Building a Learning and Development Strategy for Lean Times
Amid current economic uncertainty and a looming recession, companies are looking for ways to control expenditures to shore up their budgets. For some, this means pausing certain niceties or delaying larger projects; for others, it calls for more drastic measures.
Just last week, Salesforce and Vimeo joined other tech giants in announcing they would be laying off substantial portions of their workforce, 10% and 11% respectively. For Vimeo, this is the second cut of this kind in a year.
These actions aren't isolated incidents. In 2022, a large number of companies moved to reduce their workforce — and not just in the tech sector. Sure, Meta, Microsoft, Twitter and Amazon made headlines when they announced their waves of layoffs, but Ford, Walmart, Unilever and Nestle, among others, also joined the list.
This shouldn't be surprising. Years of labor shortages have caused panic hiring in many organizations, leaving employers with redundant roles and overlapping skills sets. But considering the latest unemployment data showing the worker crunch isn't dissipating in the foreseeable future, companies may want to be judicious about their workforce planning strategy.
Unfortunately, after layoffs, learning and development budgets are often one of the first things to go when cuts are made. But cutting back on available talent and their ability to grow may be very near-sighted. Here's why you may instead want to double down on learning and development as an opportunity to position the company for the inevitable recovery.
Why Learning and Development Matters
In its 2022 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn outlined some of the main advantages of a good learning and development program, and perhaps the most striking is employee retention. Some companies have been able to double their average staff tenure, compared to peers, thanks to their L&D offering. In a time of labor shortages, this is nothing to scoff at.
The report also shows that not only it is more cost-effective to reskill an existing employee than hire someone new, but employees also crave learning and growth opportunities. They make them feel valued, which in turn helps drive greater engagement, innovation and productivity. And having a robust L&D program helps attract new workers, who seek organizations where they can grow and evolve.
Then, there's the pace of change. As technology develops and new tools emerge, workers need to be regularly trained on how to use these tools and improve their efficiency. "Staying up to date with relevant trends and techniques is crucial," said Olga Shapovalova, B2B director at Headway, who believes continued education helps employees stay relevant in their field and become more valuable to their employer.
Jacqueline Holmes, marketing lead at e-learning provider Knowledge Anywhere, also believes learning and development is vital for ensuring employees continue to have the necessary skills for their work. "It also allows organizations to stay ahead of the curve and remain competitive in the market by providing a platform for employees to learn and develop continuously," she said.
Related Article: Why Your Organization Needs Employee Training and Development
How to Build a Lean L&D Program
In challenging economic times, it may be difficult for leaders to look beyond the dollar signs and make a compelling case for investing in a new program, no matter its cited benefits. But there are ways to build a learning and development program without significantly impacting profit margins.
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To make learning a significant part of the corporate culture, Shapovalova and Holmes say leaders should emphasize the perks of continually learning new skills and refreshing old ones. Offering practical L&D tools like access to e-learning platforms, virtual classrooms or mobile learning technology, for instance, can help employees improve their contribution to the company without breaking the bank. And connecting these platforms to the latest industry news, trends and learning materials helps broaden the options.
One component that cannot be neglected, according to Holmes, is motivation. Employees need to be motivated to learn, and leaders should encourage them to do so through various rewards, from promotion and lateral mobility opportunities to financial incentives or companywide recognition. Fun concepts like "Best Improved Staff Member of the Month" or "Most Educated Employee" are great and affordable ways to drive up interest in L&D.
Holmes said companies may also want to go beyond the job-specific skills to encourage broader education. Employers may benefit greatly from having employees hone their soft skills like communications and empathy — both of which are essential for performance.
Related Article: Prepare Your Workplace for 2023 (and Beyond)
All Eyes on the Future
The key point to making an L&D program work as intended is alignment. Employers and employees must be able to look into the future and envision a better tomorrow for the company and its workers. From improved skills to greater performance, all eyes should be on how great the future can be if everyone contributes more, better, smarter.
Employees must understand how fast the landscape is evolving and what their role may look like 5, 10 years down the road. Will the role still exist? Will processes and tools change? A recent Forbes study found that 70% of employees aren't ready for the future of work, and it is employers' responsibility to make sure they have the staff they need.
All of this, of course, can't come at a cost for employees. Successful L&D programs are incorporated into the work day and supported by management. Shapovalova said the time investment doesn't have to be over the top; lessons or learning sessions can be short — as short as 20 minutes — but they must be flexible and employers must be supportive when time is spent on learning.
Investments in L&D can return significant rewards for companies in the future. In fact, not cutting back on L&D programs now can allow some organizations to reduce future costs like recruitment.
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