Depending on who you ask, The Great Resignation is either here to stay or it’s cooling off. Either way, it’s important to understand why people stay at their specific organizations. One thing that can assist with keeping people loyal to a company is the opportunity to develop new skills. The reality is that we might not be doing enough to satisfy our employees’ desire to learn. That needs to change quickly if employers want to help keep their employees engaged.

New research from D2L shows that for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), recruiting and retaining good talent is their top concern; just 47% of U.S. SMBs surveyed say they’re very confident they’ll have the skills and talent needed to grow in the next three years, and the situation is even more dire in Canada, with just 21% saying the same.

The shelf life of skills appears to be shrinking consistently with the speed of technological development and other trends reshaping work. Individuals should not be expecting front-end upskilling at the beginning of their careers to take them all the way through to retirement. As new technology gets introduced to workplaces — or as it’s updated — the challenges for workers to keep pace increases. And those changes are happening fast. In 2020, just 50% of the organizations McKinsey polled said they’d adopted artificial intelligence (AI) in at least one function or business unit; a year later, that percentage had gone up to 56%.

D2L’s research also reveals that despite 21% of U.S. SMBs feeling that the recruitment and retention of talented employees are the biggest human resources challenges facing their organizations today, only one in three SMBs are investing in external upskilling opportunities. And employees are looking for new opportunities that will help keep them moving forward in their careers.

What Can We Do to Help Everyone Succeed?

The good news is that if you’re an employer, we know offering learning and development (L&D) can help to attract top talent and retain great workers. A Gallup study in 2021, commissioned by Amazon, showed that 71% of employees said skills development increased their job satisfaction and 61% said opportunities to upskill are an important reason they stay at their company. 65% of those polled believe that employer-provided upskilling is very important when evaluating a new role.

A challenge remains: delivering high-value, high-impact skills courses. This is especially true for SMBs that want to support employees in exploring off-the-job L&D opportunities while keeping within budget.

D2L’s research shows that only about a third of SMBs in North America offer time and financial support for off-the-job L&D, despite the clear advantages. If designed correctly, online off-the-job upskilling options can help lower costs for businesses and employees as they offer up-to-date, accessible courses that keep skills fresh.

Just as importantly, online options are available and flexible to employees’ schedules and sometimes varied locations — yet another thing to quickly change over the last couple of years.

But online courses are just one option. There are ways businesses can help foster lifelong learning, and SMBs need to find ways to implement practical, workable solutions that employees can take advantage of. That means employers need to identify first-class, higher education programs and technologies that can enable working learners to access high-quality, flexible L&D courses that can align with their industry and their jobs.

No matter how much change the employment market undergoes, the desire to grow professionally remains constant. Giving people the ability to learn and grow, and to build a career is something that’s always going to benefit businesses and their employees.