Director of Global Business The Open University
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Is flexible learning the key to a swift business recovery?

New research from The Open University suggests that UK organisations prioritising L&D during the pandemic are most confident of a quick recovery. But how can employers ensure their reskilling efforts in this turbulent time will pay off?

4th Aug 2020
Director of Global Business The Open University
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Employee learning at home
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The disruption brought about by Covid-19 has seen businesses and organisations move quickly to adapt to a world full of new challenges. Leaders have had to navigate a broad range of issues, from keeping their employees and customers safe, to transitioning to remote working and the requisite technologies that support it. 

According to our latest study, UK organisations anticipate that it will take a full 18 months to recover from the pandemic. But it is the businesses who have prioritised the development and reskilling of their employees, to fulfil the needs of their organisation in this radically altered business landscape, that are the most confident of a speedy post-lockdown recovery. 

The Open University has long upheld the belief that a highly skilled workforce drives future success, but with so many organisations focused on immediate survival, how can they put skills at the top of their agenda and start to prepare for inevitable further challenges on the horizon?

Employers need to embrace the process of continuous learning.

Smart investment in people 

Two thirds (67%) of organisations report that learning opportunities have been crucial in enabling their workforce to remain agile throughout the pandemic. But with the UK approaching unparalleled economic uncertainty, this training needs to be innately flexible.

Putting aside the fact that the skills required for a ‘post-COVID’ world are changing very rapidly (we’ll look at how this can be tackled shortly), employers need to be cognisant of the fact that employees have already seen their working days radically changed by the shift to remote working. 

The provision of training needs to be able to keep up with such upheaval. Providing access to continuous, virtual learning does this – affording employees the flexibility to dip in and out of training to accommodate unpredictable personal and working commitments.

A strong commitment to flexible, online learning, could prove absolutely crucial to employers looking to keep abreast of the radically shifting Covid-19 situation.

Employers also need to consider how to implement learning opportunities across all levels, making them accessible and applicable to all. For example, now that working from home has become the new norm, it is important to ensure that everyone – from board-level to trainee – is digitally literate.

The OU recently found that one in five organisations (22%) have embraced technology to meet new business challenges. As a result, 40% of leaders expect to rely on their employees’ digital capabilities more heavily than before – highlighting the significance that digital skills will play across all echelons of business.

Ensuring that training is adaptable enough to be accessed and properly used by all employees, no matter their seniority or experience, will be pivotal to the organisations looking to harness the innovations and technologies that surround them.  

Flexible learning hub

How can flexible learning be achieved in the real business world?

Employers need to embrace the process of continuous learning. By prescribing manageable, bite-sized courses to their employees, leaders have the opportunity to catalyse the pace of development.

Learners can more easily pick up actionable skill sets required to overcome distinct challenges as they emerge. And crucially they can do this continuously, as part of their ongoing development, rather than having to take significant time to dedicate to learning on a more reactive basis. 

Harnessing the power of online platforms – such as The Open University’s OpenLearn – which offer free, work-focused, accredited courses, provides employers with the chance to incentivise their teams’ development as well.

By ‘badging’ a course with a certificate of completion, learners are given a tangible reward for their efforts, which they can share on social media platforms. This in turn not only has an impact on productivity but can also bring a sense of value and investment, which is crucial for staff retention, particularly at a time when workforces are dissipated across the country, and even across the globe.

By providing continuous opportunities for progression and recognition of skills development, employers can retain crucial contact with their people, to keep them motivated and engaged. 

A strong commitment to flexible, online learning, could prove absolutely crucial to employers looking to keep abreast of the radically shifting Covid-19 situation over the weeks and months to come, and give their employees the chance to drive future success. 

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