It is all change in learning and development (L&D) departments as we enter 2014, with renewed focus on where budgets are spent and how training is delivered. But what is driving this change and how will it help organisations meet their goals this year? Jo Faragher reports
A major new series of articles for 2014, brought to you in association with learndirect – find out more…
It has been a confident start to 2014, judging by the business headlines. Within the space of a week, the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in almost five years and the International Monetary Fund sharply increased its forecast for the UK economy, suggesting that the UK will grow by 2.4% this year, faster than any other major European economy.
Thanks to this increased confidence, organisations are beginning to look at their L&D budgets to see where they can make changes that will help to propel this growth. During the recession, many L&D departments were cut right back and training projects viewed as non-essential were sidelined.
“We’re seeing a marked difference from 2012, when clients were delaying decisions, and procurement decisions needed multiple sign offs,” says Todd Turner, CEO of L&D company Hemsley Fraser.
But while budgets are beginning to free up for L&D projects, organisations are still cautious about how they spend that money, and are scrutinising their current suppliers or methodologies to see where they can make changes or improvements. “We see businesses now deciding whether to build a dedicated L&D resource again or outsource some or all of the requirement to a supplier,” explains Steve Morris, business development director at learndirect.
And while the promise of economic recovery may be pushing more employers towards spending on L&D again, adds Morris, there’s also the crucial “pull” factor of re-engaging staff after months of them taking on more work for little or no extra reward. “Employees are now looking to put their careers back on track, so they’re starting to expect an investment in them in terms of their development,” he says. “They’re now saying, ‘you should be developing me’.”
As we enter recovery though, it is likely that we will see organisations approach L&D slightly differently to how they did before and during the downturn. Large-scale learning needs analyses, or annual training discussions during the appraisal process, will be substituted with something more fluid and targeted to what employees need at a certain time, and that can be applied immediately.
“Organisations are moving towards a more future-focused approach, delivering learning where it’s needed rather than there being a sense of expectation,” adds Turner.
Organisations are moving towards a more future-focused approach, delivering learning where it’s needed” – Todd Turner
“We’d like to enable our account directors to become more like general managers, and we have a programme of events focused on helping them along that journey. We’re also more of a multi-site business now and we are investing in our account directors to be able to do this, so we can maintain The Curve Group culture and identity wherever people are,” says Belinda Marklew, head of people development.
The Curve Group example demonstrates one of the key drivers for L&D investment this year: the need to develop capable and resilient leaders who can adapt to a fast-changing environment. In its 2013 talent management survey, consulting company a&dc found that 28% of employers felt they were ineffective at developing their “middle layer” of future leaders, instead focusing their investment on graduates and top-level executives.
This population has arguably had the most demands placed on it during the downturn, says Pip Clarke, a&dc’s head of business development: “L&D need to get their act together and think about how they retain and develop these overwhelmed employees, how they plan for succession and up-skill people.”
Employers also recognise the contribution that can be made by hiring and training up apprentices, and improvements to government funding in this area (particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises) has made this a more realistic option. “There will be more of a focus on raising productivity this year, so any training and development that will drive this forward will be attractive,” says Morris.
Research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills shows that hiring an apprentice can boost business productivity by as much as £214 per week, in return for a modest basic salary. And because employers are able to develop apprentices from a very early stage in their career, this makes it easier to develop the skills and behaviours they will need to become managers and leaders at some point in the future.
Underpinning any investment in L&D will be a greater reliance on technology as a delivery mechanism. While e-learning continues to bring down the cost of delivering courses that would normally take place in a classroom environment, it also provides the opportunity to create communities to share knowledge and give more control to learners.
Increased collaboration is a trend we will see more of in 2014 and beyond, according to Ruth Stuart, L&D adviser at the CIPD: “There’s a move away from instructor-led courses towards new methods such as e-learning, social and collaborative… there will be a more learner-centred approach, in a non-traditional environment.”
Morris agrees: “The biggest change during 2014 will be in the e-learning space. It’s now worth around 20% of training budgets so it makes sound economic sense.”
What technology can also facilitate is the ability to constantly observe and measure how learners absorb knowledge. One way organisations can do this is through learning management systems, which enable them to administer, track and report on training undertaken. However they choose to record how L&D is distributed, the key will be to link this to business outcomes.
We see businesses now deciding whether to build a dedicated L&D resource again or outsource some or all of the requirement to a supplier – Steve Morris
“If someone wants to learn about something they can ask for it and someone might know. People who have a passion put time into sharing things and this can be far more useful than sending people away for two days to a retreat,” says CEO Kevan Hall.
L&D departments will “curate”, rather than prescribe, and will be able to respond a lot more quickly to requests. “Staff won’t wait for their annual appraisal or the engagement survey any more – managers will be able to get constant snapshots of people’s development,” says Clarke.
As 2014 gets into full swing, organisations realise that it is time to re-invest in talent and re-invest in growth. L&D has an important role in this, and will need to make intelligent changes to how and what it delivers in terms of training to staff. Only then will organisations be able to capitalise on the improved economic climate to build the workforce they need for a productive and profitable year.