According to new research by Kineo, the U.S. workforce is eager to upskill and has a strong appetite for learning and development (L&D). However, employers are failing to cater to the development needs of their employees, with fewer than half (46%) of employees having received work-based training in the past year.

With 63% of workers asking for a greater focus on L&D in their workplace, the problem is not lack of motivation. Employees are simply not seeing the value in what their employer is offering. Perhaps it is due to the limitations of employer-led L&D that 72% of Americans “say ‘a lot’ of responsibility falls on individuals to make sure that they have the right skills and education to be successful in today’s economy.” With employees ready to take personal development into their own hands, Kineo’s research found that almost two thirds have already resorted to investing personal time in training over the past year — and 30% have even paid to do so.

While it’s encouraging that U.S. employees are keen to equip themselves with the skills they need for the future, there are risks involved. If employees are opting for self-guided learning through results served up rapidly by Google, the knowledge and skills they’re acquiring aren’t necessarily appropriately to the context, needs and ambitions of their current role, organization or industry.

This situation is both concerning and an opportunity. At a time when advances in technology are bringing about rapid change in the way people work, companies should prioritize effective training in order to compete and future-proof their business. Unless they take action to resolve this dichotomy of “engagement versus effectiveness” in their training, they risk the depreciation of the collective value and goodwill of their workforce.

Flex for Success

A good place to start is to make sure that employees can access training. For the most part, U.S. employers say that they have sufficient budgets and resources in place for training, which should be reassuring, but employees are struggling to access it. Only half think it is easy to access the L&D programs provided by their organization — lower than the global average — and employers in the U.S. cite access as the biggest barrier to upskilling their employees.

Employers need to make it possible for employees to learn on their own terms with training that fits around their schedules and locations. Employees want personalized, shorter and more focused content, and introducing curated training solutions is a great way to enable employees to access learning that’s specific to their industry or organization within their work day — at a pace and place they choose. As online courses become more important in the next three to five years, there’s no better time to invest in the technology that facilitates such on-demand training.

Bring Learning to Life

Access on its own cannot solve challenges around low engagement in training; organizations will never see widespread consumption of L&D if the content fails to hold learners’ attention. With over one-third of workers saying they don’t enjoy the training in their workplace because it’s boring and unengaging, the message is that current L&D content is not hitting the mark.

As well as collecting feedback about the type of learning employees want to see more of, and offering a varied portfolio of training opportunities, investing in delivery platforms that offer more context, variety, choice and dynamic content is key to keeping employees inspired.

In order to develop a compelling L&D offer, it’s time for employers to think carefully about how they can curate training programs that are aligned with business objectives, contextually relevant and accessible to learners — resulting in the real performance improvement that employees want and businesses need.

Prioritize Networks

In addition to harnessing technology to optimize training delivery, organizations must not overlook the power of authentic two-way communication in employee development. The U.S. workforce is looking for a more collaborative approach to development, particularly through the use of tools such as peer coaching and on-the-job learning, which are more requested by employees in the U.S. than in any other country surveyed. And, as we look to develop the future workforce, research from Deloitte highlights the value of purposeful, on-the-job learning in particular for Generation Z, who often expect frequent coaching and feedback.

With communication at work becoming increasingly digitized, building in time for collaborative learning has never been more important — whether it’s face to face or through social learning platforms. The power of networks cannot be underestimated. They help individuals across organizations to gain understanding and competency more quickly, to understand the relevance and value of learning programs, and to see how they can apply the skills they’re developing in real life.

When people understand the benefits of a specific training program to their job, their career and their organization’s performance, they are more receptive to it — and businesses are more likely to develop a culture of continuous learning and improvement. L&D leaders should look at how they can build networks into learning designs, as this collaborative experience will ultimately lead to the organization’s becoming more agile and self-sustaining.

The Measure of Progress

Since managers’ interest and engagement is critical to the relevance and application of their team members’ learning, tracking development is important, too. According to LinkedIn Learning research, 75% of employees would take a training course assigned by their manager. But it’s important that managers are involved in tracking development, too. Once new programs are in place, employers need to ensure they’re regularly evaluating and measuring the reception and consumption of training among their workforce.

Worryingly, almost one-quarter of U.S. workers say current training and development activity has no impact on their performance at work — something that might be avoided if their employers paid more attention to their progress during learning programs. Clearly, organizations need to improve internal communication about training and implement proper feedback systems at each stage of the training journey to ensure it is meeting the needs of the business, teams and individuals.

Ultimately, in order to realize the performance benefits of effective, quality training, employers need to connect the optimized delivery of new digital platforms with the managerial coaching and on-the-job learning workers are calling for. If organizations can eliminate barriers to access and bring to life a blended, collaborative learning experience for employees, they’ll successfully build an engaged workforce that’s ready for the future.