Learning at work: how to persuade stakeholders and employees of the importance of continuous learning

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On Learning at Work Week 2019, we look at some of the common impediments and objections to implementing training in the workplace and how L&D professionals can overcome them and secure buy-in from management and employees alike.

A robust learning and development programme is a cornerstone of every successful organisation, especially in the current unpredictable business environment. It's particularly relevent now that the UK is facing a large-scale skills shortage, costing the country an average of £6.3 billion a year, according to a 2018 report by The Open University.

The problem, for most companies, is summarised in this clichéd exchange between the CFO and CEO:

CFO asks CEO: “what happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave?”

CEO to CFO: “what happens if we don’t and they stay?”

Of course, there are costs for the training and sometimes travel involved. On top of that, the employee either needs a substitute or work remains undone until after the training.

Often the employee resists the training, thinking: ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘this training can’t possibly be worthwhile, I know my job already’.

Despite this the benefits, while sometimes difficult to measure, are significant. For one thing, qualified workers tend to make fewer mistakes and can increase productivity.

Indeed, the rewards to the business can be bigger than you think. According to the Association for Talent Development, in companies that invest in learning and development the income per employee is 218% higher on average than companies without formalised training.

These companies also enjoy a 24% higher profit margin than those who spend less on training.

Getting stakeholders on your side

Clearly, learning at work benefits both the employee and the business, but despite the evidence you may still meet resistance from management at all levels about investing in it.  

For example, the site manager is under pressure from finance to cut costs, and the head of engineering has made it clear that the department is short-staffed and has no extra resources for training – so how you do win them over?

As the shelf life of skills decreases, good employees and managers recognise the need for continuous learning to stay on top of a changing world.

For a truly successful learning and development programme, you need support from the entire organisation - especially top and middle management. Below, we’ll look at some strategies to help achieve this.

Start to build the framework for your requests for support by asking yourself these key questions:

  • What are the organisation’s strategic goals? Look at long-term targets and assess where the company plans to be in five years, three years, and one year in order to reach those targets.
  • What kind of people does that future organisation need? Do you need technicians who can programme production robots? Do you need data analysts?
  • How does the current workforce look? Do employees have the necessary skills? What kind of gaps exist between today’s team and the team you will need in the near future?
  • How can you best develop the current workforce into the team you need in five years?

Tying these answers into the strategic direction of the company will help gain leverage in order to turn critical stakeholders into champions for the learning and development programme.

How is workplace learning and development changing?

As the shelf life of skills decreases, good employees and managers recognise the need for continuous learning to stay on top of a changing world.

While employees still appreciate input from supervisors about where they should improve, one-size-fits-all, top-down training programmes are a thing of the past.

Many companies are moving towards individualised learning plans, tailored to employees’ interested and needs.

LinkedIn’s 2018 Learning Report says the rise of automation, coupled with a younger generation lacking in empathy is driving many organisations to prioritise soft skills training.

Trends in training

According to Brandon Hall Group, “[as] the workplace is shifting, technology is changing how we interact with information, and the learning function must evolve with new strategies, tactics, and skills.”

This could mean:

  • Informal programmes - ad hoc peer-to-peer training and people leaders as coaches.
  • On-demand micro-learning (via podcasts, blogs, videos) - moving away from rigid classroom seminars or long videos of PowerPoint slides.
  • Gamification and VR/AR - using simulations or virtual/augmented reality to teach new skills, which leads to better recall of the material.

How Learning at Work Week can help

Learning at Work Week provides an opportunity to show your stakeholders and employees alike the value in workplace learning and development programmes.

Since the first event in 2009, this annual awareness week encourages organisations to celebrate learning and development by getting the whole team on board.

This year’s event runs from 13 – 19 May and the theme is ‘Shaping the future’.

To get the most from the event, here are some ideas of activities you could implement to engage employees and management:

  • An email campaign, complete with short video teasers to create anticipation for a daily ‘course fair’ (similar to a job fair).
  • Daily ‘prime cuts’ - a selected classroom course where employees can attend the first (or best) half-hour of a classroom course.
  • Several VR training test stations for team members (and management) to get a feel for modern learning.

Long-term focus on learning and development

Workplace learning needs to go beyond a one-off learning programme or Learning at Work Week. It’s about instilling a culture of lifelong learning throughout the organisation.

This also means helping team members carve out time for training and development activities.

Management needs to show a consistent commitment to year-round learning. The link between lower employee turnover and higher productivity is clear.

This is important not just for their development but also for retention purposes – 94% of employees said they would stay longer at a company if it invested in their career, according to LinkedIn's 2018 workplace learning report.

Unfortunately, those same employees listed a perceived lack of time and support as the top reason for not pursuing learning and development.

Management needs to show a consistent commitment to year-round learning. The link between lower employee turnover and higher productivity is clear.

The organisation as a whole will benefit from this commitment to a robust, forward-thinking learning and development programme. Identifying and closing skill gaps can better prepare your organisation for a dynamic future.

Interested in this topic? Read How to get businesses on board with learning and development.

About Liza Andersin

liza andersin

Liza is HR Manager at Educations Media Group, which encompasses findcourses.co.uk and a range of European sites. EMG is the market leader of education marketing and runs the world's biggest search engines for education and training, including the UK arm: findcourses.co.uk. The Group works with 4,000 education providers in 40 countries and helps 2 million students find the right course for their needs among the 50,000 programs available each month.

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08th May 2019 08:57

Liza, I love that CFO/CEO 'quote', sadly though it's true. I recently invited a senior manager to a 2 hour in-house workshop and he said he didn't have the time. It's not the fact that he needs the workshop, it's the message it sends to the organisation. On a positive note I have some great support across the organisation for LAW week and some challenging activities planned.

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