Dedicated Learning Time is Vital for a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

In the Deloitte report “Voice of the workforce in Switzerland“, a survey of 15.000 people in Europe of which 1000 in Switzerland, stated that they don’t have dedicated time for learning. How can we change this?

The Challenge

To create dedicated time for learning, there needs to be a significant driver to make the C-Suite allocate one of their most valuable resources, employee time, to this cause. Because the impact of learning is difficult to quantify, it is challenging to build a typical business case. When comparing to process -, tool -, and incentive optimisation and their measurable impact, learning still has a long way to go to be able to deliver similar bottom-line results. The question then becomes, what could some of those significant drivers for the C-Suite be for them to create dedicated time for learning?

  1. Skills for enabling (future) business strategies not (widely) available on the market
  2. An ageing workforce causes a significant workforce refresh
  3. Employees taking ownership in securing their employability

The Agitation

The fast pace of change driving by digitalisation, globalisation, information transparency force companies to become more agile to stay ahead of their competitors and live up to customer demand. The ageing workforce, disappearing middle-management layers, along with changing and unpredictable changes in future skill requirements, disrupt the traditional linear career development model. These elements all mixed makes it for employees challenging to grasp how they will secure their employability. Employees want to learn, but they are given more tasks and less direction as a result of organisations trying to maintain their status quo and push for more productivity. 

The Solution

Transforming the L&D approach

Learning has become a top priority for the C-Suite (Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2019) and rightfully so. It’s evident that with the ageing population and fast-changing skill requirements, only recruiting skills is not going to be sufficient to enable future strategies. 

The C-Suite wants to know and be able to address:

  • What skills do we have today?
  • What skills do we need for our strategy?
  • How we get there?
  • What does it cost?
  • How long does it take?

A measurable and disruptive approach to internal skill development is required. Measurable against business KPI’s and strategies; disruptive in the way the organisation is developing its skills. Traditional methods where L&D is the single point of skill enablement and distribution will turn into a bottleneck. Platform-based and ecosystem approaches to L&D is what the future needs. This transformation is something that L&D can and should be driving in your organisation.

Offboarding, Recruitment, Onboarding

An ageing workforce means that experience and knowledge will be leaving your company. The increasing rates at which this will happen in the next years create a need for a structured approach to retaining this precious asset. At the same time, your company will flood the market with potential ambassadors that will recommend your company.

As a priority, look at how you can harness the knowledge and experience of retiring or departing employees. Some of the ways that I experienced as being effective were to task these employees by creating optimisation or innovation projects. Their longterm experience can help support you drive efficiency, effectiveness and potential new sales channels.

Secondly, you want to hire people with the right mindset. The skills can be learned from the retiring employees similar in the way as with vocational training. During the onboarding time (typically the probation period), you put them under the guidance of a senior employee who acts as a coach and gives them a second contact as their mentor. This way, the new employee gets exposed to plenty of experience and can tap into the informal networks of the senior employees.

Finally, you want to create a super off-boarding experience for employees leaving your firm. They are all future ambassadors of your company, so ensure that they are ambassadors that convince people to join your company.

Bottom-Up or Union Action

As employees are given the responsibility to ensure their employability, you also need to empower and enable them. Quite often, empowering is done but the enablement (time and resource allocation for example) is not due to conflicting business drivers. In this case, employees need to unite amongst themselves or through unions to become enabled with time and resources. This substantially helps prioritise learning at the C-Suite level.

Employees need to unite and create a single, loud voice towards the leadership demanding to be enabled to secure their employability. Unions can play a supporting or leading role in this. This bottom-up movement needs to be, from my perspective, aligned with business strategy for a simple reason: both employees and the C-Suite want to achieve the same thing, they are just calling it differently.

Employees want to secure employability so that they can find a job after their current job becomes potentially redundant. The C-Suite wants to have the right skills at the right place for successfully executing the strategy and have a competitive advantage. Both can be achieved, but as mentioned before, due to the fast-changing environment, we need to use disruptive new approaches to satisfy both parties.

What is your experience?

  • What is the learning situation like in your company? 
  • Do your employees have dedicated time to learn? 
  • What challenges or advantages do you see having it like that?

Do share your thoughts, opinions, and ideas on how to tackle this issue with me in the comments section below. I look forward to the discussion.