The New Reality of Workforce Development

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… And How Digital Technology Changes the Game

By Tara Holwegner, Product Development and Intellectual Property Manager at Life Cycle Engineering

As published in Reliable Plant

Step changes happen at those rare intersections of why and how …like when industrial operations double down on reliability-centered methodologies, and at the same time, they embrace digital transformation. They create opportunities to optimize, automate and monitor performance in ways that create time and space to innovate. Technology is the ultimate disruptor and enabler — and harnessed appropriately, it creates new growth and development opportunities.
Industrial workforce and talent development are definitely having a moment. Upskilling, reskilling, retaining, and recruiting are all getting a profile boost as organizations refocus on developing their most critical assets: their people. Technology plays a role in this space, too.
But where to start? Standalone, plug-in, custom, out-of-the-box … you’ve got a veritable cornucopia of options to curate a powerful and effective learning program for current and prospective employees. But, as Voltaire and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben remind us, “With great power comes great responsibility” —  and pitching training without aligning your strategy to business performance can result in a waste of the learners’ time and the organization’s money … if you get the green light to proceed.
For example, your facility’s five-year plan includes expanding robotics and automation. You’ll transform work processes and likely need to replace current tasks with enhanced or new competencies and skills. This is a considerable shift …and workforce growth opportunity. But if you don’t start your upskilling and reskilling strategy with the end in mind, you’ll discover a real disconnect between your available talent pool and skill needs.

Learning is Change. Change is Learning.® — Innovations to Support People Development

Learning is “changing behavior to produce a desired result.” So, to affect change, we have to learn something new or different — and then practice those behaviors to pursue a goal.
The most effective ecosystems are built with intention, and your learning ecosystem should include various products and systems to meet individual and business needs. To provide our partners with a decision-support tool, we developed a 3A Learning® framework, curating learning best practices with human-centered design (HCD) principles in mind.

Align – Human-Centered Design, Analytics and AI in Learning Plans

In the Align phase, we want to connect an individual’s learning goals with business needs. We want the learner to see that they directly contribute to the business when they practice something they learn.
In this phase, HCD principles like empathy compel us to understand the learner’s prior experience. It’s a time to collaborate with experts and learners through interviews and iterative reviews to develop learning objectives, ensure they are immediately relevant to the workplace, and confirm the experience or product can achieve those objectives. When selecting training, consider where and how the learning will be used, the learner’s expected results, and their professional goals.
Learning analytics in the Align phase allows curators to identify skill needs and trends and monitor progress toward goals. Adding AI into the ecosystem allows for real-time feedback, recommendations, and development guidance.

Assimilate — Online Learning Platforms, Microlearning, Gamification, AR/VR

In the Assimilate phase, we determine the best delivery system for learners. Online learning platforms (LMS or platforms like Udemy) offer global reach, enterprise dashboards, and broad prefab assets that can be fun to mix and match with your custom products for a blended portfolio.
Microlearnings are TikTok-like single-point lessons perfect for discrete tasks. When combined with remote expert support aided by mixed reality, the learning experience becomes a personalized, one-on-one coaching exercise. This is “learning by doing” in the truest sense and is effective for advanced learning. Throw in gamification relevant to work goals, and you have a winning learning landscape!

Apply — Action Plans, Social Learning, Communities, Results!

In the Apply phase, we apply new knowledge and skills to action plans. Action plans are projects that apply new learning to support a business goal and where the learner documents and shares progress.
With action plans in place, your teams can use social platforms and collaboration tools to pose questions and seek feedback, encouraging peer-to-peer and novice-to-expert learning. This self-directed learning can build communities of practice that discuss how applying good reliability and asset management practices on the job changes behavior and produces results across the enterprise. The LCEsmartr Playbook is a good example of an advanced portfolio with content and action plans tailored to the industrial workforce.

Industrial Learning Paths of the Future

Have you considered learning best practices and HCD to support workforce development? By selecting the right mix of technologies, products, programs and systems, you can achieve the results you’re looking for while using models like 3A — Align, Assimilate, Apply — to help support decision-making.
Curating a learning ecosystem may seem daunting, but it can contribute to a more dynamic and adaptable workforce. It’s worth the effort! The good news is that you can have a workforce that learns from experts and from each other. With the right planning, learners can see a direct line between their learning and tangible business results.

Tara is the Product Development and Intellectual Property Manager at Life Cycle Engineering (LCE). Tara transforms LCE’s reliability and asset management expertise into solutions that accelerate the ability to meet performance objectives. 

For the Life Cycle Institute – the learning, leadership, and change management practice at LCE – Tara co-developed the 3A Learning® process: align, assimilate, apply. This process produces results through behavior change. Tara developed a competency-based facilitator development program and a certification exam based on ANSI E2659-09 and ISO 17011. Currently, she leads a team that designs and manages LCE’s online ecosystem, including an e-commerce site, learning management system, and a subscription-based digital toolkit. 

Tara has achieved the designations of Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD), Certified Product Manager (CPM), Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP), and Certified Reliability Leader (CRL). She’s been published in industry publications and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences.