In corporate learning, standing still is the same as falling behind

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Learning & Development

Employees today are no longer learning so they can work; they are working so they can learn.

It is difficult to weigh up the considerable power of technology to affect change. And it is just as difficult to name any area of daily life that has not been altered by it in just the last decade.

The world-changing force of technology has been apparent for a long time. Perhaps most notably in the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in the fifteenth century, which allowed for the rapid spread of information through books and newspapers. Succeeding periods of major advance followed in the eighteenth century during the Industrial Revolution and, further on, in the popularising of telephones and TVs in the the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

But while these technologies made mass communication more readily available, their steady rate of progress pales in comparison to the succeeding century of change.

Today, it is almost impossible to think of a single aspect of daily life that is beyond technology’s reach. It has transformed how we receive news as well as how we make it. It has changed political landscapes, breaking world leaders just as easily as it has helped make them. And it is actively affecting an evolution of our daily routines, interactions, ways of living, and even ways of thinking.

Technology is evolving to the point where there is a new Industrial Revolution every decade. Click To Tweet

In fact the acceleration and scale of its development has reached a point where we experience something like a new Industrial Revolution every decade or so (it’s generally agreed that we are in fact entering a Fourth Industrial Revolution). Just as we grow comfortable with existing technologies, trailblazing new ones suddenly emerge with the potential to reinvent the world once again.

Learning & Development in the Corporate Environment

Riding the crest of this wave is the world of commerce, which must continually adapt to new technologies so that it can better serve growing consumer numbers.

For this to happen, high-performing companies now seek employees who are themselves adaptable, prepared to spot new opportunities, and keen to embrace the changes necessary to make the most of those opportunities. To ensure that their employees get to this point – and remain there – the same high-performing companies are spending significantly more than their competitors on corporate learning and development.

According to an employer survey by the World Economic Forum the ten most valuable workforce skills for 2020 are projected to look quite different to those previously earmarked for 2015, with critical thinking and creativity moving close to the top of the list.

But why have such skills become so important? And are the majority of companies properly equipped to nurture them in employees?

The straightforward answer to the former question is that cognitive and creative skills are more desirable now because traditional “hard” skills are becoming obsolete far more quickly. According to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends of 2017, software engineers now need to re-develop their skills every 12 to 18 months. And it is much the same with professionals in other areas such as finance, marketing, law, and manufacturing.

“As technology accelerates,” says former US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich “training may barely be sufficient to last 10 years. How will that work? How do we educate and retrain people for six careers over a lifetime? And what sorts of jobs will those be? How will we give people purpose when machines can do everything that is dull, dangerous, or determinable?”

Problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking are valued because they essentially act as gateways for ongoing development in other areas: they enable greater flexibility. As with the limited shelf-life of hard skills, corporate training programs that don’t support these cognitive skills run the same risk of obsolescence.

Problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking are gateways for professional development. Click To Tweet

The potential consequences of this are huge, as pointed out by Randi Zuckerberg, a former Director at Facebook (and sister of co-founder Mark Zuckerberg):

“Many employers say they value training but don’t actually create a culture where employees feel they can take the time to get that training. It can easily get to the point where employers find themselves with tens of thousands of employees whose skills are suddenly outdated, and all of a sudden they need to go through mass re-training of thousands of people.”

Managing Expectations – Letting Talent Lead the Way

Even though reports suggest that it is high-performing companies that are leading the change in workplace training, in many cases it is the expectations of the employees themselves that are influencing a change in focus.

This is hardly surprising since a growing cohort of the working population is comprised of millennials who have grown up with technology. Accessing information via the Internet seems as natural to them as breathing: it is a simply a part of day-to-day life. The notion of “working to learn” is therefore something of an embedded principle, and they are therefore far more likely to seek out companies that champion continuous growth in the same way that they do.

Because of their adaptability and comfort with new technology, the competition for hiring such talent is fierce. As much as 57 per cent of HR and training teams identify it as the single greatest challenge to their company’s growth. To overcome this, more employers are adapting or expanding their L&D programs to create a more appealing brand image to prospective hires and subsequently maximize the talent they manage to secure.

Insight through Information

The variety of training methods now available opens up seemingly endless opportunities to achieve more effective learning outcomes. There is micro learning (generally short, snappy video content that focuses on particular skills), mobile learning (a rapidly growing area that caters for an “always -on” workforce), online training courses, collaborative learning, project-based learning, and regular feedback loops (an alternative to annual reviews).

All these and many more have shown up on the corporate radar in recent years. But if companies are going to employ such methods effectively then they will need to develop an understanding of what their L&D program needs to do and how they can put one together that performs as required.

This raises further important questions: How can you track cognitive agility or problem-solving skills in employees? How can you identify their ongoing needs as well as strengths? How can you evaluate their evolution in terms of skills and core competencies?

Given that more information means greater insight, acquiring as much data as possible in relevant areas makes sense. But how does a company go about setting up a process that can capture data that is both high-quality and actionable? And if you do manage to set up such a process, then isn’t it bound to become obsolete with time as things move on?

Information gives insight, so high-quality data is essential for a high-quality L&D program. Click To Tweet

This is the problem with using standard evaluations, which are limited in scope and applicability. The changing work environment and shifting employee needs require far greater flexibility and scope. Chief Learning Officers, HR professionals, and team leaders each want to create improved processes for hiring, onboarding, training, and career and leadership identification.

However, as we’ve seen, the modern workplace is in a state of constant change, meaning these processes are sure to evolve. Are current assessment staples such as multiple-choice questions really up to the task?

Customising Assessments for an Evolving Work Environment

A complex, shifting work environment requires adaptable tech solutions to support its evolution. For training professionals, the value of well-developed assessments to their training programs is not in question. Asked what they considered to be the top trends shaping recruitment in 2020, 35 per cent put soft skills assessment at the top of the list.

A complex, shifting work environment requires adaptable tech solutions to support its evolution Click To Tweet

The difficulty, however, lies in finding a way to adapt assessments so that they effectively inform and improve a company’s broader corporate learning strategy. To this end, assessment solutions must be as flexible as the employees they are evaluating. As with other learning tools, they require a degree of customization that affords their authors the freedom to build and rebuild them as required, without incurring a waste of time or resources.

The corporate world is a restless one. If a company truly wants to develop a culture of learning and be seen as a place that embraces market change and employee evolution, then the technology it uses to do so should act as its calling card.

Micheál Heffernan

Senior Editor

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