The global workforce has continually evolved because of a number of factors, but it has jumped ahead because of recent events. An increasingly competitive business landscape, a multigenerational workforce, the shorter shelf-life for knowledge and widespread digital transformation have made upskilling more vital than ever.
Yet, across the board, uncertainty is leading to cuts with learning, and talent budgets are at risk. Every business leader’s assumptions and strategic plans for the future have been profoundly changed by the recent pandemic and shutdown. Although these changes pose challenges, they also offer opportunities. As we come to terms with our new reality, talent and learning leaders are well-positioned to support their organizations and workers — and establish themselves as critical strategic partners to the business.
Pressure now falls on chief learning officers (CLOs) and other senior learning leaders to convince their peers to maintain — if not increase — their budgets.
Uncertainty Is Certain
Nobody can tell how things will change and by how much, which means the workforce needs to be responsive. This agility requires continued investment in developing your talent. A system that invests in workers’ near-term skills, as well as their long-term resilience, will enable your workforce to cope with a market in flux.
Remaining Abreast of Change
The pace of change hasn’t stalled because of the shutdown. If anything, it has increased, with Microsoft’s chief executive officer, Satya Nadella, stating that digital transformation has advanced by two years over the past two months. In Deloitte’s 2020 “Global Human Capital Trends” survey, 53% of business leaders “said that between half and all of their workforce will need to change their skills in the next three years.” It’s imperative that organizations continue to invest in their people now, or they risk hindering their growth efforts for years to come.
Aligning With Business Strategy
Ultimately, your strongest argument to maintain your learning budget will come through close alignment with the business strategy and goals. As Chris Holmes, director of global learning and development at Booz Allen Hamilton, told HR Dive, “If learning is integrated as a part of a shared outcome, then the need to ‘advocate’ for training investment can be a very different conversation.”
Learning leaders can communicate learning’s value in several key areas:
Attracting and Retaining Talent
Traditionally, learning mostly focused on improving productivity. That goal remains important, but learning is also a driver for employee growth and retention, helping them provide value throughout their time at an organization. Workers are now in charge of their professional (and personal) development — and the opportunity to upskill and develop is one of the top criteria for job-seekers.
Retaining talent and leveraging their skills is now more important than ever. As of March 30, one-third of organizations had frozen hiring — which means they need to make the most of their existing talent. Upskilling is closely connected with this goal, helping talent leaders redeploy people to where they’re needed most and train them in anticipation of upcoming demands.
Developing People Capabilities
Ongoing investment in learning will ensure that your organization retains its value and can take advantage of new business opportunities. Organizations that invest in leadership development during “significant transformations,” for example, “are 2.4 times more likely to hit their performance targets,” according to McKinsey research.
Investing in employees’ skills and ongoing career development will improve their engagement and job satisfaction. The key is linking their learning to something tangible; aligning learning with work opportunities is a powerful motivator for continued growth.
A compelling justification for your learning budget comes from increased revenue. Organizations that offer “comprehensive training programs” reportedly have, on average, 218% higher income per employee and 24% higher profit margins. Although now is a time of budget cuts, your upskilling program will generate the returns needed for your business to survive the current times.
It’s also worth noting that the shift to a knowledge economy means that the value of your organization is increasingly reliant on your talent. A significant percentage of market capitalization in public companies is based on intangible assets such as skills and knowledge.
No Return to Normal
After the current crisis passes, business as we know it won’t be “normal.” It will take some time to fully realize the ramifications of this time — so don’t expect your learning strategy to be the same as it was before. Now is a great time to be more targeted with your learning strategy, ensuring that every plan directly impacts the bottom line.
For example, with social distancing in place for the foreseeable future, change your emphasis to programs that you can run virtually, from home, since in-person events will be limited. You should also divest anything that isn’t delivering results, which will give you more resources to allocate to programs and tools that do. It will also show your C-suite that you’re being efficient with every dollar they invest in training, making a stronger case for their continued investment and increasing their confidence that your learning strategy will deliver strong returns.
Your learning catalog will need a refresh. Research shows an increase in the number of people seeking out opportunities to develop “flexible skills,” like leadership and communication, during this time. Tailor your learning offering to people’s current aspirations, ideally finding the sweet spot between business needs and individual goals.
Supporting Your People
Learning will be fundamental in supporting your business and people during these challenging months and year by building the skills you need to survive and thrive, helping people remain effective and productive, and showing that you value your employees. Remember, they are watching your actions, and the choices that you make now will factor into every career decision they make in the future.