Organizations look to learning and development to empower people to thrive in their current roles and prepare them for future ones. And the benefits are seen far and wide — historically, companies that invest more in employee development see greater profitability than those that don’t.
This year, preparing employees for the future will be more important than ever, as organizations face the effects of a changing labor market, skills gaps, hybrid work environments, and more.
Learning and development is about to become even more important.
Each new year brings changes in technology, shifting workplace demographics, and in 2022 especially, uncertainty about the future. More and more business leaders are starting to lean on learning and development for support in facing these essential challenges.
L&D proved to be an indispensable asset throughout 2020 and 2021, helping navigate multi-year changes that instead took place over a matter of months, all while keeping employees engaged as they worked from afar.
Here are a few reasons the value of learning and development will continue to become more clear than ever.
The Great Resignation
Much has been made about “the Great Resignation” — over four-million Americans quit their jobs in August of 2021, which was another record-breaking month for resignations in a sequence of record-breaking months. While this pattern isn’t good news for organizations, it provides a unique opportunity for learning and development.
Part of what’s driving the Great Resignation is a desire for greater individual development opportunities that help employees stay up-to-date in their fields and potentially leverage increased income opportunities. Crafting learning experiences that meet this need will help organizations improve retention.
L&D teams can help learners figure out what their next role might be, which skills they’d need, and then offer the necessary stepping stones to get there. Curated training experiences and unique learning paths often result in greater engagement and motivation.
Taking this a step further, tailoring training offerings to operational needs and making them available to the general public (à la Amazon’s upskilling program) can help combat the labor shortage, while increasing brand awareness and loyalty. It’s a win-win.
The growing need for resilience
The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the landscape of work and learning. Remote work is now the norm and 73% of employees want the option to continue to work from home in the future.
But hybrid work presents a series of challenges. Overall productivity may suffer, leaders struggle to keep remote employees engaged, and because checking in on a team member’s well-being requires more than just dropping by their desk, it’s become easier to neglect entirely.
Resilience — the ability to overcome unexpected challenges, recover quickly from difficulties, and prevail in the face of adversity — matters most during times of intense change. This year, learning opportunities that help individuals understand and leverage resilience are paramount. Since most people are naturally resistant to change, these opportunities should be offered at all levels of the organization.
Learning leaders should also consider how community and engagement play a role in keeping workers resilient. Creating opportunities for employees to connect with one another will be pivotal as organizations become increasingly cross-generational.
Generational changes in the workforce
Gen Zers are predicted to make up 36% of the workforce by the end of 2022. Despite stigmas around this generation and their frequent use of social media, Gen Z workers take ownership of their jobs and crave feedback as a way to better themselves professionally. They also reportedly believe that engagement “is the key to retention and better performance.”
And Gen Z isn’t the only generation changing the face of the workplace. Millennials are predicted to make up half of the U.S. workforce by 2025. 87% of them say “learning and development in the workplace is important.” They’ll ditch the job-hopping stereotype as they look to stay with their employer longer and seek growth opportunities within their current organization.
Learning and development should be prepared to evolve.
How can L&D teams keep these younger learners engaged? Because Gen Z is hyperconnected, development opportunities should connect learners to one another and offer socialization. Gen Zers are also digital natives who are used to simultaneously navigating through content on their phones, smartwatches, and tablets. They expect learning to be mobile and designed uniquely for the device they’re on.
Most of all, L&D should be prepared to constantly evolve because, as Gen Z takes over the workplace, another generation will soon show up with their own unique preferences and expectations for learning.
Widening skills gaps
Due to rapid technology adoption and job automation, there’s a growing need to fill the “jobs of tomorrow.” A recent Future of Jobs Report highlighted that skills gaps are expected to remain high for the next few years, and 94% of business leaders expect employees to pick up new skills on the job.
Developing soft skills like emotional intelligence is going to be crucial. In fact, Deloitte predicts that “soft skill intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.” Leadership development will also remain in high-demand in 2022.
Inadequate leadership selection processes and substandard training have fueled the leadership gap we’re still experiencing today. Learning and development teams will need to tie leadership training back to real-world skills like:
- Creating psychological safety. Unspoken norms govern the way teams work together, and those norms are influenced by a team’s leader. Leaders who know how to read the verbal and nonverbal cues of their team members and give everyone an opportunity to make their voice heard are the ones who build the most innovative teams.
- Managing crises. Successful leaders keep their cool under pressure, while helping team members maintain their composure as well. Training leaders to build trust and communicate empathetically during a crisis is key.
- Uniting a team. Great leaders set vision, but how they do that differs from person to person. Training leaders on how to clarify a goal and unite people underneath that goal can help everyone on the team feel connected to a greater purpose.
As leaders become better equipped, L&D should continue offering support for training at all levels and frequently evaluate the training’s effectiveness.
We’ve discussed why learning and development will be important this year, but just having a seat at the table is not enough. To keep L&D a necessity, learning leaders have to be prepared to discuss ROI.
If your organization hasn’t already adopted data-driven strategies to design better learning experiences and assess program effectiveness, now is the time to.
Everyone from chief learning officers to on-the-ground instructional designers should be asking if the learning experiences they’re creating and offering could be more closely-tied to larger business objectives, and if there’s a more cost-effective (but still people-effective) way to offer any training.
Many leaders will see this challenge as an opportunity to further enshrine learning and development as the future of the workplace; others may be intimidated. But those who rise to the challenge will see the fruit of their effort in every corner of the organization.