When companies invest in their employees and ensure they feel valued and supported in their roles, engagement and motivation soar. With disengagement costing U.S. businesses $960 billion to $1.2 trillion in lost productivity annually, companies must prioritize employee development.

Although investing in training may seem “expensive and daunting at first,” John Jordan, head of The Academy at Bank of America, says, it can improve employee engagement and drive productivity across the organization, leading to reduced costs over time.

Let’s examine how Bank of America leverages learning and development (L&D) to develop an engaged, productive and fulfilled workforce.

The Academy: A Business-centric Learning Solution

To develop a comprehensive training and development program that would attract and retain talent, help employees “deliver exceptional client care,” learn new skills, and advance their careers, Bank of America’s human resources (HR) and consumer business functions joined forces. After identifying how L&D can address business needs, the team created a “unique approach” to learning: The Academy.

Launched in 2016, The Academy is a voluntary three-level training program for Bank of America’s client-facing employees and managers. Each level is designed to sharpen learners’ skills, teach them new ones and give them the tools they need to advance their careers. Let’s look at each of these levels in more detail:

Level 1: New-to-Role

The Academy’s first level of programming, “New-to-Role,” onboards new employees through “high-touch and high-impact learning via in-person/virtual one-on-one routines and skill-building activities,” Jordan says. During level 1, Bank of America leaders in the learners’ department introduce them to mentors and peer coaches to set them up for success in their new role.

Level 2: In-role Development

The Academy’s second level of training, “In-Role Development,” gives learners personalized instruction to “accelerate current role performance,” Jordan says. This level of training takes learners from “good to great” by polishing their skills so they can help clients “live their best financial lives.”

Level 3: Mastery

The final level, “Mastery,” is an “intense training program” designed to transform learners into “consistent top performers” and advance their careers at the company. Jordan says this program has seen notable results and helps Bank of America fill 45% of its open roles internally.

Something for Everyone

The Academy offers numerous development opportunities in addition to its three levels of programming. For example, its “Life Stages” video series teaches empathy by detailing the “experiences and challenges” clients face throughout their lives. “The goal of this empathy … program is to enable empathetic interactions while exposing employees to life stages they may not have experienced,” Jordan says. “When we understand what clients are going through, we can connect with them at the right time and serve them appropriately.” Since its initial launch, over 56,000 employees have taken various components of the Life Stages training, and many learners will receive the training this year.

The program also offers coaching and mentoring opportunities, including access to over 200 Academy coaches and 11 employee networks with more than 320 global chapters and around 160,000 members. “These [opportunities] provide our teammates with the ability to connect with each other to develop leadership skills, build strong ties with their communities, broaden their view of diversity, address issues that matter to them and bring lasting value to our business strategies,” Jordan says. Leaders receive additional empathy training and benefit from The Academy’s peer coaching “workshop and skill builder series.” New managers can also attend the company’s Market Leader Conference, which focuses on driving “responsible growth” and serving clients as a cohesive team.

One of the most exciting things The Academy is working on right now, Jordan says, is a virtual reality (VR) training pilot. When launched, the VR training will enable learners to practice their skills in a “safe environment,” building better “muscle memory” across the workforce.

An Investment Worth Making

Since launching an end-to-end training and development program, Bank of America’s employee engagement is at an all-time high, Jordan says. It’s also improved organizational efficiency and productivity. He explains, “Through practice environments that enable teammates to increase their confidence when interacting with clients, our employees have benefitted from reduced onboarding time and increased proficiency, transferring 700,000 hours of financial center training annually into on-the-job experience.”

The program also plays an “important role” in improving retention, which is one of Bank of America’s strategic goals. “Overall, external turnover is at an all-time low for the company, and trends indicate that our turnover will continue to drop.”

Whether it’s due to improved employee engagement and productivity, reducing turnover, or simply making employees more effective, L&D is an investment worth making. It gives employees, and organizations, the tools they need to thrive in the future. In today’s business environment, Jordan says, “Supporting the continuous professional development of your employees is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity.”