Optimising learning through periods of change – insights from Gallup research

Artwork of mobile phone and network of people

How to navigate changing workforce needs at a time of rapid technological disruption across many industries. That is the focus of the fourth and latest issue of the management consultancy company Gallup’s digital publication The Real Future of Work.

Called Disruption, this issue discusses how and why employers and employees need to optimize training opportunities against a backdrop of huge change and technological disruption.

Drawing on the findings of several of its recent surveys of employed adults in the UK, France, Germany and Spain, Gallup asks several key questions in the introduction to the issue:

  • Do you know how to manage disruptive change with minimal turbulence?
  • Who should be responsible for initiating learning opportunities and providing high-impact educational resources?
  • Should employees be anxious or optimistic about tech advances and AI?

While The Real Future of Work’s target audience is primarily business leaders, these are questions that are highly relevant to L&D and HR professionals, at all levels.

Gallup’s research tells us that most employees in the UK, Germany and Spain participated in some forms of skills training in 2018, which is good news. However, participating in training does not necessarily mean that employees feel that their company is supporting them in developing skills that are needed. Less than a third (27%) of UK employees strongly agree that their company helps them to broaden their skill set to make use of new digital technologies, but that is a more positive statistic than the other participating countries – in Germany it was 20%, Spain 21% and France 22%.

Digital skills

Yet, there is no escaping the fact that the future is digital and to succeed in the future, organisations and individuals need digital skills. A lot of organisations are aware of the need to upskill and reskill their workforce and some are already doing it but some are just talking about it or tinkering about at the edges.

This takes us on to the second question posed by Gallup in its Disruption issue: Who should be responsible for initiating learning opportunities and providing high-impact educational resources? The vast majority (81%) of the employees involved in the Gallup research who have not received any recent training thought training should be initiated by their employer.

So, who is initiating training? Of the employees who had taken part in training in 2018 in the four participating countries, 65% of them said their organisation initiated it, with most of them saying that it was their organisation as a whole, or the HR department, that instigated it, rather than their direct manager. Just over a third (35%) initiated the training themselves. While organisations should be instigating training, 35% is a pretty healthy number of employees who are being proactive about their learning needs.

When employees were asked what prevented them from participating in training at their organisations, the results were:

  • 25% said that their organisation does not offer educational programmes
  • 18% cited a lack of time
  • 11% said the organisation hasn’t provided clear guidance about future needs
  • 10% said training wasn’t relevant to them
  • 9% cited a lack of interest

Given the importance of learning new skills in order to remain competitive, employers, L&D, HR and employees all need to think about how best to develop skills. Employers, L&D and HR need to create the right environment to allow skills development and learning to flourish. Employees need to know what learning opportunities are available to them, how to access them and how training will help them meet their own and the organisation’s future needs. And they need to be given the time to learn what they need to learn.

Employees take control

By creating the right environment, organisations also help employees to take control of their own learning. Yes, organisations need to offer great learning interventions and ensure their workforce is future-ready, but employees shouldn’t leave it all up to their employees. And savvy employees know this and are taking learning into their own hands, seeking out learning opportunities both in and outside of work.

Diversity and inclusion: why learning is the hidden key to success, a recent whitepaper by the Open University in conjunction with the L&D publication TrainingZone, looked at how and why individuals with diverse backgrounds are using digital learning to get ahead. Citing stats from research by the analytics organisation Towards Maturity, it says that:

  • 80% valued digital learning as it provided an opportunity to further their career, with 57% wanting learning to contribute to a professional qualification
  • 89% were downloading apps either for education or to improve productivity, with over 50% doing it to improve their professionalism
  • 47% were addressing the time barriers to learning by learning at weekends and evenings, with 57% investing their own money to supplement their training in work-related skills
  • 69% were motivated by technologies that allowed them to network and connect with each other