4 Learning and Development Drivers for High-Performance Organizations
The growing value of a competent workforce is redefining learning and development’s role in the modern business landscape. Tight labor markets, new technologies, and a renewed focus on inclusion demand that organizations adapt rapidly. Today’s strongest workforces have the ongoing education and training that let them keep up — and let companies attract and retain talent and maximize their contributions to business results.
With sound talent development strategies and strong support from the C-suite, learning and development professionals can help their organizations address these changes in the labor market. Doing so requires a deliberate approach that cultivates high learning expectations and an effective learning environment — especially as those factors impact new hires.
Looking over several recent high-level studies on the state of workforce development, a few common themes emerge. The following four tactics will help learning and development professionals address the most pressing workforce trends.
Enable lifelong learning
Skill cycles are getting shorter. According to “A Skills Revolution: From Consumers of Work to Builders of Talent” from ManpowerGroup, about 65% of the jobs that will be performed by Generation Z do not even exist yet. The rapid evolution of technology that has taken place over the last few decades is expected to continue, with artificial intelligence and automation playing a greater role in the workplace. Employees need to train continuously in order to stay ahead of the curve.
Most employees understand this and are eager to learn. 89% of respondents in a LearnKit survey say they feel it’s important that their employer supports their learning and development, and 66% say they value learning over monetary compensation.
Employers are getting the message. In the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, 83% of executives identify careers and learning as very important. In a Pwc CEO survey, 81% of CEOs say their business is always seeking ways to equip employees with new skills.
That’s a good thing, as Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, told us for a forthcoming ebook. Having senior leadership on board with learning strategies, he says, goes a long way toward developing an organization’s culture of learning.
Thanks to improved technology and data tracking capabilities, learning and development professionals are better equipped than ever to provide continuous and on-demand learning opportunities to employees. Microlearning, tuition assistance programs, and mentoring programs can remove time, cost, and access barriers. Partnerships with colleges and universities can open up a range of opportunities that go beyond what most companies are able to offer.
Focus on capabilities over credentials
Agility is emerging as an essential trait for businesses and employees. As organizations become less hierarchical and more team focused, the ability to change and adapt at speed will separate the high performers from the pack, according to the Deloitte report.
In the past, employers placed great emphasis on credentials. An employee with a college degree or industry certification was automatically seen as more valuable than one without. Following this mindset, learning and development programs focused on hours spent in training rather than the actual skills employees were expected to learn there.
Today, the highest-performing companies are flipping that paradigm. They set out to help employees build specific essential competencies that deliver a real return on investment.
Project-based learning and competency-based learning strategies ensure that employees aren’t just putting in the time, they’re actually building capabilities. These strategies also require thoughtful assessment and data tracking to ensure employees are growing the key competencies most essential to the success of the business.
Invest in entry-level talent
Turnover rates are rising across many industries. This can mean big costs for employers. According to a report funded by Walmart and executed by FSG, the United States’ retail industry alone lost $9 billion to voluntary, entry-level turnover in 2016.
A report by Robin Erickson of Bersin by Deloitte finds that when unemployment rates go down, the voluntary turnover rate rises. In a tight labor market, like the one businesses are now facing, those vacated jobs can be difficult to fill, and doing so can be expensive. A case study review by the Center for American Progress finds that replacing a worker costs about one-fifth of that worker’s salary.
Learning and development professionals can help address this challenge by developing stronger talent pipelines that increase employee productivity and engagement. This includes effective training from day one, regular feedback, and personalized learning goals that align with the goals of the organization.
According to the FSG report, employers who provide effective training for entry-level talent see retention that exceeds industry averages. A particularly successful example of this is The Container Store, which boasts a 10% overall turnover rate compared to the retail industry average of 56%. The CEO explained in 2014 that full-time employees “receive 263 hours of formal training, compared with an industry average of about eight.”
Build partnerships to boost inclusion
Fairness, equality, and inclusion are getting more attention than ever. In the last decade or so, there has been a major cultural shift toward embracing diversity as both a moral and strategic necessity. Thriving companies — including those who compete on a global scale — have a workforce comprising diverse people, ideas, and skills.
According to the Pwc CEO Survey, 85% of CEOs who have a diversity and inclusiveness strategy say it has enhanced performance. Bringing people from varied backgrounds together enables the team to remain flexible and think creatively.
To help build diversity within the organization, learning and development professionals can broker relationships with programs and organizations that reach out to opportunity youth, women, and minority populations.
One company that has successfully applied this tactic is Gap, Inc. Their training and internship program, This Way Ahead, helps groom opportunity youth for their first job. More than 75% of program graduates are subsequently hired by the company, resulting in an engaged, loyal, and diverse workforce. To make the program possible, Gap, Inc. partners with charter schools, nonprofits, and community outreach organizations.
Embracing the challenge of change
Complex technology and an increasingly global marketplace are pushing learning and development strategies to evolve faster than ever before. While no single tactic can ensure success, L&D professionals can drive achievement by being deliberate in their search for learning opportunities, staying flexible in their approach, and remaining open to feedback from employees and leadership alike.
Emma Gallimore is a freelance writer with a degree in journalism from the University of Maine. She reports on trends affecting the education, business, health, and technology sectors.
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