In the aftermath of a massive global disruption, organizations have elevated employee experience, engagement, upskilling and capability building. In this new era, business needs and customer expectations have significantly shifted. Skills and work environments have taken on new meaning with greater levels of importance in response to evolving employee expectations and workforce demands. As a result, learning and development (L&D) has become central to helping companies reshape organizational capabilities.

A dearth of available talent amid other pandemic-related disruptions is affecting all industries. Left unmanaged, customer experience, reputation, performance and innovation are apt to suffer.

With so many changes and disruptions, it is the ideal time to transform from the old way of unbending manual processes to doing business with agility. Leverage emerging technology (e.g., business intelligence tools, artificial intelligence and mixed reality) and optimize data to better understand learner needs and continually adjust, as appropriate. This is done to enable employees to achieve their career ambitions while successfully improving the customer experience.

Getting Started

Let’s review organizational practices to lead L&D digital transformation:

  • Create internal career mobility that builds a skills-based resume.
  • Challenge and transform your L&D infrastructure.
  • Embrace digital disruption to create a learning ecosystem.

Amid the current business challenges, companies must be resilient. As such, L&D leaders should alter their mindsets to think of the workforce as a circular economy. Given today’s market conditions, L&D leaders must take a more modern approach to refresh and redefine L&D for their organizations to address talent development as well as the business’s strategic needs.

Talent is a critical area where mindsets and skillsets need to be cultivated. Given the scarcity of skilled talent in the market, as well as individual employee expectations, companies must revisit how to develop new skills and capabilities of existing teams while also attracting new employees. Keep in mind that any change in business direction will lead to employees needing new ways to learn and develop to advance their careers while allowing for businesses to thrive.

Preparing for Disruption

According to a recent Deloitte CEO survey, 47% of CEOs are prioritizing more training and development. The survey emphasized that in the year ahead, the greatest disruption in the market will be a labor/skills shortage, as selected by nearly three-quarters (73%) of the CEOs.

Preparing today’s talent for existing and future business needs will require organizations to:

  • Provide skill-building experiences and knowledge on-demand across the company.
  • Create on-the-job learning, apprenticeships, rotation, project and work teams where employees are learning while working.
  • Give employees an opportunity to apply skills to new roles that might be outside their specialty to boost agility, innovation and retention of high-performing talent.
  • Create a learning strategy that supports enterprise-wide needs for organizations such as digital acumen. With a hybrid remote workforce amid and beyond the pandemic, companies introduced new applications that necessitated employees’ reliance on technology. It is critical to various job roles that employees have access to more technology-oriented training to grow their technical skills.

Keeping the Workforce Sharp

While technical jobs are increasing, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are reducing the need for certain roles going forward. However, new talent demands are emerging with a more significant focus on human-centered roles than we have seen in the past.

Of late, the need has shifted to what was once known as “soft skills” — communication, creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking and cultural understanding — to achieve more positive collaboration and unleash the diversity of people, perspectives and approaches across the workforce.

Departing employees have often cited the main reason for leaving is because the role itself was holding them back. By enabling more career mobility, L&D can address this issue.

A key area for L&D leaders is to deliver learning strategies that enable internal career mobility for employees so that they can elevate their skills and grow within their existing companies. In addition to specialist and role-based skills, we should prioritize portable skills that can be leveraged across business areas to create more opportunity. And it takes different approaches to develop these types of skills compared to process and functional skills.

Employee turnover is expensive, and today’s labor market is competitive.     Attracting talent with the right skills can require a range of tactics, from sign-on bonuses to increased salaries and other perks. Take steps now to ensure the best employees do not quit, taking with them their company experience, industry knowledge and leadership to the competition while leaving the existing company consistently needing to fill talent gaps. With various other day-to-day responsibilities and challenges, we need to pull the plug on this never-ending hamster wheel. This circular issue will not allow for businesses to advance if companies continue to need to replenish talent while top performers head for the exits. Such churn prevents businesses from moving forward.

Now is the time to think creatively about retention of those top performers. For example, place greater emphasis on intangibles (e.g., culture and flexibility) as opposed to the usual, “traditional” benefits (e.g., compensation) to strengthen a company’s ability to attract and retain talent.

L&D Digital Disruption

Moving forward, our goal should be to challenge and transform our organizations’ L&D infrastructure. As a business-critical function that can greatly impact employee and business performance, the function must be designed for relevance and optimization. As such, L&D leaders should be asking themselves: Are we organized to ensure a learner-centric culture? Alternatively, has L&D become a function for delivery of learning design, responding to our organizations’ needs?

  • More than just delivering training, today it’s all about how L&D operates as a business. This is similar to how businesses need to evolve their service delivery strategies to remain competitive.
  • Balance stability with being dynamic — what work activities can be stopped or re-envisioned in your L&D so that you can allocate funding effectively to critical business needs as they evolve, engage in sprints, test and learn while working on cross-functional teams? This will also enable you to be more future-focused.
  • Develop a culture that embraces digital disruption. Focus on how employees can be engaged as active and passive learners as their jobs require more digital elements, just as the learners have become accustomed as consumers to using digital technology in their daily lives.

3D Learning

No longer can L&D be thought of or implemented as a simple, one-dimensional format — nor can we rely on just one tool. Current conditions require delivering learning with layered technology. It takes an ecosystem to be agile and responsive to learners.

Address capabilities needed in your function. L&D professionals need to be data-savvy marketing experts. Should you have learning experience designer roles on your teams to transform from instructional designers? Are you integrating business intelligence tools and data mining for insights? Assess what tech tools and skills are needed to make it more engaging for the learners. For example, use of chatbots to help guide employees through a learning journey akin to what we are already familiar with as consumers. Applying AI in this regard also provides data to help continually understand behavior of the learner, like how businesses leverage for customer behavior.

The 2020 Training Industry Benchmark Report found that short courses and face-to-face training were the most popular choice overall for training providers, with 78% of providers offering in-house courses. However, 61% were focused on eLearning courses for the coming year. While face-to-face learning has been popular for decades, how can we transition to today’s business structure? L&D must reimagine how face-to-face solutions can be delivered in this ecosystem. The overall purpose and outcomes desired for face-to-face need to be revisited. Once that is defined, we must ask ourselves: What types of new skills will be needed for facilitators to deliver the newly reimagined learning sessions?

Conclusion

As the new year gets underway, L&D organizations can reset and refresh their current state of talent development. They will also plan for an agile, transformative approach.

Post-pandemic, businesses and the workforce are facing a new reality. With a change in L&D strategy, enterprises can drive value and relevancy in this ever-changing work environment where workers are shifting their careers and expectations.

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