U.S. businesses spent more than $92 billion on employee training in 2021 — up from $83.5 billion in 2020 — as organizations adjusted to virtual work environments and changing employee preferences. But despite best intentions, many organizations are funneling learning and development (L&D) resources toward outdated learning experiences that don’t engage employees.

At a time when businesses need to do more with less, there’s no wiggle room to invest in training initiatives that fail to deliver results. That’s why businesses should consider prioritizing competency-based upskilling programs. They can be a better fit for the modern workplace and worker because of how they engage employees, offer accessible outcome-oriented learning and help employees develop skills that tie back to organizational goals.

Is Quiet Quitting a Result of Ineffective L&D Programs?

The recent “quiet quitting” trend is an effective lens through which to view current L&D deficiencies. Employees who embrace quiet quitting commit to exactly what’s listed in their job description — nothing more, nothing less. It’s a simple cost-benefit evaluation: Employees perceive few benefits from going above and beyond, so they don’t.

But what if organizations could offer all employees L&D programs that provided continuous value and the motivation to engage on a deeper level?

Research from LinkedIn found that employees who see opportunities to learn and grow are nearly three times more likely to feel engaged than workers who don’t. More engaged employees translate to increased productivity and reduced turnover rates. Yet many traditional L&D programs aren’t equipped to engage employees or provide human resources (HR) teams with actionable data to improve offerings, and the employee experience, over time.

For example, the cornerstone of a typical L&D program consists of a series of online courses and modules. But many of these courses primarily track completion rather than how much an employee engages with, let alone absorbs, the material. There’s a big difference between an employee who skims through an online course and one who actively engages and implements learning into their daily work and team culture.

Historically, managers could supplement the lack of effective feedback data with their own observations. Was the employee demonstrating improvement in the areas that were covered in the training or not? In virtual workplaces, managers have less visibility into the day to day of their direct reports, which means accurate feedback data is more important than ever.

As L&D becomes more integral to business success, an organization’s programs must engage employees and connect to broader organizational goals. Luckily, there’s a way to do both.

How to Build Competency-based L&D Programs

Competency-based L&D programs can help managers gauge their team’s progress, while at the same time offering employees a more engaging, personalized learning experience. The courses in these programs allow for greater flexibility and enable leaders to develop comprehensive L&D strategies that tie back to broader company goals. Overall, a competency-based program can be a better fit for today’s constantly changing business environment and can offer greater return on investment (ROI) than many traditional L&D initiatives.

Here are three steps your organization can take to bring competency-based training into the fold:

1. Determine business needs and connect them to skill building.

A goal of any competency-based L&D program is to drive results back to macro business goals. But before you can do that, you must first identify what your immediate, short- and long-term business goals are.

Consider the emerging trends and challenges in your industry as a starting point. From there, connect business needs to core skills and competencies that you can build training courses around. For example, if you identify one of your short-term goals as more efficient collaboration across departments, some core skills to focus on could include communication or project management.

Before employees begin the course, assess their competency in the skill. Also determine the metrics you’ll use to measure success. Concrete metrics give your team relevant data that you can use to adjust the program down the line.

2. Promote a flexible, interconnected program.

The two main downfalls of traditional training courses are a lack of engagement between the employee and the course and a disconnect between employees and managers. The right competency-based program solves both problems.

Competency-based programs allow employees to learn at their own pace while also providing organic opportunities for actionable feedback. Both course administrators and peers can share feedback on specific assignments — a much more personalized approach than that of many solo courses. HR teams can use L&D courses as a tool to build community in the workplace as employees support each other in their professional development.

For example, instead of working alone, employees can work through assignments together on video calls and track each other’s progress on leadership boards. These engaging training programs can spur improved collaboration by giving employees more incentive to work together.

3. Evaluate the success of your courses — and begin the cycle again.

Creating a competency-based L&D program is only half the battle. Next, you need to determine the program’s effectiveness and identify how to improve it going forward.

As a first step, perform skills assessments and job performance reviews three and six months after employees complete their trainings. In these reviews, contrast where workers started in their initial assessment with where they ended up, then solicit feedback on their experience. Reinforce gaps and growth areas moving forward.

This evaluation period should provide you with a few takeaways. First, identify whether the course resulted in a long-term improvement in the employee and, if not, how you can adjust the course to achieve stronger results. Second, consider whether you can build your next course off the previous one or if there’s a new business need that demands attention sooner. This last step can kickstart the L&D process again: Re-evaluate your business goals, measure competency and develop a new course.

L&D Is the X-factor in Modern Workplaces

Some executives used to view L&D as an add-on — an offering that was nice to have but not a major priority.

Now, unstable economic conditions and evolving employee expectations are redefining the importance of L&D. A competency-based approach can help your organization meet the moment by providing training that connects to larger business goals and drives retention.