5 Ways to Promote Employee Learning

An office with independent workers sitting at a workstation.

An overwhelming number of employers cite the skills gap as their most pressing hiring challenge. Monster’s Future of Work survey found that 80 percent of hiring managers believe a lack of skilled workers has made it difficult to fill critical openings. What do you do when you can’t find job applicants with the skills you need? You hire for potential and ramp up your employee learning efforts.

Since today’s job seekers value employee development, even above salary, when considering an offer, today’s employers need to be prepared to invest in learning and development opportunities. Using a variety of the five training and development strategies below, you can improve retention and help your workforce acquire the skills they need to grow your business.

Employee Learning: Getting Started

Your training initiative should begin with a skills gap assessment to determine which skills your workforce currently has and which you’re missing. Here’s how to do it:

  • Step 1: Survey your workforce: Since job candidates tend to highlight only the skills that pertain to their current role during the application process, the skills you’re seeking may be hidden within your current staff.
  • Step 2: Determine what skills you’re missing: Take note of the skills that are in short supply among your current employees. If you’re unsure which skills you need, you can consult with experts from professional associations or hire an outside recruiter with experience in your field.
  • Step 3: Create a plan to address skills gaps: Build on the skills your employees already have and address those that are absent. Create a strategy that includes a mix of employee training and development opportunities that will suit all workers.

What to Prioritize

It seems simple to prioritize the skills that are standing between you and your profit potential, but that might cost you more in the long run. Your employee learning program should prioritize the following, in this order:

  • Compliance and safety training: Failing to address these areas first can cost you thousands—or even millions—in government fines or legal liability. Neglecting safety training can tarnish your reputation as an employer and business, and even lead to easily avoidable tragedies.
  • Costly skills gaps: Next, address staff development training for the skills you need to optimize efficiency and maximize profits, those that are in the shortest supply among your workforce, and those that you are spending the most money to outsource.
  • Competitive skills: Developing the most highly valued skills in your industry internally can save you money in recruiting costs, increase your chances of becoming an innovator in your sector, and make your business the envy of your competitors.
  • Skills needed for succession: Make sure your employees have the skills and knowledge needed to jump into roles one level above their current status should those positions be left vacant by unforeseen circumstances. Not only will this make your workplace more stable, but it will also show your workforce that you have a vested interest in their future and increase retention and loyalty.

Once you’ve determined your priorities for employee learning, you will likely need to use a mix of approaches and benefits to optimize the potential of your current workforce.

1. Self-directed Learning

From onboarding to skills acquisition to government-recognized certification courses, many employee training and development options that once needed to be in-person and instructor-led can now be offered through online self-directed modules that your employees can make their way through at their own pace. They can backtrack to review sections and take self-assessments along the way.

Self-directed learning modules and materials can be found for free at sites like edX, one of many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that make it possible for employees to access thousands of online classes for free, including courses taught at the university level, often using the same syllabus, readings, and lesson plans.

You can also contract with an HR training platform that provides employee learning modules on topics like cybersecurity and sexual harassment.

2. Instructor-led Learning

Small session instructor-led employee training sessions can be held in-person or remotely. These can be led by internal supervisors and experts or by specialized trainers that you bring on-site. An added benefit to holding small group onsite employee learning sessions is that they can help to promote teambuilding, forge cross-team relationships, and increase employee morale.

3. Knowledge Sharing

Once you undertake a skills gap assessment, you’re likely to learn that you have a greater range of expertise within your workforce than you thought. Leverage it with internal knowledge sharing across departments and levels of seniority.

One way to do this is by sponsoring a formalized mentoring program, pairing new employees with senior ones, and entry-level hires with managers. You can also foster cross-team and cross-departmental learning by sponsoring lunch-and-learns or having entry-level employees spend time rotating through various departments.

4. Sponsored Learning

Unlike required training, sponsored staff training and development opportunities are offered to employees who want to take advantage of them. Some of your employees will jump at the chance to continue their education and attain higher levels of proficiency in their field with the help of tuition assistance programs.

You can also offer first-come first-serve signups to take a course or seminar provided by a professional association or local community college or a fund that allows each employee up to a certain amount of money for certification courses through a platform like Coursera.

5. Outside Expertise

Consider investing in outside experts to help train and develop employees in areas closely aligned to your core mission, such as sales, customer service, or efficient design. You can also bring in outside experts to help your workers acquire a range of life skills. Investing in sessions from a life coach, financial advisor, or career counselor can help your employees learn valuable skills that allow them to be their most professional version of themselves.

You may need to invest in new platforms, increased benefits, and outside training, but in the long run, being seen as an employer who invests in employee development will pay off in higher retention and increased efficiency, innovation, and profits.

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