No matter the size of an organization, from start-ups to established multi-nationals, employee training and development is one of the most important factors in achieving sustained success. Without a process in place to recruit viable candidates and develop existing employees, companies will find it difficult to scale their business and take on new challenges.
As the people charged with implementing these policies and programs, Learning and Development (L&D) professionals face an ever-shifting array of challenges. Here are just a few of the most common issues they encounter.
Organizations may value the role of employee development (83% of executives rank this as important or very important), but they don’t always have a clear idea of what that development should look like. The sweeping changes resulting from mergers, acquisitions, competition, and fluctuating budgets also put a great deal of pressure on L&D departments to implement programs that are effective and aligned with the actual needs of employees.
Technology is changing so quickly that training materials that were state-of-the-art five years ago are now all but obsolete. As workplaces become more collaborative and rely increasingly upon virtual teams, employees need development programs that can deliver the skills training they need for success. Through extensive research and testing, L&D professionals must identify skill gaps and develop programs capable of adapting to the lightning pace of today’s economy.
Technology has made it easier than ever to deliver quality training materials, but so far, no one has figured out how to create more time for employees to consume them. “A challenge we face as L&D professionals is getting our employees to make time for the training opportunities,” Josh Shannon, Learning Program Manager for Wolverine Worldwide, explains. “With the pace of change and getting work done these days, it seems that learning often falls to the wayside. We should be constantly thinking about ways to integrate our learning into their day-to-day and not make it feel like another ‘to do’ item.”
E-learning tools make it easier to track what training materials employees have engaged with, which has also revealed some of the time-related problems associated with them. High start rates and low completion rates might be an indication that the programs should be broken into smaller sections. On the other hand, some training programs suffer from having too many courses for employees to choose from. When they don’t know where to begin or are intimidated by the number of courses they need to complete, they’re more likely to ignore the offerings altogether.
While training courses are not necessarily meant to be entertaining, they can become a chore to complete when they’re too boring or basic. And when it feels like work to get through them, employees will be less likely to make time for them. Learning and development departments could provide more direct guidance and monitoring, of course, but forcing people to take part in e-learning programs that are neither suited to their needs nor relevant to their current responsibilities can create unintended consequences, such as driving people to leave the organization or become resentful.
Adapting to the Millennial Workforce
It may seem a bit strange that companies are still adapting to millennials in the workforce considering that they make up a third of all workers and most of them have been there for many years. Still, considering that millennials are expected to make up about half of all leadership positions within a decade, organizations need to do more to identify and prepare high-potential millennial candidates to step into leadership roles.
Fortunately, millennials are eager to fill those roles; they consistently rank growth opportunities as one of the top attributes of a job. On the downside, they’re also more likely to leave a company to seek better opportunities. In fact, only about one in ten millennials expect to stay at a job for more than three years. Engaging with them early to develop an individualized training program suited to their needs is essential for any company hoping to capitalize on their ambition.
Hiring New Talent in A Competitive Environment
Hiring new talent is a major challenge as the marketplace becomes increasingly global and virtual. Competition for top candidates is fierce, which has forced many companies to rethink their relationship with both existing and potential employees.
Jessica DeLorenzo, Vice President of Human Resources for Kimball Electronics, sees the hiring and employee development process as a unique partnership:
We are anticipating more challenge and focus related to creating vitality in our talent pipeline. With talent shortages in the countries we operate, we are strengthening our people strategy to make sure we can attract, retain and develop the talent we need in order to execute our business strategy.
We will have to take much more of a design thinking approach to meet the employees where they are in terms of how they live, learn and work. Our work culture should inspire employees to bring the best versions of themselves to work, contribute and make a difference. When we hire you, what we are really saying is “we need you to make us an ever-better company.” We must provide the development and personal growth opportunities to help make this happen.
Much of this work can be done during the hiring process. The traditional, one-on-one interview remains a good opportunity to determine whether or not a candidate is an ideal fit for the the company, but hiring decisions should always be supplemented and informed by tests and assessments. Culture is a key consideration here, as every company has a distinctive culture that defines its values, expectations, and processes. Finding a candidate whose personal values align with that culture makes it more likely that they will remain with the organization for the long term. There will be times, however, when hiring based on culture can be detrimental, so it should never be the sole consideration during recruitment.
Having an effective onboarding process in place is just as important as making a good hire. If the initial training doesn’t set employees up for sustained success, they may struggle to adjust to their new position. This can lead in turn to lower retention rates as people leave the organization out of frustration. Empowering employees by clearly communicating expectations, discussing future development, and providing regular feedback plays a major role in keeping them engaged, productive, and satisfied in their positions.
While L&D professionals face a daunting task, they have consistently found ways to revolutionize the way training is delivered and reimagine what it can accomplish. New technology and innovative approaches to recruitment and development will no doubt help them to meet both the challenges of today and the future.