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"I am still learning." Michelangelo at age 87

The pace of change in business is more rapid today than any other time in history, and those advancements are leaving many employers feeling nervous about the future. They know they need to develop a deep bench of team members with diverse skills and talents if they want to stay relevant into the future. They lament the rapidly-growing skills gap and wonder how they will keep pace with competitors with the people they have in place today.

Learning and development are critical for future success, but there is a lack of resource commitment and follow-through in many organizations, especially small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The results can be stagnation, high turnover, and employee disengagement. So what is the solution to closing the learning gap and, ultimately, the skills gap?

The Development Disconnect: The Trap Of Doing Vs. Thinking

In many SMBs, leaders place more value on "doing" rather than "thinking." Instead of focusing on learning and development, getting the work done each day is the priority. This doesn't mean that those leaders are ineffective or don't place value on learning - it's merely the nature of the SMB beast.

There is a saying that reminds us, "no plan ever survives its collision with reality." Entrepreneurs want the best for, and from, their people and in their hearts they want to facilitate that growth. They have every intention of providing their people with a path for continuing their development, but reality collides with the workload. SMBs are often underfunded, understaffed or both. They must get the work done first, before they can even think about learning and development, but they can never quite get off the hamster wheel.

Who Is To Blame For The Learning Gap?

Leaders that say they value development but do nothing to help their teams improve share the fault in the learning gap. Employees cannot be expected to grow if they only focus on getting their task list completed for the day.

But what responsibility do employees shoulder in this situation? In today's environment, it is rare to find people who take ownership of their own development. Employees expect their companies to pay for classes and seminars, provide time off, and hand them everything they need in order to foster their personal growth. This has always been the case but it has become more pervasive with the influx of the Millennial generation into the workforce.

So, What Is The Solution?

The solution to the learning gap, and ultimately, the skills gap lies in employers and employees meeting in the middle. If leaders want their team to grow, they have to provide them with resources to make it possible. Whether it is paying for some or all of a class or providing time off, SMBs must be willing to give a little in order to get a lot.

Likewise, employees sitting on the sidelines waiting to be handed knowledge must take charge of their own development. They can subsidize their own development during their free time or present a proposal to their boss when they find a program or class in which they would like to enroll. Sometimes a little nudge and enthusiasm are all it takes to develop a solution and get the organization on a path to better development programs.


Larry Hart

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