Too often, learning is delivered as a one-off intervention, argues Matt Johnson from City & Guilds Kineo. So how can we help employees become more productive through long-term learning goals, he asks?
We’re inundated with news about skills gaps and the fact that the UK’s productivity is stagnating. We know, for example, that young people face a catch-22 situation where they struggle to get on the career ladder due to lack of experience but struggle to get the experience initially.
We’re aware that soft skills are lacking; McDonald’s research found that by 2020 this could hold back half a million UK workers.
And we know that employers see skills gaps in their existing employees – 58% of those surveyed in the UKCES 2015 Employer Skills Survey warned of a dearth of management and leadership skills.
A skilled workforce is a productive workforce and employers instinctively know this. But something isn’t working. Towards Maturity’s 2015 benchmark study revealed that while 94% of businesses are seeking to increase on-the-job productivity, only 31% say they’re actually achieving it.
That’s terrible. So what’s going wrong? In my view, businesses too often make the mistake of seeing learning and development as a series of one-time interventions to address specific skills gaps. They prioritise training, but let it happen in isolation rather than making it part of an ongoing development journey. But learning is a process, not an event.
It’s all part of a journey
Nobody can guess an individual’s development needs – after all, no two career journeys are the same. But the bottom line is that learning must be seen as an integral part of career development, because learning is vital at every stage of a person’s career. Hasn’t it been in yours?
So what should an employer’s role be in managing learning and development? The same Towards Maturity benchmark report shows that 94% of the “top deck” employers (those performing the best at achieving their L&D aims) see a traditional training course as just one of the many options to improve an individual’s performance.
They’re doing a far better job of creating a learning culture throughout their business and building a sense of joint accountability for L&D between the individual and the employer.
I suggest that L&D works best as a continuous career-long journey with some important landmarks along the way – or milestones, if you like.
Getting into a job
The first milestone is getting into your first job. Employers have a duty to take a chance and provide the training, knowledge and experience young people need to enter the workplace.
That’s why on-the-job training opportunities such as apprenticeships and work experience placements are vital. Such opportunities break down the barriers between young people and employers.
Of course, more needs to be done to inspire business leaders to step up and play their part and there are initiatives out there to help. Initiatives such as BITC’s Future Proof campaign – supported by the likes of Marks & Spencer, Barclays and National Grid – aims to break down the barriers to recruitment.
Once young people are in the workplace it’s important to offer them support in developing key skills such as teamwork and effective communication to help them understand the dynamics of their organisation. Onboarding is imperative so that new recruits – even those fresh from education – can be effective from the get-go.
Progressing on the job
The second stage is making sure workers gain proficiency in skills specific to their jobs; training people to do – and keep getting better at – the job they were hired to do.
However, our jobs are constantly changing due to industry developments and disruptive technologies. Training and development needs to be flexible and forward-thinking enough so that employees can continue to refresh their skills, and remain motivated and productive.
It’s also important to allow employees to be accountable for their own learning, and that means continually being able to top up skills, find relevant information or learn on the job from colleagues.
Internal social networks, wikis, knowledge-sharing sessions or formal mentoring schemes all help to foster a culture of ongoing development.
Onto the next job
As employees progress they may move into a management role, which means a whole new set of skills will be needed. That’s where the third landmark – first-line management – comes in. This matters not just for the person doing the managing, but for those being managed as well.
People are often promoted into management roles because of their technical expertise. But knowing how to effectively manage a team – for instance providing guidance in difficult situations or offering feedback, both positive and negative – is anything but innate.
Training is critical to allow someone to be the best manager they can be. This enables managers to support staff and keep them engaged in the job to allow best practice to permeate throughout the organisation.
But it’s an ongoing process. It’s not just new managers that are in need of training, which is why landmark four – leadership skills – must not be overlooked. Even those who have been managers for years will still be exposed to new challenges as they are promoted further.
The need for continuous improvement never stops – no matter how far up the business you are. At this level, it’s about inspiring those across the business to achieve the organisation’s vision – and indeed communicating that vision in the first place.
Keeping the bigger picture in mind
The key takeaway is that all employers have a responsibility to support their employees’ ongoing career development.
Your employees are far more likely to carry what they’ve learnt into their everyday job – and be inclined to continue learning under their own steam – if your business embraces a culture of lifelong learning. The landmarks are important to note, but they only exist as part of a continuous journey.
The good news is that learning and development really is available in all shapes and sizes. From off-the-shelf e-learning modules that help employees get up to speed on the basics, to fully blended leadership and management programmes.
It’s time to keep the bigger picture in mind and consider how they all join together to help your workforce thrive, no matter where they are on their own career development.