7 Steps To Creating A Professional Skills Development Plan

Article8 min read

September 1, 2022

Despite efforts by organizations to address widening skills gaps, just 51% of employees surveyed consider training from employers to be useful.1 This may in great part be due to a disconnect between the learning opportunities available to employees, and the training they need to both excel in their roles and grow in their careers.

Given that 96% of employees are nevertheless interested in cultivating new skills2, there’s an opportunity for learning and development (L&D) managers to leverage this interest, while simultaneously advancing company goals.

To do this, they need to create skills development pathways focused on building critical competencies that match organizational objectives and the goals of individual employees.3 This in turn will address existing skills gaps, and lay the groundwork for employees, and organizations, to survive the shifting world of work.

Step 1: Conduct a training needs analysis

An effective skills development plan must begin with a training needs analysis (TNA). TNAs help organizations address the gap between where a team may be, and where it needs to be. It’s a proactive, cost-effective tool that helps L&D managers to outline training and development needs, address potential issues, and ensure that training is, in fact, the best way to address business problems.4

Training-needs analysis levels

L&D managers need to work through three levels of analysis, starting with individual analysis, and ending with the analysis of competencies needed to perform specific tasks.

Individual analysis

The individual analysis should outline the skills present within a team and identify any barriers to success their absence may cause.5 To identify the training needs of each employee, L&D managers should:

  1. Analyze performance reviews, appraisals and other available data to gauge opportunities for individual development.
  2. Engage with employees one-on-one, in focus groups, or through surveys to take stock of their daily challenges.
  3. Connect with team leaders and managers on where they think skills are lacking.
  4. Identify workers who are at risk of redundancy due to automation or skills gaps, and note transferable skills that can be redeployed as part of individual employee development plans.6

Company analysis

Once you’ve assessed needs on an individual level, it’s time to plot out business goals so you can identify any overlaps, and prioritize areas for intervention.7

Look out for issues present on an organizational level that can be addressed through training, i.e. issues caused by a lack of certain skills and competencies. Consider how technology, legislation, or even business growth might shift needs.

During this step, identify the kinds of support that management can offer employee development and gauge whether additional resources are needed to meet the company goals.

Operational tasks analysis

Finally, drill down into the details of each task and role. This will involve a deep dive into employee job descriptions.8 Map this information against what you already know about the skills that exist within any given team. At the end of the TNA process, you should have identified any potential or upcoming skills gaps.

Step 2: Identify skill development focus areas and goals

With these insights, you have the beginnings of a learning roadmap. Your next task is to consider short- and long-term training needs so you can identify priority areas, and build critical skills pathways.

You can use the Skills Hierarchy to help you identify what skills are most needed.9 This framework helps to differentiate between assumed, foundational skills like digital literacy, and transferable, human-centered skills like leadership that prepare individuals for a shifting work landscape.10

As you prepare to craft learning pathways, focus on prioritizing these human-centred skills, as well as other competencies that are resistant to change, such as analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

At the end of this process, you should be clear on both present and future training needs, and have L&D goals that will meet them.

Step 3: Identify learning solutions and tech to support L&D goals

Once you know what you’d like to achieve, you need a clear plan to get it done. Your professional development plan must factor in the expectations of your employees, too, and what’s needed to help them learn effectively.11

Source or create a learning pathway that acknowledges the interests, skills, and learning styles of your staff, and is designed to support them in their development.12 Gauge if existing training resources can be used or repurposed, or if new instructional materials need to be created. Depending on what you have available to you, this could result in a custom course made up of rich educational media like video, animation, and interactive content. Alternatively, it could be a curated learning journey that pulls from industry leaders and existing free resources.

You’ll need furthermore to consider the broader goals of your training, and how it will be broken down into individual modules and lessons.13 To get the best results, include a mix of materials and sources to bring in diverse perspectives and to cater to different learning styles. For top learning outcomes, you can look into models like the 2U Learning Experience Framework for guidance.

Targeted approaches, with hand picked, curated learning experiences have proven more impactful than one-size-fits-all learning solutions. For example, to cater to staff who need leadership development, you could explore learning that’s focused on making an individual and team impact, as well as strategy. Other staff members might need to cultivate technical skills, which would call for more intensive learning solutions that have longer study times and are highly practical.

Finally, consider what kind of technology you’ll use to deploy your learning solution, be it a company learning management system (LMS) or learning experience platform (LXP), as well as any additional learning tools or integrations. The right technology will enhance your learning material, provide a smooth user experience, and ensure your learning solution is delivered effectively.

Step 4: Gain stakeholder support

Without stakeholder backing, even the most comprehensive learning pathway can fall flat. With leadership buy-in — from middle management all the way to the C-suite — you’ll not only create a culture of learning, but also ensure there is shared purpose in the learning experience.

For learning to be supported at all levels, L&D managers must be able to outline the short- and long-term strategic benefits of training interventions. Just on the global level, for instance, the World Economic Forum anticipates a boost of up to $6.5 trillion to the global GDP if we innovate and address emerging skills gaps.14 To secure leadership buy-in from your organization, however, communicate the impact of the learning and of its alignment with business goals such as revenue or staff retention.15 This will help you secure a budget for learning, and time allowances for individuals participating in learning initiatives.

Step 5: Co-create learning pathways with employees

Beyond the C-suite, it’s absolutely essential to have employee support in skills development. While you conduct in-depth checks at the analysis stage, make sure you circle back with individuals to ensure your new learning pathways align with their goals, too.

Where immediate skills gaps aren’t addressed, you can collaborate with individuals to craft personalized learning pathways that prioritize these. Later, you’ll continue working together on a plan for ongoing development that balances employee career goals, emerging skill gaps, and changing business needs.

Step 6: Track and measure progress

A deployed employee development plan doesn’t mean the end of your efforts. With the future of work in flux, you’ll need to keep monitoring your learning success metrics — new gaps may, after all, emerge, and employees may not be meeting their training goals, which will call for a strategy reevaluation. Learning success metrics will equip you to continuously assess the effectiveness of your development plan, and find ways to improve alignment with business goals.

Step 7: Ongoing repetition

Learning and development are part of an ongoing process that evolves and builds on itself. To keep making gains and establish a system where learning, growing, and skills development are encouraged at all levels, you should work to establish a culture of learning.

An emphasis on learning helps teams to feel motivated, valued, and excited to progress within the organization — and within their career. For insights into building a culture of learning, take a look at our white paper, here.

A roadmap for learning success

With this roadmap that takes you from analysis all the way to implementation and iteration, you have everything you need to establish a learning strategy that’s customized to the evolving needs of organizations and individuals, and primed to close skills gaps.

Need help getting started? We get it. In a shifting learning landscape, it helps to have a guide. Contact an edX learning and development consultant to discuss the learning solutions your team needs.

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

  1. GetSmarter. (2022). Your Human Capital Strategy for Digital Transformation. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  2. GetSmarter. (2022). Your Human Capital Strategy for Digital Transformation. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  3. Harvard Business Review. (2022). Create Learning Pathways to Close Your Organization’s Skills Gap. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  4. Apty. (2022). Employee Training Needs Analysis: Ultimate Guide for L&D Professionals. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  5. HRHelpBoard. (undated). Training Needs Analysis. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  6. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2021). What happened to jobs at high risk of automation? Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  7. Growth Engineering. (2021). Training Needs Analysis: A Complete ‘How To’ Guide. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  8. Apty. (2022). Employee Training Needs Analysis: Ultimate Guide for L&D Professionals. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  9. GetSmarter. (2021). Five Pioneering Skills You’ll Need By 2025. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  10. GetSmarter. (2021). Five Pioneering Skills You’ll Need By 2025. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  11. Harvard Business Review. (2022). Create Learning Pathways to Close Your Organization’s Skills Gap. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  12. Harvard Business Review. (2022). Create Learning Pathways to Close Your Organization’s Skills Gap. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  13. Thinkific. (2021). How To Design An Effective Learning Path. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  14. World Economic Forum. (2021). Upskilling for Shared Prosperity. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  15. LearnUpon. (2020). Leadership Buy-In: A Guide to Training Success. Retrieved August 10, 2022.

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