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The Why, What, and How of L&D in the Modern Business Environment

Shelley Osborne, Head of L&D, Udemy

Shelley Osborne, Head of L&D, Udemy

Digital transformation has re imagined a lot of the things we do at work, and learning and development (L&D) is no exception. Never before have there been so many compelling reasons to support employee learning and so many exciting ways to deliver it.

The Why

For too long, too many companies have dismissed employee development as a “nice to have,” but in the modern workplace, it’s a must. This is yet another effect of digital transformation.

Job skills are changing fast, as artificial intelligence and automation become capable of performing more tasks that used to be the exclusive realm of humans. It’s virtually impossible to predict where this trend will spread next and what new skills workers will need to gain in order to stay productive and relevant.

This is the tension behind the skills gap: the disconnect between the skills employers require and the skills workers actually have. My company just conducted our third survey to see how workers feel about the skills gap, and awareness of the phenomenon is growing globally. In the U.S., 43 percent of workers expect AI/automation to be able to do their jobs within five years, and 73 percent say they’ve already had to gain new skills.

Here’s what will really grab the attention of employers: 51 percent of survey respondents said they’d actually quit a job where they weren’t given necessary training. In other words, providing continuous learning and development opportunities to your workforce is critical to retain valuable talent and equip them with skills that will help them succeed in their jobs.

The What

So, I’ve just stated that no one can predict which new skills our fast-changing work environment will demand in the future. But that doesn’t mean we should sit back and wait, only to scramble to catch up later.

Obviously, workers need to keep their tech skill sets up to date. Engineers are accustomed to staying current with new releases, but almost everyone else’s job involves some technology these days, too, so the entire workforce should have access to tech skills training right in their moment of need.

Just as important as tech skills (perhaps more so) but often overlooked are soft skills, i.e., professional competencies that won’t get automated and never lose their value, like problem-solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and creativity.

Many of us have been led to believe these are skills you have to be born with, but it’s simply not true! We can and most definitely should work on improving and exercising our soft skills throughout our careers, and companies have to make sure they’re included in available training.

Moreover, leadership and management training needs to be rolled out to employees before they get promoted to those roles. According to McKinsey & Co., companies that “ensure leadership-development interventions cover the whole organization” are 6.9 times more successful than those that don’t. Being a manager is quite different from doing a job as an individual contributor, and people need time to adapt to this new mindset. Failing to prepare future leaders for those responsibilities can turn into a real crisis. Besides, you don’t have to have “manager” in your title to be an inspiring leader.

The How

Here’s where it gets fun! Technology is making learning more accessible, engaging, and personalized than ever before, which means companies will get a bigger return on their L&D investment and workers will be more satisfied with the experience.

First and foremost, learning must be democratized across your organization, by which I mean it can’t be reserved only for employees of a certain pay grade or tenure. Learning should be encouraged in everyone, and companies should want to have people who are actively interested in growing their skill sets. Again, it’s a key to employee retention and driver of job satisfaction.

Second, training has to be delivered in ways that make sense for busy workers who are used to consuming digital content all the time. That means self-paced, on-demand, and video-based, preferably in bite-sized chunks, so people can apply what they’ve learned to whatever they’re working on right now.

Third, learners need to be empowered to drive their own experience. Rather than having someone tell people what, where, and when they need to learn, give them the keys to unlock learning themselves.

Finally, L&D teams can facilitate other programs that complete the learning puzzle, like group learning sessions, mentorships, and periodic check-ins. Speakers at the recent Udemy for Business People Innovators conference shared some really cool and innovative approaches they’re taking to ensure that workers aren’t just passive participants in training but are really retaining what they learn.

For example, at Charles Schwab, finance professionals are preparing for a critical licensing exam by dividing into small groups, assigning each person a section of the 600- page study guide, and then having each owner “teach” the rest of the group. Employees like this approach much better than having to read and absorb the entire book themselves, and it’s also improved performance on the exam, which is what corporate leadership likes.

Over at Thumbtack, a website for finding local professional services, the People team led a session where employees worked alongside farm animals (really!) to learn about collaboration and communication.

Digital transformation has ushered in a new era for learning and development, and those of us in the industry have a real opportunity to make a big impact on our organizations. The modern business environment demands that we elevate L&D to a strategic asset, and technology offers us countless ways to make it effective and engaging.

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