A Time of Crisis for the UK Learning and Development Industry

A Time of Crisis for the UK Learning and Development Industry
Summary: In this article, part one of my series on saving the UK Learning and Development industry from certain doom, I examine how the L&D industry is struggling to keep up with times and highlight what needs to be done to meet demands and expectations. This is a brutal, no-holds-barred assessment of L&D, taken from my own experiences talking with L&D professionals and research into the state of the industry. Part 2 will establish how – and why – to bring learning and talent training together.

The UK Learning and Development Industry is on Crisis

This is the reality: a terrifying 85% of training roll-outs fail to result in the behavioral change that organizations are aiming for (Brinkerhoff & Apking, 2001).

This fundamental crisis is happening right now for Learning and Development professionals. While they’re quietly confident that their training programs will become more effective year on year (GoodPractice, 2014), senior management does not have the same outlook. As Capita’s 2013 Learning to Change report states:

  • 70% of business leaders said inadequate staff skills is “the biggest threat to their ability to capitalize on economic recovery”
  • 40% raised concerns that half of employees’ skills could “become obsolete”
  • 46% were doubtful of their L&D department’s ability to provide the development needed to move forward and thought that “L&D is failing to deliver the skills needed to fight the recession”.

What a damning reflection of higher-ups’ belief in their L&D departments. Senior management is now becoming more involved and engaged in the future of knowledge-based services (Training Industry Quarterly, Winter 2013), so it’s vital to reach a level of agreement and get them on board with the training plans.

So why do L&D professionals and senior management have such vastly different views of the effectiveness of training programs? It’s certainly great that L&D have the belief that things will improve, but is it unfounded?

As the folks at GoodPractice say: “For L&D to be truly able to meet the learning needs of the business and have a strong impact on corporate performance, CEOs and senior leaders must view the function as a strategic business partner and not another ‘also-ran’ support function [emphasis mine].”

In order for a training program to be effective, everyone in the organization needs to believe in it – otherwise, why should employees make the effort? Your workers aren’t stupid: if the organization’s heart isn’t in it, they’ll pick up on the doubts and take a blasé attitude to their development. “Why should I bother trying?” they ask. “No one believes it will work anyway…”

To tackle this, L&D professionals need to change how they buy and view technology and deliver content, as well as alter the expectations that come from it. And with 82% of businesses increasing their spending on L&D in 2014 (The Dev Co, 2014), now is the time to really get on board with what technology can offer.

Developments in Learning and Development

Over the past few years, there have been some drastic changes in the L&D landscape:

  • With developments in technology, training is being delivered in all sorts of different ways. No longer are the options for L&D either ‘classroom’ or ‘online’. Rather, training can now be delivered on mobiles, in video format and on social media platforms (The Dev Co, 2014).
  • In fact, nowadays most people want to learn via technology (The Dev Co, 2014). Generation Y (now in their 20s) have grown up using technology for almost everything they do, so it makes sense that this is extended to their training, too.
  • Yet despite the developments in technology and the extent to which Gen Y and Generation ‘C’ (the so-called connected generation) utilize technology, some organizations are moving away from online learning and refocusing on face-to-face training (The Dev Co, 2014). This is said to be due to:
    • dissatisfaction with the quality and outcomes of online learning and,
    • the need for social interaction and ‘learning alongside others’

Working together jigsaw

Clearly there is some confusion over the use of technology in learning. It is seen as antisocial and lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead of shying away from technology at the first sign of trouble, organizations need to make the effort to create truly exceptional learning experiences for employees. As we’ll see throughout this series, the only thing standing in the way of online learning being supremely sociable, collaborative and therefore effective, are the beliefs of those people within the organization that create the training.

Managing Expectations

In most organizations there is confusion surrounding the efficacy of the L&D plan. Does it do what it’s supposed to? How effective is the training? Are the right skills being targeted? To counter the confusion and enable the business to embrace its L&D plan, organizations need to set and manage the expectations that surround it: organizations need to focus on creating a culture of learning and align L&D to business objectives.

Climbing ladderSteps to Success

If we are to create an organization full of active learners who are zealous in pushing forward in their own development, we need to establish a culture of learning. We need a culture in which employees are motivated to undertake training, passionate about self-development and understand what’s in it for them.
When learning becomes part of the company culture and is seen as ‘the way we do things around here’, employees and senior management will be more receptive and accepting of the L&D plan. A culture of learning gets employees excited, motivated and engaged with their training. In other words, what is needed is a culture of empowerment ­– employees need to be empowered to take an active role in their own development.

Once this has been established, organizations can fully embrace technology as being central to L&D, and senior management will be reassured of its effectiveness. It will become clear to everyone concerned that organizations which don’t train online will fall behind: and there’s too much at stake to let that happen.

The second point to note is that if L&D make the training specific to the needs of the organization, we can be assured that we are training the correct people in the correct way, in the skills that will benefit the business.

Overarching training programs can be beneficial, but personalized training plans that target specific skills that individual employees need to develop in order to truly improve their productivity will be far more valuable for all involved.


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