Over a third of employees say that their employer isn’t providing them with training to advance their careers. That’s a big concern when career advancement opportunities come second only to salary as a reason people choose to work for an organization - and it means it’s time to rethink the approach taken to learning in the workplace.
That’s part of the top line conclusions coming out of the 2022 Employee Experience Survey from research firm Valoir, which polled more than 1000 employees in North America and Europe to get their perceptions of the state of workplace learning and training. It’s not a pretty picture that emerges. As Valoir founder and CEO Rebecca Wetteman puts it bluntly:
Learning Management Systems stink!
We’ll come back to that, but let's step back for a moment to check out the research findings.
The majority of respondents, outside of those in the 18-24 and over 65 demographics, cite career development opportunities as a critical determining factor in choosing and staying with an employer. (For the younger group, salary and reputation for diversity and equality come out on top, while for the older group, salary also dominates as well as knowing they’ll enjoy working with their fellow employees.)
Mentoring and coaching are seen as the top mechanisms to promote learning at work, but only ten percent of respondents, across the board, said they could give their company top marks in this respect, with a third of them saying they get no career advancing support at all. Training in soft skills, such as communication and negotiation, was cited by 50% of respondents, but again, less than ten percent gave this an A-grade.
Valoir’s research did find that HR leaders are aware of the issues and recognize both the importance of training and professional development and the need to move beyond traditional methods of delivering this.
Classroom and online training are the two most prevalent types of coaching on offer, but these fall short by being ‘one size fits all’ in nature rather than tailored to needs of specific users. All age groups cite learning from the experiences of a mentor or manager as the best way to advance their skills. But this one-on-one approach has been disrupted by the pandemic and the resulting shift to remote working. Learning alongside more experienced colleagues in the office hasn’t been as simple as it might have been in the pre-COVID times and with the ongoing debate about returning to the physical workplace still raging, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
While there is an awareness that technology innovation could help here, companies have been too slow to drive adoption in this respect. Only half of respondents organizations currently use tech to support mentoring and coaching and even less to support leadership potential assessment.
All of which brings us back to Wetteman’s assessment of the current situation facing employers. She argues that COVID has exposed some uncomfortable truths that most probably already knew, even if they didn’t want to face up to them, starting with those stinky Learning Management Systems (LMS):
They are designed to track test completion and check the boxes for required training. They sometimes delivered other training, but did little for professional development.
Professional development within organizations has really bifurcated into standard training that everyone had to take (sexual harassment, standard operating procedures) tracked by LMSes and specialized training, either at the group (Sales bootcamp) or individual (mentoring and coaching) level, largely run outside of HR.
Coaching and mentoring have largely been reserved for people on a management track or elite groups expected to be high-performing individuals, not the entire employee population – largely because traditional mentoring and coaching were cost-prohibitive for broad adoption.
And that shift to remote working hasn’t helped, she adds:
When everything happens digitally and we don’t have the informal networks and connections for learning that we have when we’re all in the office together, two things happen. Those outside of informal networks (like new hires) don’t get the coaching and mentoring they need, and workers go elsewhere for training and career advancement – which may increase their skills and abilities, but also increases their mobility and reduces their engagement with their employer.
So what’s to be done? A re-examination of the key technologies on offer to overhaul professional development is the top priority. Anyone who wants mentoring and coaching needs to be able to access it. Don’t just focus on certifications and degree programs for certain staff, but broaden the continuing education opportunities.
Valoir cites the use of modern apps that can connect employees with both internal and external mentors. The firm also makes a case for providing more “employee pull-based learning opportunities in the stream of work”, arguing:
Through micro-learning, in-application training, and other new channels, HR can increase individual effectiveness and productivity without disrupting the stream of work, enabling employees to learn when and where they choose and increasing knowledge retention compared with traditional methods.
The study concludes:
Moving away from traditional HR push training and one-size-fits-all models and taking advantage of technologies that enable more personalized training, in ways that employees learn best, can drive a more effective, efficient, and engaged workforce.
As Valoir notes, a lot of this is stuff that we’ve all known was going on in organizations. Maybe not many of us wanted to admit to it, but the COVID crisis has exposed us to the harsh reality of the situation. With the Great Resignation showing no particular signs of slowing down, those organizations in the Vaccine Economy that don’t now get to grips with the demand from their employees for better career advancement learning opportunities are going to learn a harsh lesson themselves. It's time to stink less.