Bridging L&D and HR’s Disconnect: The Essential Marriage of Skills & Learning Analytics

When I first started working in the learning space, I assumed that HR, talent management, and the world of L&D were all one and the same. After all, they share the same end goal of nurturing a productive, engaged, and skilled workforce.

But dive a little deeper, and the reality appears a little different. HR and L&D events are often miles apart from the tech to the talk tracks. This year, we’ve been paying close attention to the discussions around skills, thinking that this must be where the lines blur.

And for all the informative talks and all the clever approaches to taxonomies, we still felt like something was missing. Why is there no talk about L&D using these skill insights to inform their learning strategy?

Our upcoming blog series explores this topic, expanding on how to marry your skills data with your learning data. We’ll guide you through the key steps of a skills analytics journey, with the end goal of using these insights to inform your learning strategy.

HR & L&D—a marriage made in heaven, bound by data? Here we go…

HR and talent management identify skill gaps, but does L&D close the loop?

When we teamed up with our friends at Degreed to run our skills webinar, we focused (naturally!) on the role data plays. The blend of skills data, learning data, and HRIS data can provide visibility on powerful insights that answer common pain points for your organization’s people strategy:

  • What skills do we have?
  • How are they distributed?
  • What are our skills gaps?
  • How do you verify these skills?
  • Are we sitting on a goldmine of hidden skill sets and opportunities?
  • Do you offer career pathways that utilize clearly mapped upskill opportunities?
  • Does your learning function fill the identified skills gaps?

It’s that last point that has left us scratching our heads. All this lovely skills data is clearly starting to help organizations develop cohesive skills strategies, but what happens next? Do the L&D, talent management, and HR functions work together to close the loop by developing personalized learning paths based on the outcomes of the skills analysis?

Examples seem few and far between. Patrick Veenhoff, senior data education architect at Swiss Re. emphasized at LTUK the tactical importance of mapping your skills against business metrics at the outset. This sets you up to achieve meaningful insights over time.

As Kelly Palmer neatly puts it in her CLO article, “One effective way to ensure your learning strategy is delivering the best results for every dollar invested is to continuously analyze your skill data.”

Yet for all the talks we’ve attended, all the blogs and thought-leadership pieces that discuss skills, once again we’re left wondering, what are the outcomes? How are we demonstrating impact?

Is combining skills data with learning analytics a reality for all organizations?

And this is where a quick sense check comes into play. We want this discussion to be thought-provoking but also grounded in reality. Getting to the stage where you have a heatmap of your current skills is still a new journey for many, let alone closing the loop with learning programs that use this data and enable you to develop and retain your staff by offering enticing career prospects.

Talent marketplace platforms that enable the collation of employee-led skills assessments are still relatively fresh on the market. The most advanced, AI-driven models rely on banks of reliable—and verified—skills data.

While skills data can be found across your learning ecosystem, a bottom-up approach is best, but it’s not quick to implement. You have to adapt your tech and process flows and nurture a culture change that encourages employee-driven skills self-assessments.

In fact, if you take simply the first leg of the journey, you start to appreciate that we’re already talking about organizations that are mature in their skills analytics journey. So when we talk about closing the loop, we’re likely talking about those who also have a mature approach to learning analytics (reference the ‘traits of strategic partners’ for more context on this latter point).

We acknowledge that not many organizations are at the mature end of both their skills and learning analytics. But that’s not to say that shouldn’t be the aspiration. Both the data and systems are there that allow this to be a possibility (and yes, Watershed can help with this!).

Want to explore a specific example of skills-related insights? See one example of how we do it: Watershed and Credly Partner to Better Track and Develop In-Demand Skills

Should L&D focus on skills acquisitions as a core KPI?

Cheryl Gerhardt and Asi Dgani from London Stock Exchange Group shared their story at LTUK of how they created development pathways that allowed their employees to clearly identify and then bridge the skills gaps required to progress into the next role of their choice.

This approach culminated in a KPI that measured the ratio of talent mobility, which the C-suite loved and other areas of the business understood and bought into once they saw initial success from the trials, e.g., “Finance now wants 70% of their department enrolled onto development plans.”

This point got us thinking. We love talking about L&D’s metrics. The desire to measure learning’s success by business impact means looking beyond “basic” measures such as L&D productivity and learner satisfaction. What was the outcome of the learning on the business?

Did sales increase, did repeat repairs get reduced, were hand-hygiene practices followed?

But perhaps the real way that L&D should measure success should be by answering, “what skills have we acquired?”. And by this, we mean verified skills, not simple self-assessment of an individual’s skills. And sure, competency acquisition is nothing new for L&D, but the skills data that underpins this approach can give you the kind of data-driven reporting that the C-suite crave.

So what does a marriage of skills and learning analytics look like?

Increasingly, we see an ideal flow whereby skills strategy helps you pinpoint your gaps, which identifies learning pathway needs.

The subsequent learning outcomes from these pathways should be measured by organizational impact, offering a rounded journey that shows how the skills gaps have been remedied, and, in turn, the impact the learning has had on tangible business outcomes.

As a result, employees are upskilled (this also means happy talent management and HR functions that deliver on retention and business flexibility), and learning meets upskilling needs and demonstrates business impact.

Stay tuned for the rest of our skills blog series that will set out the steps of this process in more detail.

If you’d like to get ahead of the game, dive into our webinar, Watershed & Degreed: Turn Your Skills Data into Meaningful Insights

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