Learning and development (L&D) are two of the key pillars supporting and enriching a company’s HR agenda, playing a critical role both in corporate talent retention and the career progression - and ultimate job satisfaction – of individual employees.
Over the past few years, the focus of L&D programmes has been on competency development, capability building and gaining the latest relevant domain certifications. However, more recently, that focus has shifted subtly towards employee health and wellbeing - with a renewed emphasis on training around building resilience and managing anxiety in particular – as well as reskilling and, importantly, diversity and inclusion within the workforce.
Three factors are behind this evolution of the L&D function.
- New platforms for a ‘new normal’ – Previously the world was moving slowly towards virtual training and learning. With COVID having transformed traditional workplace behaviours and logistics, the implementation of remote learning environments and tools has now become an immediate – and often business critical – priority for firms.
As they transition to virtual training, organizations are able to tap into training technologies and platforms that not only enable virtual learning but also a more interactive, engaging and hence effective L&D proposition. Going forward this places new demands upon firms in the shape of additional (or at least redirected) budgets and the ability to properly understand and evaluate what constitutes the best platforms and technology in light of their specific needs (and, often, constraints). It is clear, that when it comes to L&D offerings, technology can no longer take a back seat – in fact, it is arguably now driving the car.
- Relevance and speed of adaptation – Given the highly dynamic nature of the external environment they are currently forced to navigate, organizations’ priorities are in a state of constant flux. Firms’ L&D teams must accordingly be in a position to adapt to and match this fast pace of change.
After all, who would have imagined at the beginning of this year that reskilling employees and ensuring the fungibility of employees’ skills would become such a priority. Unfortunately, with many roles becoming redundant across a wide array of organizations, that is where we find ourselves today. At the same time, few would have predicted the need to accommodate a huge upsurge in the volume and variety of new trainings within the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) space.
These factors mean that firms have had to accelerate the frequency and speed of their L&D review and implementation cycle, up from once a year on average to once every quarter. The scoping of training needs and context, designing the content, delivering the training, measuring the impact: the entire cycle needs to start and end within a few weeks, rather than sprawling across weeks of deliberation followed by months of execution, as has typically been the case in the past.
- Budgets: delivering more with less – Prevailing conditions has required organizations to cut their costs, in some instances quite significantly, and L&D budgets are accordingly taking a hit this year. As a result, L&D teams need to be more creative and innovative than ever to ensure an optimal return on investment for their training and development programmes.
Smart use of technology will not just deliver great content but also increase reach and reduce per employee cost. For example, a traditional classroom training session would typically only accommodate 10-15 participants, all of whom had to be present in the same office. L&D teams would therefore have to conduct multiple sessions of the same training to accommodate different countries, regions or offices.
The latest technologies – such as Udemy, Coursera, Bespoke and Landit, to name a few - means that hundreds of participants from all across the globe can now attend one, single training session, with consequent reductions in the (work)time, effort and cost involved.
The challenge now facing L&D practitioners is the need for their function, and their wider organization, to press ahead vigorously with assessing and addressing the new requirements and expectations that now exist around training and education. In particular, they must ensure that employees and their skills stay relevant on an ongoing basis. L&D professionals need to be ever more tech savvy, and be constantly looking to learn about the latest trends and technology in their domain.
Change is not only happening, it is accelerating and inaction or complacency will only be detrimental to the organization and its employees. Today, L&D is no longer about merely building competency and skills. It is also about building resilience and protecting and enhancing the wellbeing of employees. This is as a great opportunity for L&D to deliver a very tangible and long-lasting impact when it comes to talent acquisition and retention - and in the process demonstrate that a strong and transformational L&D function in turn ensures both a strong organization and a real competitive edge in these tough and fast-moving times.