Learning is dynamic by nature and professional development has seen turbulent change throughout history. As soon as a solution appears to fit the shifting needs of the workforce, a new challenge emerges from the ashes and it is necessary to look further for more complex answers to overcome bigger obstacles.
The journey of modern learning and development has been an exciting one, underpinned by a commitment to positive change and expansion to new horizons.
Looking back, the traditional approach to learning at work was on the job, directly from experienced mentors. Employees tended to stay loyal to one employer to advance their own career. Today’s world, however, is a starkly different environment. Lower unemployment and an increase in available jobs have reversed the power dynamic almost entirely and the job seekers are in full control, demanding faster advancement and more fulfilling experiences at work.
With employees freer to move around the job market, competition for talent has increased significantly. In combination with a decrease in job security, businesses have suddenly found themselves in the middle of a gig economy – where freelancing is increasingly popular and employees are only looking for short-term contracts or ‘gigs’ to maintain a stable income. The situation has not been helped by organisations’ over reliance upon buying talent, however, the spiralling cost of this practice has led to businesses looking at how to develop and nurture talent internally.
Additionally, the rapid evolution of technology has brought endless innovation into the workplace, which has severely shortened the useful lifetime of newly learnt skills. As a direct result of these pressures upon business leaders, L&D has been elevated to one of the most important considerations for the continued success of a company.
Investment in the sector, as well as internal recognition of the importance of the HR department, has risen significantly and the commitment to improving performance in the professional development function has driven powerful changes in the way that L&D is provided and regarded.
L&D is now an employment benefit
The workforce is getting younger. Filled with Millennials and the beginnings of Generation Z, the workforce of today is considerably different to that of their predecessors. Today’s youth values greater flexibility, recognition of achievement and better opportunities for personal and professional development over financial incentives and material benefits. With Millennials now representing the largest demographic within the modern workforce, it’s more important than ever to recognise and cater to the needs of today’s employees.
However, businesses are still not effectively addressing this issue, as highlighted by Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey,2 which revealed that this demographic largely feels underutilised and undervalued, particularly when it comes to being developed into leaders. In order to attract younger workers and ensure that they remain motivated and productive, more businesses will need to integrate professional development opportunities into their benefits packages.
This also offers multiple benefits to the employer, including benefiting from greater employee productivity and better retention rates, while being able to establish talent pipelines to prepare the leaders of tomorrow.
Technology enables advanced L&D
While advancements in technology have fuelled the need for continual training across multiple sectors, they have also enhanced the processes and platforms that enable employees to access information and increase their skills and knowledge.
With the introduction of big data and advanced analytics processing, HR departments can now automate the process of monitoring learner progress and allocating relevant content to help learners achieve both their personal goals and the objectives set by the business.
For the first time, employees can take some level of control over their own career development as their feedback can be used to shape their advancement in line with their capabilities and the available succession routes within the business.
It also represents a step forward for HR professionals, saving them time and even enhancing their capabilities in terms of identifying complex patterns which can indicate the most suitable candidates for future leadership. Cited as the most important function of modern HR technology, automation is the key to both streamlining and improving the development of promising employees.
HR is taking a step back
With automation taking over much of the progress tracking, development planning and content allocation, HR is re-evaluating its role in the process of developing talent. It no longer needs to provide the mechanical aspects of L&D, including resource-heavy assessments, number crunching and profile analysis. Instead it can concentrate on providing the human elements of support, including advising candidates on how best to pursue their own goals and ensuring that their wellbeing is maintained.
This doesn’t come without risks, however, as a recent survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD)3 suggests that the visibility of HR departments within their own organisations has suffered as a result of reduced contact with employees. Where interaction between workers and HR has decreased, many employees have lose sight of the department’s significance in their development journey. In order to maintain a stable and mutually beneficial relationship with the workforce, HR professionals will need to ensure that they are available for face-to-face consultations and support sessions, thereby ensuring that they remain relevant in the eyes of the employees in their care.
Work/life balance is a good thing for business
For many employers, work/life balance remains a difficult issue – not least because most see it as a negative development for the future of their organisation. However, while the primary intention is to provide some relief to employees who feel overworked and overstressed, it also gives them an opportunity to work when they are at their most receptive and productive. Few people are capable of continued concentration over long periods and there have been multiple reports in recent months suggesting that shorter working days would ultimately drive greater productivity.
Evidence from Vodafone’s recent study into the benefits of establishing flexible working initiatives goes further in supporting this theory, reporting that 83 per cent of respondents perceived significant improvements to productivity within their organisation. In addition, 58 per cent indicated that the implementation of flexible working policies had a positive impact upon their organisation’s reputation, thereby improving talent attraction and staff retention figures. The most significant result, however, was that 61 per cent indicated that their company’s profits had increased as a direct result of flexible working practices.
It is evident that by allowing workers to take themselves out of the office, employers can realise improvements to efficiency and productivity with employees working in environments which they perceive to be more conducive to work.
Business is going mobile
As an extension of the work/life balance conversation, businesses are increasingly going mobile – allowing their employees to access company assets and information via remote connections. This brings many of the same benefits associated with flexible working, but it also enables workers to fit learning into parts of their day which would otherwise be lost, such as when commuting, waiting for appointments and so on. While this has been a positive motivator for businesses to adopt mobile learning platforms, the new driver is the increasing popularity of mobile devices with younger people.
According to the latest Ofcom communications report,6 mobile device usage has been steadily increasing for tasks traditionally reserved for desktops or laptops. Throughout Europe, internet access via smartphones and tablets has risen to more than 50 per cent.
What this demonstrates to employers and L&D experts alike is that workers are far more likely to utilise training platforms that are available on mobile platforms than those that are not, providing a clear indication of how to get the most out of both the training solution and the employee.
Personalisation is the key
Another revelation is that personalisation is the key to winning loyalty and establishing more effective engagement to promote better learning. PwC established that Millennial and GenZ workers want to follow their own path and they want to be recognised as individuals contributing equally to the overall success of their firm. This is no different in terms of their career progression – they want to choose their development pathways, see their own hard-earned success and, just as importantly, be seen succeeding by their superiors.
A positive outlook
HR and L&D professionals have their work cut out for them. There are many challenges that lie ahead, not least the continued widening of the skills gap and, in the UK in particular, low productivity and workforce performance. However, the indicators are positive – the L&D sector is championing innovation and starting to harness the true capabilities of technology to bring professional development into the modern age.
Looking ahead, learning professionals will need to keep the learner front of mind. User experience has become the single most important factor in promoting successful apps and technology platforms. With the HR industry consistently looking for better ways to improve engagement and motivation, it will be necessary to continue to analyse and configure solutions to ensure that learners are provided with support, encouragement and relevant rewards throughout each stage of their professional development journey.
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