How L&D Can Solve the ‘Problem of Plenty’ in Upskilling Employees for Tomorrow’s Jobs


By Purbita Banerjee
Senior Vice President, Korn Ferry Digital  

The need for focused workforce learning & development has never been greater, but organizations are discouraging even the most ambitious, eager-to-learn employees with the “Problem of Plenty.”

Industry analyst Josh Bersin found the average company uses 22 different L&D solutions and platforms. To any company’s official L&D channels add multiple self-education options, from Udacity and Udemy to YouTube to old-fashioned books.

Organizations discourage even the most ambitious, eager-to-learn employees with the “Problem of Plenty.” Here's how to fix it. #HR #HRTech @Korn_Ferry Share on X

The Problem of Plenty offers even highly motivated would-be learners so many unfocused choices that they end up bewildered. This phenomenon is not restricted to L&D. It’s established science: Too many choices can paralyze decision-making.

The Problem of Plenty in L&D is hobbling companies and their employees at the worst possible moment. For all-too-familiar reasons, employee reskilling/upskilling has become a competitive must. A Korn Ferry/LinkedIn poll last year asked, “Must organizations reskill and redeploy their workforce to be successful?” Result: 94% percent yes, 6% no.

Sapio Research of London recently asked global business decision-makers if their organizations are “committed to continuous investment in reskilling employees.” Ninety-one percent said yes.

The stampede to help employees prepare for tomorrow’s jobs while helping businesses retain and upgrade talent that’s already inside the organization has created an enormous industry, compounding the Problem of Plenty. The size of the global L&D market is estimated at $357 billion to $500 billion annually. And it will only grow as the war for right-skilled, affordable talent intensifies.

Too Many Choices, Not Enough Guidance

Purbita Banerjee
Purbita Banerjee

Access to L&D content – at work or on one’s own – is not the problem. The challenge is understanding what to learn and in what order to improve or acquire a skill, develop a career and make an employee both personally engaged and of value to their organization.

Anything that hinders rapid and effective upskilling and reskilling threatens an organization’s survival. By 2025, almost 100 million new professional roles will demand people “more adopted to the new division of labor among humans, machines and algorithms,” the World Economic Forum predicts in its Future of Jobs report.

These 100 million new professionals won’t all be newcomers displacing current employees. The more existing employees who partner with their companies to retrain and upskill themselves for tomorrow’s 100 million jobs, the more profitable businesses can be: It costs six times as much to hire an external candidate for the most critical roles than to reskill an existing employee. And that’s not taking into account the benefits of retained institutional knowledge, organizational cohesion and the bonds of culture. Employees retrained inside a company are far more likely to be loyal to the place that gave them a chance to grow.

The Solution: Put Employees, Organizations, Outcomes & Goals at L&D’s Center

What should organizations do about the Problem of Plenty? The solution begins with putting both the employee and the organization equally at the center of L&D strategies by developing focused, purpose-driven, curated, guided journeys for each employee, with specific goals and outcomes and clearly defined routes to achieving them.

These journeys should be composed of bite-sized pieces of learning employees can accomplish on their own schedules or, even better, as part of their existing workflow – the more organic and convenient, the better.

Rather than offering an overstuffed menu of L&D choices, organizations and their employees should be clear exactly what L&D is trying to accomplish. There are multiple reasons:

  • Becoming a manager who’s a true leader
  • Growing one’s career
  • Becoming a specialist – or even more of a specialist – in certain skill areas
  • Mastering specific best practices the organization subscribes to (for example, sales methodology or cybersecurity practices)
  • Preparing for tomorrow’s jobs
  • Acquiring skills one’s own company or entire industries need
  • Mapping out a different career path   

One promising new way to cure the Problem of Plenty and focus L&D on outcomes and goals are talent intelligence clouds – platforms that use real-time market information and top-quality AI trained on billions of relevant data points to map hundreds of jobs into a discrete number of “success profiles,” job architectures and training plans that can be matched against the organization’s needs and individual employee’s aspirations, capabilities, potential and performance.

Talent intelligence clouds help organizations and their employees separate signal from L&D noise, so they can make smarter, more agile decisions about future roles, skills and career paths.

One Example of Focused L&D: Where Will All the Tech Workers Come From?

Within three years, there will be 190 million job openings worldwide for experts in software development, cloud and data analysis, AI and machine learning, and cybersecurity, a recent Microsoft study estimated, forecasting a shortfall of 149 million (78% of the 190 million needed) appropriately skilled workers. Where will these rare and expensive workers come from?

One answer: L&D done right.

Using AI, smart analytics and the riches of data created by companies’ pandemic-expanded digital tools, organizations using intelligence clouds are identifying, recruiting and training tech workers of the future from within their ranks – and not necessarily from technical departments.

Intelligence cloud platforms are fairly new, but promising. Internal recruiting/upskilling/reskilling is the only way to fill critical future jobs without spending an organization into oblivion with no guarantee of success. At the same time, a company’s employees will rejoice at the chance to advance their careers without having to leave their employer. (It’s always struck me as illogical that people must leave their organizations for better jobs.)

When companies solve the Problem of Plenty by providing exactly what they and their employees need – focused, bespoke guidance and personalized, outcome-centered L&D content and direction – worker satisfaction, loyalty, and organizational value will grow materially as today’s employees become the workers companies must have tomorrow.   

Purbita Banerjee is senior vice president at Korn Ferry Digital.

Image: iStock

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