Professional development isn’t a foreign concept for any business. In fact, companies spent an average of $1,270 per person on training and development in 2020 alone. However, these kinds of investments appear to be mostly for naught; just 12% of employees say that they can actually apply newly learned skills to their jobs. The problem hasn’t gone unnoticed, thankfully. More than 70% of CEOs anticipate that finding employees with the right skills will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future.

Companies could certainly invest in more development opportunities to help close the skills gaps they’re encountering. But what if the problem is the training method itself? Perhaps it isn’t the amount of training made available to the workforce that’s important; it could very well be the approach. This isn’t to say you should abandon your existing training program. Instead, look at how you’re empowering your employees during the development process and see where there might be room for improvement.

Although your needs may differ from those of other companies, there are a few tactics anyone can use to restructure their learning and development efforts:

1. Conduct a skills inventory.

Businesses get to work on the annual budgeting process about three to four months before the start of a new fiscal year. They usually review their investments, expenses, and other line items in a fairly methodical way. Skills, however, don’t often get the same level of attention. Ziad Abou, CEO of Quickparts, a supplier of professional-grade additive and traditional manufacturing, including custom prototypes, 3D printing, and on-demand parts manufacturing, decided to change that with what he describes as a skill inventory.

“Businesses need to be more proactive and budget for skills as they’d budget for anything else,” Abou explains. “At our company, we use the beginning of the year to identify the skills we have and the skills that we’re missing. We then put that information together on a dashboard like we do a budget and look at it more scientifically now than in the past.” From there, it’s just a matter of updating your skills inventory as new talent comes on board, employees gain new skills, your business needs different expertise, and so on.

2. Develop employees’ soft skills.

Soft skills should never be undervalued, as they can serve as the foundation for building the hard skills employees need to perform their jobs properly. More than 90% of HR professionals believe soft skills are just as critical (or even more critical) as hard skills. Look for development opportunities to improve employees’ soft skills in self-awareness, listening, communication, and flexibility — all of which can help with collaboration and problem-solving.

Adaptability, empathy, self-motivation, self-direction, and leadership are also critical, especially with the rate of business change only picking up pace. You want to build a team that doesn’t need as much oversight and can take the initiative to adapt plans as needed. Ideally, when training on soft or hard skills, the number of participants is no more than five at a time. This ensures that everyone received personalized instruction that is truly applicable to their lives at work.

3. Provide upskilling and reskilling opportunities.

With nearly 60% of the workforce needing new skills to do their jobs effectively, small and large businesses alike have shifted their focus to upskilling and reskilling initiatives. The process not only ensures that employees can take full advantage of the new technologies integrated into operations, but it also allows your business to stay current against the competition.

Not sure what the difference is between these two tactics? Upskilling is all about training team members on new technologies — and the new processes and systems that will inevitably follow. With reskilling, you train team members for different jobs. For example, introducing automation into a workflow will likely change, if not eliminate, certain roles. However, the team members in those roles will probably have the basic skills needed to move into different areas of operations. All that’s necessary is some reskilling to round out their skill sets.

Closing the skills gap will take more than just launching a slew of new training and development opportunities. You need to first understand exactly which skills are lacking and then build a solid foundation to develop the necessary capabilities that will keep your business competitive. Training should always have a purpose, tied to the organization’s overall mission. Without a rationale behind each session, you’re just training for training’s sake. Rethink how you approach the development process to ensure you’re building true proficiency in the areas that matter the most for your company.