This content is part of the Essential Guide: It's a millennial workforce -- here's what HR pros need to know

3 reasons why you need a new corporate learning strategy

Employees are getting more and more difficult to retain. That's why learning and development programs are so critical. Here's how to update yours.

Modernizing your corporate learning strategy is critical today given the increasing need to grow your own talent amid growing skill shortages and the prevailing job-hopping trend.

"When modernizing a corporate learning strategy, companies need to recognize that most of what is taught in a training session will be forgotten in less than a week," said Dave Root, president of Eagle's Flight, an experiential learning programs provider. "This is a real issue that has historically held [companies'] learning strategies back from achieving their objectives."

While the challenges are serious, there are ways to modernize training so that education is repositioned to become a better talent management tool.

"To have talent, you need to find and attract staff but also train and retain [them], too. View learning and skill maintenance as both a recruitment and retention tool," said Peter Hirst, associate dean of executive education at MIT Sloan School of Management.

"If employees won't be able to learn and grow, they'll often leave," Hirst said. "You want to make sure you create a company culture that shows you value and invest in your people. If you don't develop from within, you won't be able to find all the skills you need."

1. To promote a learning culture

According to a Gallup poll, employers aren't fully capitalizing on employees' desire to learn. A whopping 59% of millennials say opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job, and 44% of Gen Xers and 41% of baby boomers say the same.

Companies should be training employees to perform the work needed now and in the future. But you also need to take into consideration what motivates employees to learn.

"One of the very first moves any organization should make is to understand what is motivating the people [who] currently work at the company," Hirst said. "It's, of course, important to take a top-down perspective on what the organization needs from a strategic perspective, while also identifying what employees need and want to achieve. Try to build from [the] bottom up and top down to meet in the middle," he said.

"This is increasingly important due to the heightened demand [by employees] for meaningful and engaging work," Hirst said.

"If you're not engaging employees in what they need and desire, you risk creating another initiative from HR that places more burdens on people who don't have spare time." He pointed out that companies need to see employees as their customers and understand what problems learning programs are solving for them.

While motivation differs among individuals, employees are generally looking to develop skills that lead to job promotions or are transferrable to better job opportunities.

2. To enable employees to continuously update job skills

Employees are interested in learning new job skills before their current skills age out or are replaced by automation.

The fourth industrial revolution is already introducing massive changes in the workforce, according to Koreen Pagano, executive director of skills for the new economy at ETS.

As a result of these changes, up to 375 million workers will need to switch occupational categories by 2030, according to research by McKinsey & Company.

"Employers can help staff navigate this shift by investing in a culture of continuous learning that empowers employees to direct their own development," Pagano said. Savvy employees are already thinking about how to learn new skills to keep up with new technologies and resulting job shifts. "Employers have the opportunity to support them in this process, which is also a valuable culture and retention strategy," Pagano said.

This interest dovetails with employer needs to grow their own talent to fill new job skill needs, and it also presents another way to improve retention rates.

"For more costly external training or programs, a repayment agreement can be put into place that will encourage retention or provide the ability to recoup the investment," said Brent Skalicky, VP of HR at data protection and disaster recovery provider Arcserve.

Ultimately, employees aren't the only ones that will need to continuously update their skills. Companies will need to update their corporate learning strategy regularly to stay on top of job role and skill set changes, too.

"As we look at the impact of automation, it's going to affect not only the manual type of jobs, but, increasingly, skilled and knowledge-based white-collar jobs as well. One of the consequences of that is people in the workforce will need to engage in lifelong learning to ensure that they have skills to remain relevant and to thrive in this rapidly evolving workforce," Hirst said.

3. To fight job hopping with a development strategy

Despite a company's best efforts, some training investment dollars will be lost as employees change jobs. But that risk can be mitigated by savvy planning.

"The reality of today's job market is that people are going to change jobs," Pagano said. "Modern employees are more entrepreneurial in their career outlooks, and employers that create opportunities for internal mobility, continuous training and development, and individualized career paths will have better luck mitigating that risk."

Even so, some people will still move on. Prepare for that eventuality, too.

"Creating subject matter expertise programs that are strong, searchable and editable will help ensure that knowledge isn't lost when the person moves on," Pagano said.

Minimizing loss also entails scaling the training program so the cost per employee is significantly lower.

"Other than incentives and positive reinforcement, the best way to minimize the impact of job hoppers is to ensure that your training is as efficiently implemented as possible. Technology can help with this, including cloud-based systems, modular training systems -- pay for as much or as little functionality as you need -- and seamless integration of apps that add value without cost," said Beth Murphy, president and CEO of CFM Partners, a governance, risk and compliance training and education provider for the financial services industry.

In the end, an employee moving on isn't necessarily a failure.

"True learning organizations are comfortable with training people out of their current jobs and view that as a sign of success rather than a liability," said Amy Reichanadter, chief people officer at Databricks.

Take the long view in calculating ROI in your corporate learning strategy.

"Skill sets age out faster than ever before, so it is important to help your organization take a long-term view of how important learning is to the future success of your organization," Reichanadter said.

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