Training & Development

Navigating the Future

Crafting an Agile Training Strategy in the Age of AI and Technological Innovation

In today’s rapidly transforming work ecosystem, marked by the swift emergence of AI and digital innovations, the role of HR is more pivotal than ever.

 As HR leaders, it’s time to re-evaluate our training strategies, ensuring they’re not just robust but also inherently adaptive to the ever-evolving demands of our times. This article  guides you in this journey, helping shape a framework that’s not just reactive but anticipatory of technological advancements.

We need to empower our greatest asset – our workforce – to excel in an environment that’s as dynamic as the technology shaping it.

Assessing Capability Gaps

The starting point for an agile training strategy is to ask ourselves ‘why do we need one?’

Secondary benefits to great L&D opportunities are employee satisfaction, increased efficiency, and appeal to potential employees. The number one reason for any L&D strategy is to ensure the organisation and its employees have the skills they need to deliver its capabilities.

Organisations with a comprehensive capability model has a central point of truth from which to work.

It’s impossible for HR and senior leaders to understand all the skills needed to deliver business area capabilities. Most of the work is delivered by specialists who may be unique in the organisation.

HR must understand which capabilities are vulnerable, where there is low redundancy and poor continuity planning. This involves asking senior leaders to identify where chokepoints or skills monopolies exist in their teams.

Your actions:

  • Conduct skills audits to identify gaps
  • Anticipate future skills needed for new tech
  • Align training to strategic business goals

Measuring Training Effectiveness

Learning and development is in constant conflict with work. Managers, running with the bare minimum hours to complete the job, see it as a threat to delivery. Learners often see mandated training as an irrelevance which puts them behind with their work, whilst experiencing exasperation that genuinely helpful training has been blocked by bureaucracy and budgets.

This is a communications problem where  L&D is seen as a disabler for the business, rather than an enabler.

How would I change this?

We need to start communicating the metrics of success both downwards and  upwards. Managers need to know 99% of employees completed health and safety training; employees want to hear that the training has reduced workplace accidents and injuries by 50%.  We need to better measure the effectiveness and impact of training and share it in a way that helps people recognise the value created.

Measuring outcomes is crucial when managing budgets.

Take for example, the ‘lock-in’ approach to training. the ‘we’ll put you through this training, but you have to stay or pay’. It’s natural to fear that an employee may take the training and move to a new employer, but it’s worth remembering that if an employee is forced into doing learning in their own time, they’re doing it for their next employer, not for you. If you end up forcing an employee to do their own development, they’ve already quit.

This is tied to the phenomena of unrewarded loyalty. Studies identified it’s more financially beneficial for employees to regularly job hop than stay with a single employer. The main reason for this is that, unless you’re working in some sort of super-scaling start-up environment, people evolve faster than their employers do.

Therefore, we need to move away from  ‘turnover’ and leavers and focus on metrics like length of service. In 99.9% of organisations, even middle performers are going to get a better offer if they go looking. HR needs to ask how can we increase the average service length to reduce recruitment and retraining costs? If someone leaves before 75% of the average service length, we should investigate. At an organisational scale, we must identify how much (if at all) improving personal learning opportunities affects that number?

Rethinking training

Dragging dispersed teams of workers into a room for training is inefficient and for remote teams, a massive and unnecessary cost. This is about ticking boxes (they attended;  they are trained) rather than creating valuable and lasting learning experiences.

Of course, when done well, it can be powerful. I’ve previously spoken about Atlassian’s approach, where the remote-first organisation has built dedicated teams to support the delivery of memorable in-person experiences for employees. This approach makes the office a place where people want to go, rather than must go

The training room approach fails to deliver personalised and relevant training that meets worker or business needs. As mentioned work is specialised which requires unique skill sets and specialities.

There are many different workforce L&D  requirements, but they can all be put into two groups, universal, and exceptional.

Universal training, for all employees, tailored for different groups, functions, and seniority levels, generally has the same objectives and outcomes for everyone.

Exceptional training is more niche. It may be for thousands of people, or just for one, but has a specific purpose which involves improving an employee’s performance or skills.

E-learning is an effective way of delivering both these types of training.

Universal training through e-learning is simple. A course is added, completion is tracked, with a goal of 100%. However, exceptional training requires more specific and niche courses. Many of these are commercially available; for example, Umbrella HR has produced an e-learning course for line managers to upskill in performance management. But when we look deeper, we run into issues. Employee’s bespoke training needs are often blocked by managers (especially where not directly related to current job role) or delivered informally by a colleague who may or may not be trained. As a result,, capability gaps are not identified, and employees are forced to upskill outside of work just to do their job, breeding resentment.

Your actions:

  • Curate self-service e-learning platforms
  • Facilitate peer coaching and collaboration
  • Track learning outcomes across locations

The Road Ahead

For too many, ‘learning’ ends at school or university and this is embedded by poor support for learning in organisations. But employers can change this. It’s common to have a volunteering days allowance; so, give employees a personal development allowance and measure the impact of this on organisational capabilities.

It’s crucial to support employees through change. We’re living through a period of unprecedented disruption on the global, local, societal, and working levels. Supporting employees with the skills and knowledge they need demonstrates an investment and appreciation likely to be rewarded with improved retention.

The two specific learning areas crucial for organisations to deliver effectively into the future are  skills and knowledge The organisational ‘lore’ is an often-overlooked part of learning, but codifying what has and hasn’t worked in the past embeds organisational learning and prevents wasteful mistakes being made twice.

Organisational knowledge is a key opportunity which data driven organisations are using AI to exploit. Moving information from employee’s heads into formal repositories via intranets and knowledge banks is a crucial part of the bigger picture behind L&D. Practitioners who take an active role in AI development, will be able to effectively control this learning delivery method.

Finally, we often fail to take note of skills and training delivered before an employee joins. Unless a certification or skillset is a job requirement upon appointment, we rarely understand the other skills or competencies that people bring to a role, which results in poorly constructed job descriptions, or worse, we underuse an employee who then believes themselves to have been slighted. Properly recording and, rewarding the full capacity of our employees is an increasing challenge as skill shortages sharpen.

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Training & Development

Turning Tax Into Talent – February 2022

The world moves fast. Yesterday’s priorities are superseded by new initiatives by lunchtime. No wonder then that we buy in the skills we need on a project-by-project basis. We’ve begun treating talent like supermarkets treat fresh produce; just in time delivery with minimal surplus. In the drive for efficiency, we’re offloading the responsibility of developing skills to others.

There are other aspects that have led us to this situation. For most organisations, the idea of restricting a vacancy to internal applicants is anathema, for a number of reasons. External applicants are key for diverse workforces. We want to hire experience from outside the sector. We’re preventing institutionalised groupthink.

However, the public sector has a number of organisations who show us why internal promotion can be better than importing talent. The Civil Service is highly reliant on organisational knowledge to provide the best support and advice to policy makers. It’s an organisation where change is so constant that organisational knowledge and experience expedites rather than obstructs changing priorities.

Another key part of the Civil Service’s success is encouraging cross-function moves. How difficult would someone in your organisation find it to move from one area to another? No, they don’t know much about the area they want to move into, or have the skills to do the job immediately, unlike an external applicant. But they know other parts of your business, your structure, your values and your challenges intimately. They maintain your organisation’s cultural memory. Beyond this, they can tackle challenges with knowledge from multiple aspects of your organisation – becoming the proverbial two heads which are better than one.

Chasing Retention

But if we think about why people leave their jobs, one thing underlies everything. They want more. For some, it’s more money. For others, more challenges; their work bores them. Self-improvement is a motivator for many; the desire to gain more skills and knowledge.

And realistically, some of these ‘mores’ are great opportunities for your organisation. Employees motivated by a desire to solve your organisation’s problems, if only given a chance. People who want to deliver their work to a higher standard, but feel they have to get a job elsewhere to do so.

Employee turnover is so often an HR metric, but how regularly are you discussing this with L&D teams? I suppose a big challenge is switching from a macro focus to a micro one. We speak on an organisational level, but as HR professionals we’re much less likely to have a ‘scouting’ role where we identify talent for new roles – this is left to line managers. And what we often see is line managers who want to keep talent in their teams, as these top players make their role easier.

So the needs of line managers are a challenge – they expect to recruit the best and keep them. Often due to badly thought out KPIs, line managers are forced to make a choice between meeting team targets or developing their employees. Add in performance incentives which often reward teams financially for beating targets and you create a culture where stagnation of talent is the norm.

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New Challenges, Old Solutions

But we’ve got a powerful tool for upskilling our workforces that is being criminally underused. It’s a method we’ve used for decades, but seem to have abandoned in favour of ‘buying talent’ from other employers.

I’m talking, of course, about apprenticeships. And it makes sense for a lot of smaller employers to be wary of taking on an apprentice. There are costs incurred just preparing to take on an apprentice, not to mention the risk of the apprentice dropping out, being entirely unsuitable or simply not fitting into a small team.

But the thing is, nobody says that apprenticeships have to be for new starters. Of course, there are financial advantages to hiring an apprentice, but if your organisation’s only incentive is being able to pay someone eight grand for a full year’s work, lack of development opportunities isn’t the biggest retention issue you need to be tackling. 

Realistically, if you’re looking to use apprenticeships to upskill existing employees you’ll need to pay them at least the same amount they’re on now, whilst also giving them at least 20% of their contracted hours to train and study.

But there are huge benefits, especially when delivering higher or degree level apprenticeships. For certain skills and industries the funding contributions and employer incentive payments can be significant, and the skills an existing employee can gain through the apprenticeship programmes can be quite literally ‘money can’t buy’.

We need to promote the idea that apprenticeships are not just for kids. We’ve reached a point where everyone in the workforce is expected to learn new things, but the idea of a structured programme of education for workers older than 25.

Remember that employees are just as keen to grow and develop as you are to resolve your skill shortages. Internal progression means organisational memories are retained and shared, employee loyalty improves and informal relationships between teams are strengthened.

Taking Action

So what can you do?

One

Identify employees with the potential to fill your skill shortages. Upskilling existing staff is cheaper and more effective than recruiting new employees, and often (when taking into account onboarding and team integration) quicker too.

Employees can enter Masters level degree apprenticeships on the basis of relevant workplace experience. This means they don’t need to have completed a bachelor’s degree, although having the aptitude and commitment to complete a challenging MSc course will be key!

Two

Raise awareness. There will be plenty of people in your workforce who want to learn and take up internal opportunities. New talent may emerge from the most unlikely of places…

Three

Incentivise managers. It’s pretty normal for senior leaders to have some requirement to develop direct reports, but where this is applied to line managers it’s often copy pasted and fails to recognise the very different roles and responsibilities. In a world where line managers are as likely as their team members to need to look outside the organisation for improvement, a few lines in a performance review on talent is ineffective.

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