We know how hard it's been just trying to lead employees through this pandemic - so is it any wonder that additional elements such as learning and development could fall by the wayside?
The simple answer is no. In fact, businesses should be highly commended for even managing to survive during what has been generically called 'unprecendented times'.
But, as lockdowns ease we are understandably seeing this tide change - and in fact there may be even more call than ever for L&D to take centre stage as we recover together to solve the unforseen problems that Covid has caused.
A recent study of 750 decision-makers and over 1,200 full-time workers across the UK showed that more than half of businesses (53%) are planning to invest in new platforms in the next twelve months to bolster employee development
Of the companies surveyed, 36% said that they found it difficult to train and develop their workers when they are not based in the office, with a further 39% stating that they have struggled to make time for training throughout the pandemic.
Looking to the employees who have been affected, our research shows as few as one in four (26%) say their employer have invested in developing their professional skills since the onset of the pandemic.
As with many aspects of this pandemic, the impact on younger employees is especially significant as, while many individuals have reaped the benefits of working from home, nearly half (48%) of workers under the age of 35 say they have had fewer opportunities to learn from and collaborate with their colleagues.
Perhaps more worryingly, over a third (37%) say that they have been hesitant to approach managers for support and guidance throughout this period.
The survey suggests that this state of affairs has piqued the concern of workers, with over a fifth (22%) of full-time employees in the UK stating that they would consider leaving their job in the coming year if their employer does not invest more actively in their professional development. Again, this is the highest among those aged under 35 (31%).
So, here we are hopefully set to grow into a more resilient and productive workforce - but how can businesses improve the state of affairs where talent retention, acquisition and training are concerned?
1) Get to know your workforce
Chief among the complaints cited by staff in our survey is the inflexibility of the online learning experiences offered to them during Covid-19. A third (33%) of UK employees have found these webinars, video conferences and education courses to be too generic to assist in their long-term development and the acquisition of new skills and knowledge.
Unsurprisingly, employees are calling for action, with 39% saying they are keen to see their business invest in better digital learning tools and courses over the coming 12 months.
The ineffectiveness of generalised training courses might once have been overlooked when employees could seek additional support and mentorship from colleagues in the office. But in the new hybrid environment, changes must be made to deliver more tailored support.
Investing in data analytics is one option that will help businesses glean a better understanding of the needs of their workforce and thereby curate training programmes that are more catered to the specific goals and learning style of each individual. Positively, the challenges that employees have raised over recent months have not fallen on deaf ears, with the majority (52%) of businesses stating that they plan to invest in data analytics to better understand the strengths, weaknesses and needs of employees.
2) Invest in immersive tech
At the same time, employees are looking for more engaging learning material. For a dispersed workforce, the ability to learn collaboratively even when working remotely will help sharpen employees’ sense of emotional engagement with their peers as well as their own learning. Investing in solutions like gamification platforms, enterprise applications of virtual reality (VR) headsets and artificial intelligence (AI) powered platforms will help organizations deliver a positive and engaging learning experience.
Significantly, 43% of businesses are already looking to explore AI solutions within the next 12 months to deliver more advanced employee training.
3) Bitesize learning
What could once be achieved over the course of a one-day seminar or conference can no longer be accomplished remotely. From videoconferencing fatigue to external commitments, employees today require flexible options when it comes to their professional development. In light of this, businesses should consider solutions that can deliver microlearning – namely, bitesize learning sessions that employees can engage with at times and locations that fit around their needs.
AI-powered tools in particular can deliver a seamless learning experience that is not time-consuming or overwhelming for the user, by allowing learners to pick up where they left off and continuously work to cement their newfound knowledge.
Recent changes have no doubt seen many employees more productive and fulfilled in their roles. However, without adequate training sessions and opportunities for collaboration, organizations will find themselves confronting a stark reality. While workers run the risk of missing out on all-important knowledge, businesses are in danger of losing talented staff to companies who can offer more competitive training opportunities.
It is a great relief to see that organisations are beginning to allocate greater investment in digital infrastructure, as well as key technologies that will support their workers’ learning and professional development. Doing so will set them well on the path to a fostering a content and well-educated workforce.
Donna Stephenson is the Commercial Development Office of Soffos, the world’s first AI-powered KnowledgeBot. The platform streamlines corporate learning and development (L&D) to deliver seamless professional training for employees.