and is designed to cultivate the skills and competencies needed to facilitate their career growth.
  • Succession-based development plan: Used in succession planning to develop leadership skills for individuals with the potential to excel in managerial roles within the company.
  • Skills-based development plan: Designed to assist employees in developing new skills to match the skill set that their current role or new role requires. 

Traditionally, many businesses design their employee development plans based on a set of responsibilities or goals linked to a specific job description, or the type of role involved. However, to cope with the current talent shortage, more and more companies are switching from a job-based operating model to a skills-based one

Focusing employee development plans on the most in-demand skills, not just generic role-based training, is an increasingly effective way to equip employees with the tools and knowledge they need to excel in their work–which in turn positively impacts the business’ bottom line. To achieve this, L&D leaders and organizations must shift the way they invest in their talent and support people to develop new skills.

How employee development plans benefit your business

Introducing employee development plans has numerous benefits, such as attracting fresh talent, achieving business goals, and increasing profitability. 

Let’s highlight four main advantages that organizations with employee development plans have over companies who do not:

Attract top talent: When a company implements employee development plans, it demonstrates a willingness to invest in the professional growth of its employees, making the company more attractive to potential new hires, especially those with a strong drive for self-development and career growth.

Impact employee engagement: Implementing a development plan can enhance employee satisfaction and confidence by providing customized and focused upskilling opportunities that increase their confidence in their job performance.

Improve employee performance: Assisting employees in improving their skills and achieving growth opportunities can help them excel in their current position and prepare them for future roles, ultimately leading to improved performance. 

Increase employee retention: An employee development plan is a clear indication that an organization offers opportunities for professional growth and that employees can learn new skills without having to switch to a different company.

7 key steps to create a successful employee development plan

1.  Standardize the structure of your employee development plan

To help illustrate how employee growth plans typically look, here’s a brief example of how you can structure your plan. Start by identifying the employee’s goals:

  • Describe the employee’s career aspirations.
  • Identify three long-term professional goals.
  • Identify three short-term professional goals.
  • Identify two to three activities, with resources and a deadline, that will help the employee achieve these goals.

Next, identify the tasks in their current role that contribute to their long-term goals and describe the actions needed to ensure these occur more frequently. For the tasks that aren’t contributing to the long-term goals, the plan should explain the steps required to minimize, remove, or delegate those tasks. 

Next, have your employees list any additional skills, knowledge, or experience they would like to acquire to enhance their current or future roles. It is important to establish regular progress checkpoints as well, which we’ll get further into shortly. 

For more inspiration on how to structure your employee development plans, check out these employee training templates and checklists.

2. Carry out a skills gap analysis

To ensure you prioritize the right skills in your upskilling initiatives and employee development process, you will need to conduct a skills gap analysis.

This enables you to identify the difference between the skills your workforce currently possesses, and the skills they require to perform their best in their roles. The skills gap analysis is especially useful for fast-growing organizations to scale effective employee development solutions, rather than relying on individual 1:1 conversations to gain insights on their state of skills.

Using a bottom-up, collaborative learning platform like 360Learning, your employees can leverage the Learning Needs tool to directly declare and upvote the skills they actually want to learn. This helps you further leverage your upskilling and training plans by accurately identifying the most crucial skills to focus on.  

Alternatively, you can use employee surveys and 360 performance reviews to assess the current state of your workforces’ skills, as well as keeping track of industry trends, new technologies, and competitor analysis. 

3. Engage employees to understand what career growth means to them

A crucial aspect of an employee development plan is its customization for each employee. 

It is important to involve the employee in the process from the beginning since each employee may have different career goals. While some may strive to excel in their current role, others aspire to become managers.

When considering development opportunities, it's important to consider their career aspirations in the context of their personal lives. For instance, a new employee may still need clarification about their career path, so their development needs will differ from someone more experienced and looking for their next promotion. 

Engaging with employees in this stage is about discussing how they envision their careers in the next 6 to 24 months. 

4. Align L&D initiatives with greater business goals to ensure stakeholder buy-in

To move forward with designing and implementing impactful development plans, it's important to keep your company's larger goals and objectives in perspective.

Specifically, L&D and talent development teams need to:

  • Determine your organization’s core business goals. You can collaborate with the C-suite or other stakeholders to get their input.
  • Make these company goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
  • Identify the organizational impact and check that closing the skills gap will contribute to the company's goals. 

To prove the impact of employee development plans on the business, analyze and compare learner outcomes to changes in job performance. For example, an effective sales enablement training that visibly improves sales team performance can drive an increase in company revenue shortly thereafter.

To get executive buy-in on L&D, there exists several data-based models to help you calculate training ROI. Proving the impact of your employee development plans with numbers, not just anecdotes, can help you preserve L&D budget in uncertain times - or even secure more budget for the future. 

5. Create an action plan to lay out how employees can achieve their career goals

Next, you want to empower employees to have ownership over their professional development plan. To keep career growth on a consistent path, make sure regular meetings are scheduled between employees and their managers. The frequency of this meeting can vary (e.g. monthly, quarterly, etc.) and should be determined based on the bandwidth of your workforce, as well as the pacing of the employee development plan. 

To further ensure a smooth process, it's important to establish clear expectations for both managers and employees. The manager's role is usually to provide personalized support with guidance, feedback, and resources, as well as helping them stay accountable with a customized action plan. 

The action plan should cover the following:

  • Short-term goals: Attainable goals to be achieved in two weeks to six months, including what the employee thinks they need to meet their long-term goal.
  • Long-term goals: Where the employee sees themselves in the company in the next year, and what they need to achieve to get there. 

Referring to the action plan during 1:1 meetings helps employees gain a clearer understanding of where they are in their career path, and how the manager can help them move forward towards their short and long term goals.

6. Give employees the learning experiences they need to succeed

Providing tailored training programs and accessible knowledge resources helps your employees thrive in their current roles, while also working towards their career goals.

In order to effectively address your employees’ learning needs, you need to identify which learning opportunities and training methods will best help them reach the goals they’ve set in their action plan. 

Here are some learning solutions you can implement in your employee development programs:

  • Collaborative learning
  • Mentoring or coaching
  • Seminars and webinars
  • eLearning, such as videos, podcasts, or quizzes

360Learning's collaborative learning platform enables L&D teams to work with internal subject-matter experts to create engaging hyper-relevant training content, while capturing institutional knowledge for streamlined internal movement.

Beyond interactive and engaging learning, it’s also crucial to track the employee’s progress through their development plan, which leads us to the next step. 

7. Track employee performance results and adjust their action plan accordingly

As your employees set out to achieve their short- and long-term goals in their employee growth plan, tracking their progress helps you measure both their performance and the efficacy of your talent development initiatives. 

Review your employee’s professional development progress with regularly scheduled monthly check-ins to assess together whether their action plan needs iteration. In addition, you can utilize these meetings to recognize and incentivize their achievements and discuss future plans and growth opportunities.

Solve skills gaps internally with collaborative learning

Social learning is an important component of engaging and effective employee development plans. 

Although outsourcing trainers and using off-the-shelf learning content can feel like the easiest ways to save time and money on L&D initiatives, 64% of employees believe that “learning from colleagues and peers” is the most effective way of learning. 

Collaborative learning supports this by enabling employees to declare their own learning needs, and empowering your internal subject-matter experts to author hyper-relevant courses. This bottom-up learning strategy disseminates already existing and highly valuable expertise, skills, and knowledge throughout the organization. 

Our all-in-one collaborative learning platform at 360Learning enables your organization to empower and retain top talent by advancing their career development goals, and always equipping them with the necessary skills to achieve their best performance and productivity.

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