The Half Life of Skills
With the lifespan of technical skills continuing to shorten, organizations that can assess and develop new skills and validate that learners are job-ready faster will drive more return from their upskilling investments and thus extend the lifespan of a skill.
The rapid pace of digital innovation has increased the pressure on organizations to keep workforce skills current and hire digitally savvy employees. Yet, three in four individuals do not have the digital skills needed by businesses to succeed in areas such as software development, security, data visualization, programming and more. This has made it difficult for hiring managers or recruiters to quickly fill open positions. Coupled with the shortening half-life of skills, getting the right people into the right position at the right time is more challenging than ever.
One of the answers to overcoming these struggles: build agile training programs that identify skill gaps, provide tailored skills development opportunities and hands-on learning practice. According to research from IDC, it’s through these experiences that skill development and retention as well as learner satisfaction are increased. The challenge: it’s easier said than done.
Below, we’ll discuss the impact that a shorter half-life of skills has on organizations and how an enterprise built on continuous learning lays a foundation for building digital skills faster.
You’ll also learn:
- What’s shortening the lifespan of digital skills
- The effects of a shorter skills lifespan
- How hands-on experiences help build skills faster; thus, getting more value from your investments
- How to bring hands-on learning to your organization
The half-life of skills is shortening
First things first: what do we mean when we say ‘half-life’? The term originates from nuclear physics and refers to the time in which the value of something becomes 50% smaller. More simply, it’s the time after something loses half of its value. In terms of skilling, think of the half-life of how long a skill remains relevant and valuable to an organization or person. According to IBM, the half-life of general skills is now just a measly five years—and it’s even worse for technical IT skills which is less than three.
So what is creating a shorter half-life of skills? Some reasons include:
- New technology: Each time new technology is introduced into the market, an organization must determine how it impacts their way of doing business. One area of focus is assessing the talent and skills of their workforce and how roles and responsibilities shift. New tasks are created while others are rendered obsolete. Enterprises respond to this change by shifting job design (the specific tasks assigned to workers) which forces employees to learn new, or in some cases, unlearn skills.
- Frequent software updates: Just as quickly as new technology is released so too are updates or upgrades. For example, Microsoft Azure releases new features and capabilities nearly every day—sometimes two to three times a day. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a similar release schedule. With each new release, learning and development teams must assess if the changes are significant enough to make updates to training materials and documentation. Oftentimes, by the time new training is available, software has been updated again and the process starts over. This can result in learners missing out on key changes or mastering outdated material. It’s a vicious cycle.
- Digital transformation: Like the introduction of new technologies, the race to digitally transform has shortened the relevance and demand for certain skills. A report from National Skills Coalition found that one in three workers don’t have the foundational digital skills needed for today’s business environment. And it’s likely this number will increase as the digital transformation market size is expected to reach $3,294 billion by 2025.
- Lack of skills and training: According to Gartner, the number of skills needed for a single position is increasing by 10% year over year, and over 30% of the skills needed three years ago will be irrelevant in the near future. The lack of critical skills leaves organizations playing catch up if they aren’t prioritizing training that furthers their growth or benefits the employee. Poor training results in employers wasting $97 billion and over 40% of employees leaving job positions within the first year.
- The Great Resignation: In the last 18 months, more than four million Americans voluntarily left their jobs. While the reasons for employees quitting their jobs vary, organizations have felt the impact of the Great Resignation—particularly in developing professional skills and retaining top talent.
Together, these factors have drastically shortened the lifespan of, and access to skills, resulting in individuals who are under-qualified and ill prepared to navigate today’s disruptive and challenging market landscape.
The impact of a workforce with technology skills that have shortened lifespans
With an understanding of what’s causing the half-life of skills to decrease, let’s look at the impact at the diminishing half-life of skills is having on organizations.
Increasing skills shortages
According to IDC, by 2025, 90% of organizations will feel the impact of the skills shortage. The same report found that 53% of businesses said that an increasing number of workers leaving their job is affecting their business. That number is even higher in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia-Pacific (AP). The rate at which the skills gap is increasing isn’t slowing down. Korn Ferry estimates there will be 85 million unfilled jobs by 2030, and McKinsey found that two out of three companies are unsure of how to run their business efficiently in wake of the increasing shortage.
Difficulty filling open positions
With fewer qualified candidates to choose from, organizations have two choices: wait to hire someone with the right capabilities or bring on an inexperienced individual. Organizations that opt to wait for a top-tier candidate may search for months before finding the ideal person. According to another IDC report, IT leaders are finding that it is taking three to six months longer than expected to hire qualified individuals. The same report states that both IT jobs and line-of-business positions are ‘difficult’ or ‘extremely difficult’ to fill. And when they do, they may have to pay a higher salary.
Negative impact to revenue
According to a US-based survey of nearly 1,500 managers (HR, operational, etc.), 23% reported a decline in revenue due to a shortage of people with the necessary skills. The impact on revenue comes from multiple factors—from poor decision making to low productivity and efficiency. Without proper training or continuous skilling opportunities, ill-equipped individuals are less likely to be as productive and effective which can slow revenue growth.
Increased employee turnover due to frustrations over limited development
Nearly one-third of employees who did change jobs did so to learn new skills or for more or better professional development opportunities. This is a common sentiment among most of today’s workforce. Fifty-nine percent of workers claim they had little to no workplace training or that most of their skills were self-taught. Additionally, 74% of individuals feel they aren’t reaching their full potential at work due to the lack of development opportunities.
Turnover is always a threat. In the technology sector, the average turnover rate was 18.3% in 2022. Research has shown that organizations can reduce employee turnover simply by investing more in individuals’ skill development. Gallup estimates that those who make a strategic investment in continuous development are twice as likely to retain employees while simultaneously increasing profitability by 11%.
Combat a shorter tech skills lifespan by developing job-ready skills faster
The answer to increasing the lifespan of professional skills is to develop them faster; it’s not offering more of the same training. Learners need more practice opportunities and more feedback loops to help validate that they’re job ready.
Hands-on opportunities can complement existing training materials and learning paths, enabling learners to practice and hone their skills even after formal training has ended.
Here are five ways implementing hands-on learning both improves employee skill development and benefits your organization.
1. Offsets the forgetting curve
Numerous factors contribute to forgetting information; however, time and relevancy are the two biggest contributors. According to German psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus, learners forget more than half of information after an hour of presentation—especially when there’s no reinforcement or hands-on practice. The rate only goes up as more time passes with 80% of information being forgotten after just a week.
Hands-on learning combats the forgetting curve. A study by Indiana University of Pennsylvania found that active learners remember 93.5% of previously learned information compared to 79% of passive learners. Here’s how: listening and analyzing processes happens in the left side of the brain while visual and spatial processes happen in the right. Combining both forms of learning results in stronger connections being formed in the brain, enabling individuals to remember information for longer periods of time.
2. Makes learning more relevant and applicable
Hands-on learning provides learners with important reinforcement opportunities. By practicing how they’ll work on the job, they can identify skill strengths and gaps. For example, Skillable Challenges provide organizations ready-built technology labs that provide critical supplemental hands-on practice to the classes/courses and learning paths organizations provide to their employees. This lets them practice in a safe environment. Additionally, variable difficulty levels (ranging from guided to expert) provide the learner an adaptive learning environment where they can adjust the level of instruction to meet their level of comfort in a subject. By eliminating unnecessary content, learners are more engaged, and employers are providing more tailored, personalized and effective professional development.
3. Embraces active learning methods
Passive learning methods such as PowerPoint presentations, lectures, video series, etc. can have a harder time keeping a learner engaged. But, these traditional learning methods play important roles in skill building by creating a foundation on which the often skipped next step takes place: hands-on practice. By supplementing passive learning with active—i.e., hands-on experiences— long-lasting development and retention happens.
Hands-on learning moves from a ‘watch and listen’ approach to ‘learn while doing’. Trainees who are more actively engaged with learning material develop a more positive relationship with the information. This ultimately leads to a deeper understanding and connection with material.
4. Improves learning agility
Learning agility refers to someone’s ability to learn something new in one place and apply that knowledge elsewhere in an entirely different situation. Essentially, it’s the ability to learn, adapt, unlearn and relearn to keep up with changing concepts. People with higher learning agility can:
Make fast, high-quality decisions on the spot
Develop innovative solutions
See the bigger picture
Deal with unfamiliarity more effectively
Fill leadership roles more effectively
High-quality hands-on learning experiences help to improve learning agility by encouraging learners to ‘fail forward’.
For example, organizations can use labs to present learners with a solution/outcome they need to reach, and they must figure out how to reach it on their own. Upon completion, they’re able to see where they excelled and where additional instruction is needed. This helps to streamline skill development, improve skill retention and build confidence.
5. Helps identify candidates that have critical skills for the job
A major factor in new hires not working out is because they lack the skills needed to do the job. Only 16% of new hires have the necessary skills needed to fulfill the responsibilities of their current role and the position they’re moving into. While this highlights the importance of onboarding training, it reminds us that perfect or “unicorn” candidates are more myth than reality. You need to prioritize the must-have skills for the role and then vet the skills a candidate listed on their resume via scored assessments.
Combatting a shorter half-life of skills is dependent on creating an environment that enables you and your learners to assess, develop, practice and validate that employee knowledge, skills and abilities are job reay
Win the fight against the half-life of skills with Skillable
The challenges created by the shortening half-life of skills are likely to continue. Organizations looking to combat the loss of productivity, efficiency and employee satisfaction must focus (or renew focus) on providing tailored upskilling and reskilling opportunities.
Skillable equips organizations with the tools and platform to provide hands-on learning experiences that build and validate skills to keep pace with today’s rapidly changing business environment.
Hands-on experiences enable learners to move from skill proficiency to mastery with:
- Skill validation: Validate learners’ efforts throughout the entire learning lifecycle. Built-in validation tools, including Instructor feedback, comprehensive assessments and more ensure learners understand and can use training material before they begin working.
- Scored assessments: Empower learners to show what they know with scored labs. From multiple choice and fill in the blank to live lab environments, scored assessments help highlight where learners are excelling and where more effort is needed.
- Real-time Instructor monitoring: Prevent skills gaps from moving past the classroom by equipping Instructors with tools that make them more effective. Tools such as real-time virtual over-the-shoulder monitoring let Instructors see each learner’s lab progress over the duration of a class. Instructors can provide as much or as little guidance to learners as needed to ensure optimum skill development and retention.
- Intuitive lab development tools: Robust, intuitive tools empower Lab Developers and Lab Authors to build hands-on experiences that capitalize on learners’ existing knowledge and challenging them to further skills.
- Reusable labs: Instructors can reduce development time and keep up with rapid business or technology changes by reusing or repurposing lab environments, creating templates or saving lab profiles.
- Seamless integration: Create an environment where it’s easier to incorporate hands-on experiences into your training programs and learning paths. With our APIs, you can integrate our lab environment into your LMS.
Skills don’t last as long as they used to. To combat the decreasing lifespan of skills, make hands-on learning experiences a critical part of your upskilling initiatives.
Book a live demo of Skillable’s platform to see how you can increase the rate at which you develop and validate skills.