If you’ve been keeping an eye on recent headlines, you’re probably familiar with The Great Resignation — a phenomenon that has caused workers to rethink their careers, working conditions and long-term goals. So, what can you do to engage and retain your employees?

Learning leaders from Klarna, 3M and Capital One agreed that their learning programs made a key difference in their company’s overall workforce — from corporate culture to career satisfaction and talent retention. Additionally, companies’ efforts to frequently upgrade their learning environments and implement new technologies will, in turn, provide employees with consistent opportunities to learn new competencies and expand their skill sets.

A company’s ability to implement a culture of continuous learning can lead to benefits like:

  • Enhancing performance and productivity.
  • Staying ahead of the competition.
  • Creating a higher return on investment.
  • Reducing employee turnover.

McKinsey found that nearly nine in 10 executives and managers say their organizations either face skills gaps already or expect gaps to develop within the next five years. Although most survey respondents say their organizations consider it a priority to address skill shortages, few say their organizations understand how to equip themselves with the workforce skills they will need most. In fact, only one-third of respondents say their companies are prepared to cope with the workforce disruptions resulting from technology and market trends.

Let’s look at two solutions that can help organizations create a culture of continuous learning with platforms that are readily available.

Career Pathways

Not all employees have the same career goals. Some employees aspire to management roles and others would rather lead as an independent contributor. These roles are often defined as follows:

  • The individual contributor: A professional without management responsibilities who contributes to an organization independently.
  • The people manager: Someone who loves to lead and guide others to help them grow and succeed.

Both roles are crucial within an organization, yet they don’t receive the same focus when it comes to learning and development. In a typical structure, the way to progress is to become a manager. However, this mindset greatly limits career advancement and growth for individual contributors. Companies need to rethink the growth opportunities they offer to accelerate career development for all employees.

Individual Contributor Programs

Individual contributors’ efforts are focused more on the company and its customers, collaboratively leading the business toward success. But what options are available for those who want to grow without the responsibility of management?

A corporate academy might be the answer to this question, which can help to promote the dissemination of knowledge and provide employees with learning when and where they need it most. It’s an innovative approach to discovering new talent, as well as developing people through on-the-job training and certification. This would serve as an experiential academy that provides employees with the space to share unique ideas and perspectives.

Corporate academies are a one-stop shop that oversees and coordinates the various business areas, including human resources (HR), learning and development (L&D), information technology (IT) and data science, and enables ways to enhance team cooperation.

These innovative, competency-based learning programs, which include a broad range of professional development and personal growth initiatives, will enable employees to apply newly learned skills directly to their daily work and to grow their careers.

Program Structure

Modern organizations are investing in new competency academies – places to learn, share and build expertise together. The new academies offer digital learning experiences for employees to build complex skills needed to succeed.

The academy should be organized into several areas of core and functional competencies and expertise, such as industry knowledge, analytical skills, project management, communication and much more.

Each area is then classified by achievement levels — fundamentals, efficiency and mastery — to support the natural adoption of new and emerging competencies and analytical techniques.

Where to start and get certified is up to the learner. The curriculum covers topics according to level and competency so employees can choose relevant courses and revisit the content as often as needed. The academy can also include professional certifications, which are more comprehensive educational programs that center around a multiphasic knowledge test. If an employee is experienced, they can fast-track their accreditation in a few hours by passing the quizzes.

To enhance engagement, programs should be delivered using a blended approach, including live and recorded lectures, essential reading and self-assessment exercises.

How To Get Started

For an academy to be successful and support the growth of an organization, learning leaders must do the following:

  • Gain leadership buy-in and commitment for the program.
  • Align the program to business goals and company strategy.
  • Curate relevant and best-in-class training content.
  • Connect the program to the career development strategy and HR standards.

Talent Accelerator Programs for People Managers

Individual contributors are generally more tactical, whereas managers are often more strategic — the difference between identifying what needs to be done (managers) and how to execute (individual contributors).

A talent accelerator program is typically designed to enable high-potential employees to become emerging people managers and business leaders by providing them with relevant experiences right from the start.

To ensure an intense, discussion-oriented and focused development experience, each program should be limited to 15 participants. The criteria to select participants might include general experience at your company or years of managerial experience, promising network, negotiation skills or years of exceptional contributions with serious growth potential over short periods of time.

Through a targeted career path, learners will be able to strengthen their skills (and acquire new ones) and expand their professional network through special projects and targeted training in the field of negotiation, time management and financial acumen. The program should include a 12-month plan, accompanied by a clear and defined growth path within the different functions of their department. Talent accelerator programs contribute significantly to a company’s diversity, equity and inclusion agenda.

Program Structure

Let’s dive deeper into some of the initiatives you can offer your talent right from the start:

  • Skills Self-assessment

The purpose of this voluntary survey is to capture the employee’s level of expertise in various technical and soft skills. This will enable you to prioritize needs, craft a strategic and tailored learning agenda, design initiatives to accelerate the development of your employees and, if possible, leverage internal expertise to conduct future courses within your community.

  • Online Training Sessions

These will provide opportunities to participate in instructor-led online training sessions to catalyze the development of leadership skills and accelerate learner readiness to take on progressively more senior roles with regional/global impact. You can even opt to host panel discussions.

  • Personalized Learning Path

Recommend a list of trainings to complement the gaps identified in the employee’s self-assessment process. Choosing the path that most closely matches their function, aspirations and needs will help them find opportunities to improve their skills.

  • Global Projects

This gives your talent an opportunity to lead, or participate in, a project with a global scope. These initiatives will allow them to develop and demonstrate their leadership skills and technical expertise. It also provides a unique experience to engage with an international and/or cross-functional team to make a real, positive impact on the way your company operates.

  • Individual Development Plan (IDP)

Putting together an IDP helps your employees articulate their personal and professional development goals and their plan for reaching them. Being part of a talent community will facilitate their access to development tools and help them accelerate the process.

  • Mentoring

An established partnership between colleagues for the purposes of learning and growth, mentoring also helps increase self-confidence, self-awareness and job satisfaction.

  • Young Shadow Board

A “shadow board” is a group of non-executive employees who work with senior executives on strategic initiatives. The purpose? To leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to.

  • Influencing Without Authority

Through this program, participants practice influencing and persuasion skills in different manners. For instance, they can take on the “buddy” role for new employees, serve as moderators or contributors on internal social media, champion diversity and inclusion initiatives or co-facilitate training events based on the needs of your department.

  • A “Day in the Life” Miniseries

To spotlight your talent and give them more visibility, you can create a miniseries of videos where they are interviewed based on themes that are most relevant to other employees (i.e., early career advice). You can also record a “day in the life” interview with a team or an individual to showcase the diverse career paths and dynamics at your company.

The New Learning Era

No matter what type of strategy you develop or role you take in in the learning and development (L&D) space, don’t forget to set the stage for bottom-up and top-down learning. Learning is always a two-way street — from top-level management to their reports and from on-the-ground experts to higher-level management.

Hopefully the two approaches in this article inspire you to engage with the talented people at your company to foster better career frameworks, facilitate internal movement, scale-up employee transitions and retain those who make your organization a great place to work.

Also, be sure you have a focus on the future. It is not enough for L&D leaders to focus on the skills needed to survive today!