Learning insights

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According to a recent report from leading skills organisation City & Guilds, the UK is falling behind in the global skills race. Here John Yates, Group Director at City & Guilds Group offers some essential insights on training gleaned from the research

The world of work as we know it is changing faster than ever. From rapid digital transformation and agile working, to increased globalisation, businesses across the world are navigating a period of extreme transformation. At this pivotal point, future-proofing businesses has never been so important – and investment in skills, digital skills in particular, has a vital role to play.

Key to equipping workforces with the skills and knowledge they need to keep pace with change – and unlock economic, organisational and personal prosperity – Learning & Development (L&D) should remain a priority for employers in 2020. But what areas do we need to focus on when investing in L&D programmes, and how can we make sure that it’s really working?

In 2019, Kineo (a City & Guilds Group business) set out to shed light on – and learn from – some of the principal challenges in Learning & Development today. Learning Insights is a global research report, conducted amongst 1,300 employers and 6,500 employees across 13 international markets. From ensuring workplace learning is accessible and engaging to all members of the workforce, to making sure L&D strategy is competitive on a global scale, here are some of our key L&D learnings for 2020.

Want L&D to be effective?
Make it accessible and engaging

As the skills that businesses need transform, a massive 80 per cent of British employees say their organisation has taken steps to improve their skillset and employability over the past year. This is a great sign that employers are trying to ready their workforce for the future. However, these efforts may not be hitting the mark – the study also revealed that only 13 per cent of workers rate training opportunities over the past year as very effective.

Naturally, businesses will be looking to get the most return possible from their L&D investment in the years to come – so we need to address the effectivity problem.

The study highlighted two major factors at play: interest in and accessibility of L&D. After all, if workers are provided with training opportunities that they find boring or uninspiring – or if they can’t spare the time to attend them – they’re less likely to reap the potential benefits.

To optimise effectiveness, not only does L&D provision need to be more engaging and flexible – delivered where and when people want it, whether that’s at work or outside of the workplace – it also needs to be personalised to the individual needs, experience and career paths of learners.

Whether delivered via traditional or newer digital methods, employers will have to strike a balance between the right content, and a flexible, high-quality experience to prevent their investment from going to waste. To do this, employers will have to listen to the needs and expectations of their workforce and develop an approach to L&D that is both accessible and inspiring.

Learning needs to reach all types of workers in today’s workforce

The structure of the workforce itself is evolving too: as both employers and workers seek greater flexibility, contingent or agile working arrangements are becoming more common.

Worryingly, despite the importance of these workers, our study found that many current workplace training programmes are not catering to this growing workforce – preventing both individuals and organisations from safeguarding their future. The research revealed that one in five (20 per cent) UK employers doesn’t carry out any training with contingent workers – compared to one in 10 for entry level workers – and businesses also report the lowest levels of training effectiveness in this group.

But contingent workers are in just as much need as full time workers when it comes to upskilling to keep up with rapid change – and employers that fail to invest will be unable to unlock the full potential of these workers. And let’s not forget basic training. In a case where any workers aren’t receiving essential training like on-boarding or compliance, employers are leaving themselves vulnerable to commercial or reputational risk.

It’s time for businesses to consider upskilling and training in a broader context, shifting their focus to the skills that will underpin the future of work and making sure training is accessible to all members of the workforce, no matter how or where they work.

In the ‘global skills race’ there’s no room for complacency

With the workforce becoming increasingly mobile – and overseas talent critical to the smooth running of British businesses – employers cannot afford complacency when it comes to skills.

Our research indicated that employers in countries with rapidly emerging economies are among the most likely to ramp up investment in upskilling their workforce in the near future, partly in response to the impact of technological advances. For instance, 65 per cent of Kenyan and 62 per cent of Indian employers consider digital transformation to be a significant factor driving change in their business – compared to just 42 per cent of UK employers.

While these developing countries embrace technology and pump investment into the skills that will allow them to compete on a global stage, British businesses risk lagging behind and losing talent to other markets.

Employers need to understand the training needs of their workers and ensure they continue to focus on developing skills – especially increasingly important digital capabilities – as a long-term strategy. Upskilling and future-proofing a business means playing the long game – and those who overlook the importance of skills investment risk losing altogether.

L&D in 2020: a two-way conversation

Businesses are facing a myriad of challenges and having a skilled workforce that’s future-fit is crucial if they’re to set themselves up for success. But while investment in L&D is vital to this strategy, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

It’s time for organisations to approach learning as a two-way conversation – where employers listen to the learning needs of every part of their workforce, and learners understand and value the training they receive. With an informed strategy, aligned with business goals and employee interests, businesses can put their strongest foot forward in 2020.

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