Frontline workers — employees who work directly with the people the organization serves — include first responders, grocery and retail workers, restaurant workers, health care workers and caregivers, among others. Essentially, they are the face of the company and what it stands for, says Fabrice Haiat, founder and chief executive officer of YOOBIC, a digital solutions provider for frontline teams.

Although frontline workers are largely responsible for putting the company’s broader goals and values into action, they often lack the digital tools and solutions needed to do so. In fact, a Forrester study found that only 23% of frontline workers have access to the technology they need to do their jobs. And if they do have access to the technology and digital learning solutions they need, they likely are not being trained on how to use them.

As Lawrence Schwartz, CEO and co-founder of the mobile learning app Trivie, puts it, frontline workers “are the engine that makes the car go.” Of all of an organization’s employees, he says, they need access to the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Training and development plays a key role in arming frontline workers with the digital learning solutions they need, when they need them.

The Digital Divide

Research from the Upskill America Initiative at the Aspen Institute found that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for frontline workers to build digital sets. This makes sense: The hospitality and restaurant industries had to adapt to new, contactless ways of working and serving guests, says Jamie Fall, director of the Upskill America Initiative at the Aspen Institute. In health care, many providers looked to telehealth as a way to safely continue seeing patients.

The need for digital skills in frontline industries is not going away post-pandemic. Rather, in the age of digital transformation, we can expect it to increase. COVID-19 proved just how quickly frontline industries need to adapt alongside digital transformation so that employees can keep pace with industry shifts, says Holly Mockus, senior product manager at Alchemy Systems, a frontline training provider.

Unfortunately, most technology investments (i.e., human resources and training tools) are currently focused on enabling salaried workers, leaving frontline workers feeling “under-supported and as a result, disengaged,” according to a Workday blog post. Justin Lake, CEO and co-founder at Skyllful, a mobile learning solutions provider, says that part of the reason there is a lack of investment in digital learning solutions for frontline workers is because many employers “underestimate what they are capable of.” Frontline workers “are more aware” than we give them credit for, he says. They want to succeed in their roles, and they know what training solutions they need to perform at their best.

The ROI is Loud and Clear

Investing in digital learning solutions for frontline workers is a clear business advantage. A 2018 Gartner research report found that limited access to the communication and collaboration tools can “greatly reduce” frontline workers’ digital dexterity by restricting their ability and willingness to collaborate across silos within their organization. Further, Cristian Grossmann, CEO and co-founder of Beekeeper, a provider of communications tools for frontline workers, says that communication breakdowns on the production floor or job site can damage both employee safety and customer satisfaction, and lead to increased risk across the enterprise.

As more companies expand globally, and even locally, digital learning solutions can “help fuel collaboration and connection” among team members and for improved operational performance, Haiat says.

It’s All In the Delivery

We live in a digital world, where speech recognition technologies tell us the daily weather forecast and video meeting platforms connect us with family members overseas. Why should frontline training be any different?

Haiat says that frontline workers (along with many other learners) prefer learning journeys and experiences that reflect their personal lives. In other words, delivering a 45-minute eLearning course on an outdated computer to a manufacturing team won’t cut it.

Schwartz agrees that frontline workers have adapted to modern technologies taking the consumer world by storm and are used to having information on-demand, at their fingertips. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case at work: Beekeeper research found that many frontline workers spend up to three hours per week searching for the information necessary to do their jobs. “This time wasted leads to massive operational roadblocks for inefficiencies that ripple out across the organization,” he says.

Modern learners of all ages are more digitally comfortable than ever before, Lake says. The challenge is that organizations aren’t delivering training solutions that resemble the tools they use as consumers.

To deliver digital learning experiences that meet frontline learners where they are, consider these three tips:

1. Make it Mobile

Most frontline workers don’t sit at a desk all day. Rather, they’re serving customers on patios, restocking shelves or even handling heavy machinery in a manufacturing plant. “We can’t take the types of tools that we’re using [to train] office-bound knowledge workers and just expect [frontline workers] to adopt that,” Lake says. As many frontline workers primarily interface with mobile devices, mobile learning delivery is best, he says. It provides access to the content when and where frontline workers need it. Grossmann agrees, noting that smartphones are an “often overlooked solution” to closing skills gaps that hinder performance. “By implementing digital tools that employees can access on their own personal smartphone devices, the learning curve for that employee shrinks substantially,” he says.

2. Be Quick

Frontline workers are busy. They usually work long hours and might even struggle to find time to eat lunch — much less to complete a 30-minute compliance training course.

While frontline work doesn’t typically include long periods of downtime, Haiat says that frontline employees often have shorter, more frequent chunks of time where they can work learning into their daily routines. Even three-to-five minutes of learning a day can reinforce key concepts and skills over time. As more frontline industries look to weave learning into the flow of work, we can expect microlearning to continue leading the way.

3. Have Fun With It

Don’t be afraid to make frontline training fun. Gamification can help engage frontline workers throughout their learning journey. For instance, Trivie’s solution uses a trivia game format to deliver content in a “gamified environment,” where learners can have fun, engage with the product and better remember the information learned over time, Schwartz says.

Intertek Alchemy’s “Coach,” a mobile app, also leverages gamification to improve engagement. The app is designed to “capture behaviors” on the floor, build data points and keep learners accountable for applying what they’ve learned on the job, Mockus says.

Learning, Well-deserved

Digital training solutions enable frontline employees to “learn new information faster and implement their on-the-job skills more effectively, promoting problem-solving and autonomy on the job and building their skills and confidence at work,” Grossmann says.

Companies looking to keep pace with industry advancements will be smart to adopt digital skills training and solutions sooner rather than later … but it’s also the right thing to do. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of frontline industries across the globe. Without them, we wouldn’t have access to life-saving medical care or even the food on our tables.

Frontline workers don’t just keep their organizations running smoothly; they keep the world running smoothly. Enabling them with innovative, engaging and easy-to-use digital learning solutions is the least we can do to say, “thank you.”