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THE FUTURE OF L&D – WAKEUP CALL – PRINT – Issue 223 – May 2023 | Article of the Week

MARTIN COLES & DEIDRE CARBALLO, CUSTOMER SUCCESS COACHES - GOODHABITZ

IN THE HASTILY USHERED IN NEW WORLD OF WORK, EMPLOYERS ARE IN A STATE OF TRANSITIONARY FLUX AND EXPOSED TO UNREMITTING SCRUTINY, AS THE WORKFORCE SETTLES INTO REMOTE AND HYBRID WORK AND RECESSION BITES DOWN ON BUDGETS. IN A WORLD REELING FROM TRANSFORMATION, THE DEFICITS OF TALENT AND SKILLS ACROSS SECTORS AND INDUSTRIES POINTS TO THE OBVIOUS CONCLUSION, THAT WE CAN NO LONGER EXPECT THE L&D MODELS CONCEIVED GENERATIONS AGO – AND CRUDELY MODERNISED AND BOLTED ON TO ALONG THE WAY – TO APPLY NOW. L&D IS BROADLY FAILING TO INSPIRE AND COMPEL PEOPLE.

As AI and machine learning seep into every area of the workplace, employees increasingly want to feel secure with the changes that are happening around them, while also wanting their work to be meaningful. So why is it that they can be reluctant to take part in learning and development offered by employers? With the future of work being dictated by technology, directly impacting every part of the workplace, never has a fresh perspective been needed so quickly than in L&D.

Across the world of business, the L&D picture is confused. There are some employers taking a hard look at whether their L&D programmes are a foundational fit, while others are already adopting a culture of learning, with behavioural and skill improvements that weaves from the C-Suite through the entire workforce. There are many firms, of course, that aren’t at this stage in L&D, it’s human nature to wait until something dramatic happens. But there are plenty of corporate examples where not adapting quickly enough has led to damaging declines in competitiveness – Nokia, Kodak and BlockBuster – the salient reminders. But the undeniable reality this time is, that it’s not just markets that are shifting at pace, it’s peoples’ roles. So promoting L&D, from compliance and a ‘nice to have’, to the epicentre of the significant challenges ahead is an imperative. Indeed, L&D itself may not even be recognisable in the near future, as it prepares to go through one of the most important stages of its own journey. It’s not just AI and machine learning that are impacting L&D, learning patterns are transforming too.

COVID fast-tracked the curtailment of classroom training and super-charged digital learning and now people have little time or opportunity for bolted-on learning. Instead, they need to absorb information quickly during their work through ‘bite-sized chunks’ in order to gain insights through peer-to-peer learning. Essentially, training must be part of the flow, rather than being disruptive and people need only truly useful and relevant content, so that good learning habits form and they begin to trust the L&D programme as the go-to source for essential knowledge. This all means, of course, a shift in employee perception of L&D, where involvement and engagement are essential. Employees want to have access to personal development and they also want their work to mean something, to be far more than just a pay packet. Many understand what they need to learn and the knowledge gaps they have, to meet the demands their roles place upon them. Yet it’s also clear that employees are frequently unmotivated to take advantage of L&D, even when it’s set directly in front of them. New learning cultures are changing this phenomena, as learning needs keep evolving over time. Until now, it’s been highly likely that employees were not included in the process of learning implementation, meaning the employer may not fully have understood what the organisation really needed and what employees want to learn, beyond specific missing skills. But by fully including employees in the learning transformation process, not only is it possible to understand the concise changes needed for transformation, it can also build a sense of employee ownership and engagement.

Essential to the process is personalised learning, where individuals’ specific needs are met – and previous prescriptive assumptions are left behind. Although the destination may be the same, one person’s journey is likely to be entirely different from another’s. Personalised learning pathways, where employees work with their managers to understand their needs and the overall goals, are also important. By blending enticing training with different styles of delivery for individuals’ specific needs, it’s possible to address skills and capabilities gaps and improve performance. Embedding new skills and seeing progress in teams helps managers and L&D to understand results, both where to make changes and their successes. Many employees know that they need to improve certain skills, but they don’t always take the action needed, perhaps because of time constraints or not knowing where to start. When learning is part of the organisational culture, it’s possible to understand the ‘why’s’. It’s important to help individuals to be fully aware of the organisation’s learning ‘why’. It’s also important for individuals to understand their own ‘why’ – perhaps career progression or for higher pay – so they can proactively map out their learning pathway. Uniting on an organisational and individual basis is mutually beneficial. Traditionally, however, analysis of employees’ learning needs has been a tick-box exercise, perhaps using a general questionnaire. Deeper understanding of both the organisation’s needs – as well as those of individuals – shines a light on skills gaps so that learning solutions can be enabled to be a powerful tool, rather than a nice-to-have. Performance reviews, 360-degree surveys, specific employee research or one-to-one meetings, for instance, can offer valuable information. Asking employee opinions also provides good reflection and helps them to invest in the process right from the start, aiding engagement. Managers have an essential role to play, to lead by encouraging self-motivation and giving people permission to learn. Employees need space to learn in the workplace with the full support of their colleagues. Indeed, managers can also help with the team approach to learning. Those that facilitate blended learning workshops in unison with digital learning, give employees role context while ensuring everyone in the team can learn from each other’s ideas.

Emerging technologies are displacing jobs, but also creating many new ones and it isn’t easy to predict the new roles and tasks a company will have, let alone what skills will be needed to fill them. Although tech-related skills such as software design and data analysis are important for many roles, there’s also a high demand for soft and interpersonal skills. Workplaces are crying out for people who can demonstrate critical thinking and decision-making, as well as emotionally in-tune leadership and management skills. The interesting element here is that – despite the need to learn new technologies – most of the top skills requested by employers are emotional or social skills. Future-proofing skills comes in the form of building growth mindsets, so being better able to adapt to change. There will always be a need for qualities that only humans can offer and honing in on unique human qualities – not least resilience – is key to adapting to the new world. Personalised L&D supports this by taking a holistic view. Yes, training needs to be available to help solve precise skills gaps, but it’s also important to help individuals build on their personal potential, growing their self-worth. This continuous journey helps people to perform better under pressure, adapting to new processes as they arise. Indeed, personal growth can come in unusual forms. Sleep issues, for instance, can have a huge knock-on effect to an individual’s productivity, so even though this type of training is not skills critical, it could pay dividends to include – and promote – personal wellness in the L&D offering.

Training has long been moving towards gamification and in this hybrid and remote era of work, virtual and augmented realities will mean individuals can attend classes in their own environment. ChatGPT, automated content creation, intelligent tutoring systems for personalised feedback, chatbots and predictive analytics are all here and increasingly used every day. Technology, in whatever form it comes in, is an enabler. So it’s the personalisation of learning and new visions of a learning culture that can awaken employee imaginations. We, as humans, will need to not only learn new skills to manage the future of work, we also need to improve on what makes us different. We are infinitely more complex than machines, so improving how we think, behave and communicate is essential. Both L&D and technology as an enricher, are central to the process.

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