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Employee Training and Development Is the Biggest HR Focus Area in 2019

Topics: Growth, Retention

In our newest Compensation Best Practices Report (CBPR) survey, we found that the biggest area HR professionals plan to invest in is employee training and development.

As a part of our most recent CBPR survey fielded in December 2018, we asked respondents: “What aspects of HR do you think will be your biggest investment in 2019?”

Twenty-three percent of respondents (a mix of HR leaders, compensation professionals and business leaders) indicated training and development as their biggest investment area. This answer choice garnered far more responses than the next two areas of HR — recruiting and compensation changes. (Fifteen percent of respondents said that recruiting is their top focus and 15 percent said compensation changes is their top focus).

Since training and development is top focus area for many of our readers, we decided to explore why training and L&D has become an increasing priority for modern organizations and the challenges associated with training and learning. We’ve also taken a look at what various companies have implemented to understand the key principles behind successful employee training and L&D initiatives.

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Note: our 2019 Compensation Best Practices Report (CBPR) will be released in early February. You can check out the 2018 edition of the CBPR on our website.

What’s Driving the Need to Invest in Training and Development?


Photo by Steven Lelham on Unsplash

Businesses want to shore up their training and L&D initiatives for three main reasons: to ensure that employees have the skills needed do the jobs today, to ensure that employees have the capabilities to support future business growth and to keep talented employees on board.

Managing a business has become increasingly complex in today’s global economy. As more industries become digitized and tasks become automated, the kinds of skills companies require are shifting, with profound implications for how individuals will approach their career paths. By 2030, according to the a recent McKinsey Global Institute report, Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation, as many as 375 million workers—or roughly 14 percent of the global workforce—may need to switch occupational categories. Many companies are facing a shortage of talent.

Additionally, modern businesses require workers who are adept at a variety of things. While technical skills and competencies are required, employees increasingly need to tap into soft skills like critical thinking, creativity and complex problem-solving to navigate through unforeseen challenges.

LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace and Learning Report highlights that “the short shelf life of skills and a tightening labor market are giving rise to a multitude of skill gaps.” Their research also found that talent developers, executives and people managers agree that training for soft skills is the top priority for talent development teams.

Meanwhile, employees themselves place a high priority on learning. According to the same report from Linkedin, 94 percent of employees would stay longer at a company if it invested in their career, and 87 percent of millennials say that development is important in a job.

What’s Getting in the Way of Learning?

Getting employees to learn is not as simple as creating materials and delivering the content. The No. 1 challenge for talent developers is getting employees to make time for learning. In other words, employees feel like they don’t have the time to learn.

There are some nuances behind this idea that employees “don’t have time to learn.” The truth is, there’s often a disconnect between the way training is delivered versus the way employees want to learn.

LinkedIn’s research found that 68 percent of employees prefer to learn at work; 58 percent prefer to learn at their own pace, and 49 percent prefer to learn at the point of need.

According to Brianna O’Hara, Content & Creative Manager at BizLibrary, a leading provider of employee learning solutions, “many companies are still relying on dated, long-form training content that’s subpar to the standards of today’s workforce.”

“Content for training and L&D is best served in a micro format that allows the learner to focus on a few key takeaways and then apply them quickly. It’s also important to deliver training in the learner-preferred format. Learners will be resistant to training if it’s irrelevant to their roles or responsibilities, if it’s outdated, if it’s not in a style they prefer, or the cons outweigh the pros of taking said training,” says Brianna.

For more details about the modern learner and why they “don’t have time” for training, check out this article.

How to Encourage Self-Directed Learning


To encourage self-directed, self-paced learning, give your employees access to a workplace learning platform.

Udemy for Business is one example of a workplace learning platform that encourages employees to learn on their own time and follow their own interests. Udemy for Business positions itself as “the destination for workplace learning.” Employees can tap into over 3,000 courses on key topics including development, HR, management, Marketing, IT and software, finance and accounting and design, all developed by credible, subject-matter experts.

The advantage of these workplace learning platforms is that learning could be made as accessible and standard as providing health insurance to employees. Employees can access off-the-shelf content. Training teams can build their own materials in a customized way and gain valuable insights into employees’ engagement with online courses and learning patterns. These platforms also help the talent organization extend the responsibility of L&D to managers, giving managers the ability to assign and manage courses.

So what’s the key to getting employees to engage with courses and actually learn? According to Susan Hollingshead, Chief People Officer at Vendini, learning must be integrated into the flow of work. She recommends these best practices:

  • Make it a part of new-hire orientation. At Vendini, new hires are given access to the learning platform and encouraged to browse any content they may be interested in.
  • Extend L&D responsibility to people managers. Recommendations coming from direct managers make learning more personalized and geared towards the needs of team members. According to Susan, after giving their managers the ability to assign and manage courses on Udemy, she saw a 125 percent increase in the number of active learners on Udemy.
  • Use online learning to compliment in-person L&D programs

For more creative L&D strategies leveraged by all sorts of companies, check out this guide put together by Udemy for Business.

BizLibrary is another leading provider of employee learning solutions. Training content solutions and learning platforms like Bizlibrary can help overcome objections to training by meeting the needs of the modern workforce. These needs can range from the length of the training, to the production quality of content, to being user friendly, online and available on mobile.

Key Principles Behind Successful Learning and Development Programs

The most important thing to keep in mind is to ensure that your programs are relevant to your organization.

According to Brianna, “Training and L&D programs should be unique to the organization they serve. You need to ensure that your training and L&D programs align with the organization’s objectives. This will ensure leadership buy-in and allow you to more easily prove ROI. Additionally, you’ll need to set well-defined goals for the program, and communicate the benefits and purpose of the program clearly.”

For more details on the elements of a successful program, check out this article from BizLibrary.

With that said, here are some ideas on how organizations can help their employees get the most of every training and learning opportunity:

  1. Give people stretch roles/assignments. Empower employees to make decisions.
  2. Cross train employees. Promote from within.
  3. Provide employees with support on their own terms. Some of these companies have given their employees access to a career coach. Employees initiate sessions with a coach, and the coach helps assess where a person is and where they want to be. Then, a coach guides each person through a strategy to reach their goals.
  4. Let employees know that you are invested in their long-term development. Provide required training and optional training for different disciplines. Encourage employees to follow their curiosity.
  5. Expose employees to outside thinkers. Whether it’s through access to online learning destinations like Udemy, bringing industry leaders to your company for fireside chats or setting aside budget for employees to attend industry conferences, employees can gain fresh perspectives and innovate ideas from exposure to outsiders.
  6. Tap into your employee base to discover hidden talents. Ask them to teach one another.
  7. Involve managers. Ask them to share responsibility with employees to create individual development plans for their direct reports.
  8. Use technology that employees already like to use. For example, training employees on social media platforms they’re already active on (e.g. YouTube for training videos, Facebook or Slack for a Q&A forum).

If you’d like more inspiration, Culture Amp has put together some examples of what companies have implemented for their employees.

Learning Doesn’t Happen Until Employees’ Basic Needs Are Met

As you find new ways to help your employees acquire new skills and develop laterally, it’s important to make sure that your compensation plan is set up in a way that supports your goals.

First, check to see that your base comp plan is equitable and competitive. The perception of fairness is critical to employee engagement at work. If your employees think that they aren’t paid adequately or fairly, they won’t be eager to learn or improve their performance. Before you implement additional employee development programs, determine if it’s your compensation plan that needs immediate attention.

Additionally, think through how your comp plan could incentivize development. Are you making pay increase decisions for employees based on their acquisition of new skills? Or do your job descriptions and comp plans emphasize years of experience and seniority? If it’s the latter, you may consider how you might pay for skills and competencies instead of tenure.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you looking to increase your investment in training and employee development this year? What specific actions are you planning and how are these aligned with your goals? Share with us below or on Twitter.

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Sandra Patterson
Sandra Patterson

I really like the idea of being able to access a career coach through their work. My sister has been thinking about looking for a new job, but he has been wanting to have a good way to feel confident in whatever she does. I am sure that if she found a job that gave good training, then she would be able to tackle whatever was thrown at her.

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