Learning and development post-coronavirus

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Pre-COVID – the need for digitalisation

Our survey revealed that 40% of respondents spent the most time on the learning and development of their employees. The results also revealed that after managing employee wellbeing, their training and development was the next biggest challenge.

Fifty-five per cent also agreed that in order to devote more time to employees’ training and development, the HR function would need to experience some form of digital transformation.

In recent years, the generational changes in the workforce have forced many HR departments to realign their priorities to meet the expectations of prospective employees entering the job market.

Are millennials obsessed with self-development?

A study conducted by Oliver Wyman, Mercer and Orange, showed that as many as 65% of members of the Generation Y cohort, also known as millennials, were choosing roles based on personal development opportunities. 

Evidently, employee learning and development was already a priority and significant challenge for HR professionals; however, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the need for digital transformation and encouraged HR teams to explore new and more innovative procedures.

Post-COVID – learning and development: a national problem 

Government initiatives

Within the context of coronavirus, learning and development has become a national issue. 

Since the virus forced the vast majority of people into lockdown in mid-March, hundreds of thousands of people have lost jobs and left facing uncertain futures. 

The situation has been a concerning one and has led to the UK government pumping vast amounts of money into various schemes designed either to preserve jobs or to retrain and upskill people facing long-term unemployment.

There will be a huge shuffling of the pack in the global workforce. Certain roles will die out and, as a result, millions of people will be left unemployed without any natural career to go into.” 

Ben Chatfield, CEO at Tempo

One such scheme is the Kickstart Scheme. 

This £2 billion initiative launched at the beginning of September designed to create hundreds of thousands of high-quality six-month jobs for young people aged 16–24 at risk of long-term unemployment.

Employers have also benefited, with money made available by the Government being used to cover 100% of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for 25 hours a week, as well as the associated employer National Insurance contributions (NICs) and minimum employer pension contributions.

The Kickstart Scheme differs from preexisting schemes, such as the Apprenticeship Levy. Companies are required to create new roles that weren’t in place before the pandemic and have to prove that the jobs are of good quality, that there are progression opportunities and, crucially, that the jobs wouldn’t have existed without the introduction of the Kickstart Scheme. 

Everything you need to know about the Kickstart Scheme

We take a look at the Kickstart Scheme and explain what the advantages are for employers. 

Schemes such as the Kickstart Scheme will help to retrain young people and prepare them for the future. This sort of project can provide the foundations for successful retraining and allow people to develop new skills that they may not have done so otherwise.

Ben Chatfield, CEO at Tempo

Delivering employee learning and development

Historically, employee learning and development has been delivered in two different ways: regulated or classroom-based learning and social learning.

Regulated learning

In classroom-based learning, employees follow a specific learning and development plan or are taught skills relevant to their roles. 

Since the coronavirus outbreak, and with widespread remote work implemented, delivering this has become more complicated. However, many organisations have looked to mitigate this problem by providing access to online seminars and sessions. 

Even before coronavirus, there was evidence to suggest that learning and development was becoming increasingly digitised as organisations looked to invest in more modern learning technologies

This was reflected in the results of our original survey; 55% of HR managers indicated that the growing digital transformation of HR functions allowed them to devote more time to employee development.

Interest in eLearning also increased according to a study conducted by the Open University

With the pandemic leaving people uncertain about the future, many decided to enrol in courses that might boost their prospects of long-term employment.

Did you know?

Twenty-four per cent of employees have taken on additional learning opportunities to boost their employability. Source: Open University, 2020

This trend has been particularly noticeable among younger employees keen to avoid seeing their skills become outdated in the future. Over a third even suggested that they would be happy to put their own money towards development opportunities that would improve their employability.

The study also revealed that almost a quarter of employees said they wanted more direction from their employers when it came to learning new skills. And 38% of more recent employees indicated that they would be keen to receive advice from management and leadership teams on how to stay employable post-pandemic. 

Social learning

Social or osmosis learning refers to learning on the job and is entirely dependent on people being able to work and operate in the same physical space. Unfortunately, the pandemic sadly put a stop to this.

“So much of learning and development is based around what occurs in the office and observing from the actions and behaviours of colleagues. This is now not possible under these conditions and there is, without doubt, a lot of knowledge and expertise that is being lost.

Ben Chatfield, CEO at Tempo

Since organisations were forced to move work out of offices, teams have tended to become more insular and communication and collaboration between them has suffered as a result. 

This is an inevitable consequence of remote working. Without the spontaneous interactions of office life – the quick chats when walking past someone in the office or an unscheduled meet by the coffee machine – contact between different team members has been lost. 

Remote working has also widened the gap between junior and senior employees. While their paths might have crossed on rare occasions in the office, occupying the same physical space enabled mutual observation and was beneficial to all parties. Remote work has made this contact even less frequent, and the opportunity for collaboration between junior and senior colleagues has become a real issue for many organisations.

The result of this is that a significant amount of knowledge and expertise is being lost and, as has often been the case throughout this pandemic, young and more inexperienced employees are the ones being most affected. 

Without access to guidance and advice in the workplace, there is a risk that they will be left unprepared to deal with many aspects of professional life. 

However, to counteract the knowledge gap and avert loss of expertise, many organisations have implemented strategies to enable virtual social learning, for example:

  • collaborative discussions: usually involving four people or fewer. These have been designed as a forum for people to share ideas and opinions, as well as gain insights into different aspects of a business; 
  • “office hours” schemes: short sessions, in which senior management, or more experienced workers, hold informal meetings and discussions with junior team members to discuss projects and personal development. 

While these strategies may not replace workplace-based learning, they do enable information to be disseminated and allow for the gap between junior and senior employees to be better managed.

A free tool to strengthen your team’s relationships

At PayFit, we’ve added the Donut app to our Slack to connect team members randomly every week.

Donut introduces people who don’t know each other well via direct messages and encourages them to meet for a virtual conversation.

“By implementing Donut, we aim to foster better team spirit and engagement, boost employee working relationships and generate conversations between team members who would otherwise not meet due to remote working conditions.

“On a broader level, our aim at PayFit is to develop and retain our talent. Donut is a good way to connect with colleagues and learn a bit more about other people’s roles, and perhaps even discover new and exciting internal opportunities.” 

Sophie Matthews, People Manager at PayFit UK

Employee learning and development in the future

The schemes introduced by the Government reflect the general concern about employment opportunities in the future. 

This anxiety has transferred itself to people already in jobs but conscious that a post-coronavirus world might require new skills to ensure the prospect of long-term employment.

In response, many businesses have already introduced, or are in the process of planning to provide, individual learning and development budgets so that employees can upskill or add new skills to their repertoire. 

While these budgets may be limited, they do help to reassure employees that their employers are looking to invest in them and their future development. 

However, the jury remains out on whether this is a feasible and sustainable solution. 

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PayFit blog author


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