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L&D needs a game changer

Sarah Danzl, Head of Global Communications - Degreed

We can all agree that learning is a very personal experience. From the moment we first step into a classroom, to the seminars and online courses we engage with at work, we are shaping our careers. Unfortunately, for many, learning in the workplace has become a one-size-fits-all endeavour that doesn’t fit each individual or their career goals. 

Traditional learning management systems, for example, were good at making sure employees and managers completed mandatory training (which was usually in person). Although this is what was needed and mandated by HR, it never really put the learner at the centre of the whole experience. It was disengaging – and goes some way in explaining why only 25% of formal training programs actually improve a business’ performance.

New approaches needed

A new approach is needed, especially when you consider the ever-shifting landscape that today’s workers need to adapt to. Workers now need to shift roles at the drop of a hat and that requires training in new skills, processes and technology. But not everyone can take time out to attend a full day’s training (especially not in person) and this immediately puts them at a disadvantage. 

Take, for example, carers or working parents. Especially given the sudden shift to homeschooling and constant lockdowns, these individuals have unique time pressures that mean they cannot always dedicate blocks of hours to upskilling. Instead, they need content that they can use to learn on-the-go, between meetings, in the flow of work, as they cook dinner, and so forth. Other people may not have the financial resources to engage with formal learning, so they need cost-effective, bite-sized modules that build their skills over time. 

They need content that adapts to their lifestyles – not vice versa. 

Additionally, consider an individual who hasn’t engaged with learning in the past. They may feel failed by the education system, they may not come from a highly educated background, other socio-economic drivers may have hindered them. Learning in the workplace also needs to be tailored to their needs and motivations. They may want to go for a promotion, but feel like they are underqualified for it. Imagine how empowering, therefore, it will be to have an L&D program that tells them exactly what skills they have, what skills they need to take the next step, and then provides them with the learning content needed to get there. 

Facilitating mentorship

Conversely, another learning angle that can be valuable to workers is mentoring (and being mentored) so HR leaders should consider this as part of their talent and L&D plans. Mentorship can particularly help people early on in their careers get a kick start, along with minority employees. Those from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and mixed-race backgrounds are more likely to feel this is a huge boost in furthering their careers compared to white counterparts. 

An opportune time

Now is an opportune time to embrace personalised learning for everyone. Today, we have a plethora of learning content at our disposal, from books and articles to TED Talks and podcasts. There’s a learning pathway that will suit every style of learner. They can choose where and when to engage with their learning. New solutions such as skills profiles can accurately update their skills and competencies in near real-time – giving a complete, up-to-date picture of their current abilities and future plans. 

Skills profile = data

This skills profile additionally lays the foundations for more accurate, unbiased talent and learning decisions. Building a personalised learning and career experience requires a variety of different data types including:

  • Employment information such as their job role, location and current organisation.
  • Work experience such as years of service, previous employment history and projects worked on.
  • Performance data such as goal achievements, feedback and peer ratings.
  • Skills information on current abilities, levels of mastery and goals they are working towards.
  • Personal career aspirations and interests – this could also include their life stage and commitments.

Having this data to hand will help HR professionals to provide experiences that meet each worker’s specific needs, providing value throughout the workday and helping them enrich their skills profile ready for the next step. It also helps to provide access to opportunities that let employees apply new skills, practice them, and grow.

In many ways, it facilitates a virtuous talent cycle as, the data contained in the skills profile will help to inform upskilling and career opportunities, which then generates more data in a worker’s profile, and gets them ready for their next career move. After this, they can continue working towards the next stage in their career. 

Equal promotions

Relying on skills data in this way also prevents unconscious biases from influencing the opportunities that workers are offered. Unfortunately, black and minority ethnic (BAME) employees still regularly face routine discrimination by an “institutionally racist old boy’s network”. This ultimately means that they are 90% less likely to land a boardroom job compared to white, middle-class applicants. 

Likewise, women who return to work after becoming a parent are two thirds less likely to get promoted in the five years after the child was born. 

Solely basing decisions on the skills and experience an individual has, and how this relates to the skills required in a role, strips away the option of discrimination. 

Personalised learning in action

It can be easy to talk conceptually about personalised, equal learning and development, but a lot harder to visualise. So, let’s use the example of Laurie. She’s worked at Imaginary Corp for little over a year in a front-of-house retail role and she’s interested in stepping up to store manager in the next 1-3 years. She has part-time caring responsibilities for her elderly mother and is mixed race. 

Laurie gets a message from her HR department, that’s followed up by her team manager, asking if she would like to do a quick self-assessment of her skills. This will help Imaginary to suggest relevant learning and work opportunities for her, that will fit in with her busy schedule. Laurie answers yes and now she proceeds to answer a question about the five most important skills for her current role. She is also asked about her career goals over the next 12 months. 

Based on the self-assessment, the system suggests personalised learning and development opportunities (that she can complete at her own pace) to help Laurie become better at her current job, and also work towards her next step at Imaginary. She is invited to fill out a skills profile, that will follow her throughout her career as a fully up-to-date record of all her learning, skills, roles and projects. This profile is used as the basis for her progression and, when the required skills are met, Laurie steps into a new role as a store manager. She then continues to upskill to better fulfil her new role and get ready for her next progression.

This is a value exchange between Laurie and Imaginary. Laurie was able to self-assess and build her skills in the flow of work, in bite-sized modules that suited her lifestyle. This is valuable to Imaginary. Similarly, Imaginary provided value to her by suggesting learning and development that boosted her career. 

Begin today

A similar story can begin to be written today in your own organisation. You just need to take the first step, by gathering the right data to begin personalising your learning to each of your workers. 


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