Despite unprecedented change over the past year, one thing remains the same: Employees want to develop in their careers, especially at a time when people across industries are losing their jobs, making reskilling more critical than ever. Many employees have moved to a work-from-home environment, juggling work alongside personal commitments. However, they are still focused on their long-term career development amid quickly evolving circumstances. LinkedIn Learning data shows employees are more eager than ever for continued learning and development opportunities, spending 130% more time learning in March and April 2020 compared to January and February of that year.

At Bank of America, we offer a variety of learning resources across technical and leadership skills, including diversity and inclusion. This development begins with our entry-level employees, such as campus hires, and extends through management levels. In 2020, 91% of eligible managers participated in some form of manager development training. As business and client needs evolve, it is important to continue to invest in our workforce through training and development programs that equip employees with the skills they need to adapt and be successful.

These programs help to ensure Bank of America is prepared to weather challenging times and to serve our clients, as we reskill and upskill the workforce to navigate critical moments of change. This approach enabled us to be flexible last year and redeploy nearly 30,000 teammates during the pandemic to meet the needs of our clients and communities while protecting our teammates’ health, safety and employment.

After reflecting upon everything we learned in 2020 and looking to the year ahead, we can share three pillars learning leaders can leverage to drive employee success and growth in 2021:

1. Prioritize Your Digital Training Strategy

Employees today are looking for technology-driven training and development solutions that allow for a more engaging, rewarding and flexible learning experience. Successful companies meet employees where they are by giving them tools to learn on their own schedule, in formats that enable active learning and support better retention.

There are many new technologies that facilitate meaningful practice and build employee confidence. While PowerPoint presentations and click-through training sessions enable a certain level of familiarity with on-the-job scenarios, they often do not provide the skills to navigate real-life situations end to end. On the other hand, new digital training solutions that create virtual practice environments can simulate real-life scenarios that learners would likely encounter day to day.

For example, at Bank of America, The Academy — a dedicated group working alongside the company’s learning and development function — leverages technology like client engagement simulators and virtual reality. More than 250 virtual training simulations enable hands-on practice, so employees in our consumer business can train on real-world scenarios with the systems they’ll be using when they engage with clients in person or remotely.

Creating a future-ready workforce means embracing technological advancements like augmented and virtual reality and artificial intelligence to help employees feel more prepared for their roles. These emerging technologies offer innovative ways to equip them with both tangible and intangible skills they need to succeed.

It’s also important to enable the future workforce — which is why, in 2020, we launched our first fully virtual summer program for over 2,000 interns across the globe. The program focused on delivering business content, real work assignments and volunteer experiences, while maintaining an interactive, high-touch approach. Technology enabled our interns to engage with each other, providing collaborative learning and culture-building connections.

Creative uses of even the most available technologies, such as a smartphone, provided the opportunity for our interns and new hires to experience workspaces, such as a trading floor, through the eyes of an on-site leader. Technology enables us to deliver training at scale, giving teammates the opportunity to hear directly from senior leaders and world-class facilitators without the limitations of travel or auditorium capacity. All of our global interns had the same front row seat to hear from our chief executive officer this year, for example.

One of our key lessons we learned during the pandemic is that training, even when it’s virtual, is still a very human experience. When we return to the office and in-person training, we will carry forward the technology lessons necessity taught us.

2. Embed Diversity and Inclusion Across the Organization

Strengthening diversity within an organization reinforces employees’ ability to relate to their clients and each other. After all, a diverse group of employees promises a wider spectrum of ideas, backgrounds and skills that better reflect the varied values and interests of the clients and communities they serve.

One way Bank of America is improving the diversity of our workforce is through the Pathways program, a commitment we made in 2018 to hire 10,000 people from low- and moderate-income communities by 2023. We exceeded this goal two years ahead of schedule. Partnering with community colleges and local nonprofit organizations helps us identify local talent and establish a referral process.

However, it is not enough to hire a diverse workforce; talent retention and development are of equal importance so that employees feel supported and set up with a roadmap to full-time employment and long-term career success. At Bank of America, our aim is to mirror the clients and communities we serve. With that goal in mind, half of our management team are women and/or people of color. In addition, half of our global workforce are women, and 45% of our U.S. workforce are people of color.

To help drive a culture of inclusion at the bank, we have developed a range of programs and resources focused on building understanding and driving progress in the workplace. For example, our “Let’s Get Real…® courageous conversations” are candid dialogues that focus on topics like race and gender equality, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, age, military, disability, social justice, emotional wellness, and domestic violence. Their goal is to engage teammates and drive inclusivity. In 2020, more than 165,000 employees participated in more than 320 conversations. And, because being a champion of diversity and inclusion is a core expectation of our managers, it is the first module in the company’s enterprise manager development series, currently being deployed to all of our managers.

3. Foster a Culture of Empathy, Understanding and Wellness

Empathy is an important skill in any context, especially given the environmental, financial and societal issues people are facing today. To serve clients’ specific needs, it’s important for employees to understand their unique experiences and challenges — but sometimes, differences in life stage or background can make it difficult to understand and anticipate someone’s needs. For example, an employee in his or her early 20s won’t have the same life experiences as a client who is nearing retirement.

One way to navigate this challenge is through empathy training. At Bank of America, teammates have the opportunity to learn about different life stages so they can better understand the challenges and opportunities their clients may be experiencing. This training enables them to establish stronger emotional connections and personalize their client support.

Especially in the current environment, it’s important to emphasize the continued development and retention of your workforce through the pandemic and beyond. One of the greatest threats is the mental health crisis that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus. As a result, adding physical and mental health resources, such as training around stress management, resilience and mindfulness, is key.

To that end, we have conducted training for more than 20,000 managers, focusing on topics including reducing stress, building resiliency and understanding mental health warning signs in teammates. We also rolled out an optional training program for all employees, with the goal of helping employees around the world better manage stress, build resilience and avoid burnout.

Effective training translates to an improved client experience and proven business impact. It reduces turnover, saving millions in onboarding and retaining experienced talent and intellectual capital, and it improves productivity. As clients’ and employees’ needs change, learning professionals have a unique opportunity to support their teams and make a positive impact on the bottom line. Taking this moment to reflect on lessons learned is the best way to inform training and development programs and enable continued resilience among the business community in the years ahead.