Is there a skills gap crisis? Are organizations right to be worried about workforce capability? The pressure to innovate, to be agile, and to adapt has certainly never been greater. And talent has never been more transient, nor have both recruiting and retention ever been so challenging. But a crisis?

Business leaders are certainly expressing concern. Only 28 percent of business leaders believe their organizations are “ready” or “very ready” in the area of workforce capability, according to “Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends 2015” survey. Which obviously means 72 percent of business leaders are worried.

Organizations are indeed feeling pain due to the skills gap. And with business leaders calling talent-driven innovation the top determinant of competitiveness, the pain is significant. What’s worse, if organizations fail to act, the pain promises to worsen—the skills gap is only continuing to grow. Partly because skilled workers are increasingly important in today’s agile business climate. And partly because there is an increasing need to fill jobs. As Deloitte noted, an estimated 2.7 million positions will have to be filled as a result of retirements of the existing workforce, while 700,000 more are likely to be created due to natural business growth.

Change in learning and development capability gap between 2014 and 2015

So the answer to the first question posed by our title is a clear “yes.” There is indeed a skills gap crisis looming. Can Learning & Development avert it?

More and more organizations are starting to think so, and this marks a significant change, as for years the focus has largely been on winning the so-called “war for talent.”

Problems with the talent wars approach include:

  • the high cost of onboarding new talent
  • the difficulty of filling certain roles that are increasingly critical

STEM positions, which are uniquely critical for innovation, are an important example. According to a recent CareerCast report, four of the top 10 positions to fill in 2016 will be STEM jobs—data scientist, electrical engineer, information security analyst and software engineer. Similarly, the Conference Board has estimated that for every 2016 computer science program graduate, there will be three software engineering jobs available.

So it’s easy to see why organizations are turning to Learning & Development. It’s a comparatively cost-effective way of addressing the skills challenge, and is a sustainable talent strategy. The Deloitte survey starkly demonstrates how learning and development has increasingly become top of mind for business leaders. After leaders ranked L&D as the eighth most important talent challenge in 2014, this year it rocketed all the way to third.

As the Deloitte survey report states, “Companies see an urgent need to build skills and capabilities and are now focused on transforming their learning organizations and strategies.” In fact, many CEOs are asking CHROs and CLOs to acquire more and better learning platforms and products.

But does Learning & Development itself need a re-think? Is L&D as we know it up to the task?

There are certainly some interesting examples out there of organizations attempting pivots of various kinds. For example:

  • Wal-Mart is testing a new approach in which it invests in workers through higher wages and training in hopes of helping employees build the skills to be promoted, but also for improving retention and customer service.
  • CVS Health is launching two regional learning centers that will serve thousands of employees.

This upskilling trend is “rippling across the retail and service industries,” according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, with McDonald’s, Starbucks, Gap Inc., Kaiser Permanente and UPS “moving in the same direction.” There are other variations as well:

  • MasterCard has tied learning directly to business strategies and has assigned project managers to ensure learning is directly relevant to individual employees.
  • The shoe manufacturer Deckers Outdoor (maker of Ugg footwear) has revitalized its digital learning experience, and also is using its learning programs to engage people and drive its corporate culture. Each program communicates purpose and meaning, and is designed not just to teach people, but also to inspire them to learn. The result, according to Deloitte, is strong business results and one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry.

Given the particularly acute pain organizations feel due to the skills gap in STEM positions—which are both hard to fill and critical for innovation—a powerful Learning & Development program that provides relief is particularly valuable.

But do any of the above models foster true innovation? And do they do so in ways that will serve to both attract and retain the kind of top talent businesses need today to maintain competitiveness?

This is why we ARE facing a skills gap crisis. Because even as organizations increasingly come to realize the importance of Learning & Development, Learning & Development itself needs to change.

Udacity offers a model for Learning & Development that is unique, and uniquely relevant. In partnership with Silicon innovators like Google, Facebook and Cloudera, we develop and deploy hands-on web training that helps keep companies ahead of the competition. We do this through our Nanodegree programs. The depth of our innovative coursework, the rigor of our project review system, and the high quality of our mentoring and training services combine to produce the cutting-edge talent businesses need today, and the emerging leaders who will ensure continued success tomorrow.

There are three key ways businesses can partner with us to solve existing skills gaps, and secure successful futures for their brands:

  1. Upskill your current employees — We’ll provide cutting-edge curriculum and web training.
  2. Find qualified talent — Our students have the the critical skills companies like yours need.
  3. Create custom curricula — Udacity will work with you to identify and develop courses in cutting-edge subjects important to your business.

Every Udacity learner is pushed to think beyond their current capabilities, to imagine what they’ve not yet imagined, and to build forward from the things they know towards the things they’ll discover. In this way, existing models are transformed even as learners themselves are transformed. This is the spirit Udacity brings to the Learning & Development model, a commitment to true innovation and genuine transformation.

And so we return to the questions posed in our title. Is there a skills gap crisis looming? Yes. Can Learning & Development avert it? That depends on who you ask. Some will say no. But put the question to someone who has hired a Nanodegree program graduate, or traded out an existing Learning & Development strategy for a Nanodegree program model, or built custom Udacity courses to address specific competencies, and the answer will most certainly be