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Skills development has become a key factor in building employee engagement and ensuring that the organisation has the skills it needs to remain agile and competent, particularly in the technology sector. A recent survey conducted by Harvey Nash and KPMG – The CIO Survey 2019 – revealed a market gasping for people with the right skills in emergent technologies and solutions. Of those CIOs surveyed 45% outsourced for skills and 67% were struggling to find the right talent. According to Mandla Mbonambi, CEO of Africonology, skills development is a critical issue, particularly in South Africa, that can be addressed through ongoing professional development and peer to peer training.

“Peer to Peer training empowers people to share their expertise and hard-earned professional skills with their colleagues,” he explains. “It’s a powerful way of engaging with people and recognising their talent and their ability to share their knowledge with others.”

Peer to peer training has become one of the fastest-growing trends in the training and skills development market for good reason. It bypasses some of the usual problems associated with traditional training methods in that employees feel more relaxed and more inclined to absorb new skills. Having a peer educate, inform and train, removes some of the barriers that impact on how people respond to formal training and improves collaboration and communication throughout the learning process.

“What peer to peer training does is remove the sense of formality from the process, allowing people to become more engaged with the information and the process,” says Mbonambi. “This immediately puts them on a more even footing, giving them the freedom to ask questions and really drill down into the details. Something they may not do when they feel that they’re suddenly back in a classroom setting.”

A successful peer to peer training programme should embrace informality and engagement. It should allow participants to feel comfortable asking any questions they may have in embracing the ability to build their understanding of product, service, and solution. If anybody feels that the environment is judgmental or lacks mutual respect, then they won’t respond well to the process. There has to be an agreed stance of open learning and information sharing that works both ways.

“Peer to peer learning isn’t just about the expert offloading their expertise,” says Mbonambi. “It’s also about the expert learning from others, using the insights and commentaries provided by the peers they are teaching to reshape their own understanding and build their own skills. It’s a two-way process that allows for continuous learning and growth across the board, and it allows for deeper engagement in the technology or solution as people become increasingly excited about sharing content and ideas with their colleagues.”

Leadership must get behind the potential of peer to peer learning for it to become embedded within the culture of the organisation and to see any value. If leadership isn’t committed to building a peer to peer training network, then it’s unlikely it will achieve sustainable growth. This should be further supplemented by clearly defined outcomes that outline the expected results of the peer to peer training programme and how this can evolve over time. This can then be assessed using key performance indicators (KPIs), employee feedback, and overall employee engagement.

“Implementing a peer to peer training culture and methodology in the business doesn’t have to be incredibly complex,” says Mbonambi. “You can use external service providers that specialise in peer to peer training solutions to help build the culture and focus of your employees. While it may sound counterintuitive – external trainers can suddenly look a lot like traditional trainers – if you use the right people and approach the skills development from the right level, the dynamic shifts. And by using a company that understands how this type of training works, you’re already benefitting from the process.”

Using an external company to provide peer to peer training has another benefit as well – it can help the business identify the skill gaps that lie within the different areas of the business. In a recent LinkedIn survey of more than 4, 000 professionals, finding the skill gaps has been a company priority for a while. The same survey also found that 68% of employees prefer to learn at work and that 94% of employees would stay at a company that paid attention to the development of their career.

“Peer to peer training keeps people in their comfort zones and, if made part of their KPIs, can become a part of their role which helps them overcome one of the biggest problems that any training program faces – time,” adds Mbonambi. “It empowers them, allows them to work with their peers in building skills and learning new ways of managing their roles, and gives them the opportunity to expand their careers.”

Organisations that support a culture of peer to peer learning and continuous skills development are not only investing in the future of their people but also in the stability of their business. Research has shown, time and again, that those companies that invest in their people are more likely to retain them. Considering how competitive the market has become, how voraciously companies search out talent, this is a powerful edge in a time when skills are the difference between delivering innovation and watching it happen.