27 September 2023

Keeping it fresh: How to encourage staff members to upskill

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Riia O’Donnell* says employers need to create personalised, accessible content for workers so they get the upskilling they want without the burnout.

Photo: Silviarita

The average employee is likely familiar with learning and development (L&D).

In fact, a 2018 report from Cerego found that the more learning opportunities employees get, the more they want.

But it’s possible for employees to experience L&D fatigue when bombarded by upskilling initiatives and messaging.

To avoid L&D fatigue, managers need to create content that fits employees’ professional and personal schedules, according to EY America’s Chief Learning Officer, Tal Goldhamer.

“But, most importantly, learning and development programs need to give people real-time upskilling opportunities and results, which they can quickly apply within their short and long-term career journeys,” he said.

Generic, out-of-date, irrelevant material

If the messaging employers use to communicate with workers about learning initiatives is inconsistent or inauthentic, workers may grow tired of hearing about the opportunities they have, according to Julie Hiipakka, VP, learning research leader at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting.

Some communication may be necessary, of course, such as reminders for mandatory compliance coursework.

But this isn’t the case for all messaging, she told HR Dive in an email.

“Workers frequently hear mixed messages from their organisations about development,” Hiipakka said.

“An organisation’s leaders might pay lip-service to the importance of setting development goals, for example, but then those leaders may not actually set those goals, create plans to reach them or conduct check-ins with their team members.”

It’s not just that which introduces learning initiatives that creates fatigue, however.

Traditional classroom training may lend itself to fatigue more than newer methods, according to Docebo CHRO, Francesca Bossi.

“Employees want training to be tailored to them — their needs, their roles, their goals,” she said.

It’s critical that organisations invest in training tools that allow for personalisation if they want to attract top talent.

“When training is seen as just another item on the to-do list, it can drain employees of any interest to partake,” Bossi told HR Dive in an email.

Hiipakka pointed to research Deloitte, her employer, has published over the years that shows high-performing organisations offer development opportunities that are relevant, personalised and recognised as valuable to the organisation’s improvement.

Such organisations, she suggested, recognise learning happens in the workplace and give workers time for this development.

Unfortunately, the reverse is more common, she added.

Organisations push training on workers that is more oriented to what the organisation sees as valuable or that lacks context that would enable employees to see a connection to their work.

This irrelevancy adds to workers’ disconnect, she said: “As humans, we’re naturally going to tune into what we perceive as relevant to us.”

“It’s the irrelevant stuff that’s draining.”

Know what workers need

To improve professional development, leaders must understand what workers need, Hiipakka said.

Organisations that perform well approach L&D from a design thinking standpoint.

They take stock of what workers are doing all day, what they need in order to do their jobs well and what their interests are.

“If we know what our workers need and want to learn, and provide it to them, it’s not going to seem stale, it will seem like we are psychic,” Hiipakka said.

“We can intentionally offer workers what they need — the knowledge, tools, information and access to people they need — when they need it.”

Level up your tech

Some L&D technology can give leadership insight into how employees are performing, where they’re struggling or where they want to improve.

This offers employers meaningful touch points with every worker — regardless of the size of their workforce or HR team.

“AI-powered training tools help organisations shift the perception of training from a mandatory ‘check-the-box’ task to an exciting opportunity to learn new skills and connect with other employees to do so,” Bossi said.

These programs are designed to comprehend individual learners’ patterns and preferences, and tailor training content based on those unique traits, she added.

Tech helps businesses offer customised training based on employee preferences — from learning pace to where and when they want to participate in courses — and suggests content that might best support their development, both formal and informal.

This format may help employers “democratise” training by giving employees the freedom to personalise their learning paths and embrace their creativity in the process, Bossi added.

Still, as organisations adopt learning tech tools, they need to prioritise what matters, Goldhamer wrote in an email to HR Dive.

“As employers transform their learning and development programs to keep up with the pace of change and disruption, the key is to ensure learning is flexible, accessible and easily digestible,” he said.

Success relies on access and flexibility

Training needs to be accessible all the time, available on-demand and compatible with a range of devices, Bossi said.

“These capabilities allow employees to take their development into their own hands, while also allowing leadership and HR to enhance their daily connections with employees,” she said.

“When learning is continuous and personalised, it becomes a valued resource instead of a requirement.”

This accessibility invites flexibility into the L&D equation.

“Part of a flexible work environment includes flexibility for learning, let’s trust people to make the right choices for them,” Hiipakka said.

For instance, some workers may see a holiday break as the perfect time to brush up on their professional development.

Others may want to unplug, she said.

* Riia O’Donnell is a HR professional and contributor to HR Dive.

This article first appeared at www.hrdive.com.

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