The way a workforce wants to learn new skills and develop their careers is changing, and the younger generation in particular is driving a strong demand for innovation in how L&D programmes are delivered. Technological and social advances mean workplace education needs to be transformed dramatically, if it is to stay relevant and have a reliable impact on the bottom line and on individual performance. Yet, the L&D professionals driving these learning programmes are operating under intense pressure, with little recognition from the board for their efforts and less budget despite higher demands on programme impact and return on investment. The knock-on effect is a cohort of professionals who lack confidence and often doubt their own ability to make an impact. But the good news is, with the right approach, the pressure to do more with less could potentially lead to greater innovation in workplace training.

Our Learning Curve research, which surveyed over 200 professionals responsible for the L&D within large businesses, reveals that only 23% are confident that their L&D programmes have a direct impact on their organisation’s bottom line and just 21% believe they have an impact with longevity beyond the duration of the training. Furthermore, only a quarter of UK businesses are confident that their L&D programmes are sufficiently innovative, less than a third (30%) are very confident that their programmes are relevant (delivering and equipping employees with the required skills) or tailored to the needs of the organisation and employees (27%). Encouragingly, though, 70% say that the recent downturn has shown that L&D spend can be lower and still achieve similar results.

So how can this be achieved?

Clearly, the task of transforming an organisation’s learning and development programmes doesn’t come without its challenges. However, it does present a genuine opportunity for HR and L&D professionals to unleash their potential, prove their worth and show the business how they are impacting the bottom line though the right development of talent. Collectively, they can help create a strong, stable skills system that meets the needs of not only the employer but also the economy and society as a whole. In order to make this a reality though, HR professionals need full recognition and support from C-level execs.

Most of what people learn is done through daily life experiences, so HR professionals need to help their organisations to harness informal learning where appropriate, and turn it into guided learning experiences. As the number of learning tools increase, training professionals can tap into the pool of resources available online, rather than having to spend weeks designing a training programme from scratch. This will help free up their time to provide a more bespoke service to help employees learn on the job, rather than packaging and distributing content.

Technology can help make workplace training more relevant and innovative but it’s important to bear in mind that it’s the enabler, the ‘how’, not the ‘what’. The key is to establish what you want your L&D programme to achieve and how technology can support that. It’s easy to be tempted by the latest technology but we need to be asking the question ‘why?’ and ‘what will it achieve for the business?’ each time.

At KnowledgePool, we recently started using an internal social collaboration platform tool called ‘the hub’ which is helping us to share knowledge within the company. It’s breaking down silos in individual teams, so people can benefit from each other’s knowledge. It’s allowing remote teams to come together and share expertise. In a sense, the way we share knowledge is changing because we’re widening access to different learning experiences. Individuals and teams are recording what they experience and saving it to the hub, which creates valuable shareable collateral. This shifts us as an organisation into an area where we can curate those experiences and others can search for them; and that’s an important point as it links back to the ability of an organisation to develop guided social learning experiences, allowing us to begin mixing the formal and informal sides of learning. We have seen increasing confidence and growing 85% weekly participation since we went live with the hub a few months ago, so engagement levels are high.

But what’s the point of all this? How will it benefit the business? Our research shows that fewer than half (46%) of L&D professionals are measuring the impact of programmes on staff retention rates, employee satisfaction (46%) or employee productivity (45%), with just 20% believing that their programmes are accurately measured in terms of ROI. With the sophisticated methodologies and tools now available, there’s no excuse not to measure the impact an L&D programme or tool is having on individual and business performance. Often this involves going beyond the ‘happy sheet’ approach to gauge satisfaction rates directly after a training programme or initiative has been put in place, and requires a more in-depth evaluation into the impact on performance a few months afterwards. For example, in our business, we will be measuring the hub’s impact against how well it’s being used to leverage knowledge for the benefit of clients.

Only a small percentage (10%) of what an individual learns is through formal training such as a degree or diploma, the remainder is learned socially or in the course of day to day tasks and activities (experientially). It’s this 90% of learning that we believe will be the future opportunity for workplace learning, alongside formal courses, and organisations need to find innovative technology to support that. In essence, HR professionals need to ensure their future L&D programmes take into account the role of learning at the point of need, and where possible, provide the right infrastructure to tailor learning programmes to each individual. Direct your employees to the learning resources they need and empower them to stretch outside their comfort zones.

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