Amazon Career Choice, McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity, and Starbucks/ASU all represent innovative, new approaches that organizations are taking to develop their workforces and to build pipelines of future talent. In doing so, they enhance their employer brands and provide their employees a framework for lifelong employability.

What drives the business case for such investment, and how can learning leaders in companies considering such investments promote it? It starts with the first of the eight process capabilities of great training organizations identified by Training Industry research: strategic alignment.

The Great Training Organization model provides a simple three-question litmus test for learning leaders to help determine if a strategy or solution is strategically aligned to the business:

  • Does it support generating revenue?
  • Does it reduce cost?
  • Does it reduce risk?

While an affirmative response to any one of these three questions can signify alignment to business strategy, an investment in frontline worker development can tick all three boxes.

Generate Revenue

Organizations know that employees who are engaged deliver superior client (internal and external) experiences, which lead to increased revenues and client satisfaction. In one study, a 10 percent increase in investments in employee engagement led to an increase of $2,400 in profits per employee per year.

Additionally, when a company invests in an employee’s education, that employee becomes a brand/buzz agent – and a customer for life. Consider the Amazon Career Choice program, which recognizes that it is helping employees develop skills for their best next job – often in growing fields like health care, computer-aided design or machine tool technologies. While there may be employees who choose to stay with Amazon and progress there, the vast majority will move to their best next job. However, they will likely have a positive brand perception and be Amazon customers for life.

Reduce Cost

For any learning investment, cost is a concern. As learning leaders, we have to consider not only the cost of the investment, but where there are financial gains and offsets.

There are three major areas in which investments in frontline worker development can reduce costs to the organization: cost of turnover; cost of recruiting; and lost productivity, including from errors and mistakes.

Creating educational pathways and investments in employees and keeping them in the organization longer reduce those costs and offset the organization’s investment in the program.

Mitigate Risk

Frontline worker training often targets risk reduction; however, the focus is often on operational, reputation and regulatory risks. Two important areas of risk that learning leaders should also target are competitive risk and market risk.

In considering competitive risk, organizations that are not proactively investing in their workforces are not building their skills capacity and will not be seen as employers of choice by potential employees. Without the pipeline of skilled talent, organizations will quickly see their competitive positioning in the market evaporate. They will be priced out of the market for talent and forced to pay a premium for the skills they most need.

Market risk is equally important, especially in industries that have major gaps in talent pipelines, like home-building. Industry ecosystems that are dependent on skilled trades, like construction, have a looming shortage of skilled workers (plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.). Without a pipeline of talent, these skills will come at a premium, and the number of new projects the company can take on will decrease—as will the need for raw materials, machinery and finished products for those projects. If you are a learning leader in an industry facing this type of skills shortage, you have a critical role in guiding the organization to develop new strategies for creating a talent pipeline.

Consider using the following strategic alignment best practices for building the business case to create a frontline worker development program in your organization:

Develop consultative partnerships with clients.

  • Identify key stakeholders for the discussion (e.g., lines of business, HR, talent management and benefits).
  • Determine the most pressing needs for the organization. Where are the big talent gaps? What roles are associated with those gaps?
  • Identify the policies and processes that you need to change to make the program successful. Does your tuition assistance policy support the program?
  • Determine the needs of the employees (e.g., industry credentials, academic credentials and specialized training).
  • Decide whether you need to build supporting services around the program (e.g., academic advising, financial advising, tutoring and assessments).
  • Define the sources for funding (internal and external) to support this investment.

Establish agreed-upon business objectives.

  • Decide if you will pilot the program in specific areas/populations, or if you will launch to the enterprise.
  • Define specific objectives. Are you trying to reduce turnover? Enhance recruitment? Build a talent pipeline? Create a pathway for planned turnover?
  • Ensure that incentives (i.e., promotion, wage increases and other advancement) are aligned to the program’s goals.

Define performance success metrics.

  • Financial measures
  • Turnover measures
  • Client satisfaction measures
  • Employee engagement measures

Adapt the training to the organization’s unique business or culture.

Ask these questions:

  • What training does the audience have that can qualify for Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) and accelerate the educational pathway?
  • What work can you do with an academic partner or partners to customize the program to your industry/company?
  • Can you deliver capstone experiences (either at a college or internally) to add company-specific relevance to the program?

These strategic alignment best practices will provide the foundation for your business case for all learning investments, including the investment in frontline worker development, and enable you to accurately communicate the organization’s needs to academic or delivery partners.

Sean Stowers is a learning business partner for Pearson. He is a Certified Professional In Training Management (CPTM) and resides in Chicago.

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