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Lessons from a crisis: Why continuous learning is key to emerging from the COVID era successfully

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Posted 18 days ago by By Nigel Heap, Regional Managing Director, Hays

Of course, the pandemic took us all – governments, organisations and individuals – by surprise. However, many of us have now moved from the ‘crisis’ phase of dealing with the pandemic, into a more considered ‘new normal’. As we navigate the bumpy path ahead, it is worth remembering that some of the long term, negative effects of the pandemic may not be unprecedented, and can be mitigated.

Failing to invest in learning will damage your talent pipeline and future growth

For many, the financial crisis of 2008 is within memory – the lessons from then are fresh and still relevant today. The experience of those organisations that emerged resilient, offers today’s leaders examples of actions to take to ensure growth in the long term. It also acts as a good reminder to ensure we don’t repeat any mistakes – such as neglecting to foster a learning culture.

Failure to invest in learning has long-lasting consequences on talent pipelines. In recent years, many of the professional sectors we recruit for have felt the after-effects of a past failure to invest in training and development. Employers that cut back on training during the last recession were – and continue to be – faced with a chronic shortage of skilled workers, and they haven’t always been able to capitalise on opportunities as a result.

In times of great change, upskilling is vital. In order for our organisations to remain future-ready, our workers’ skills must remain relevant and we need to ensure they have the skills to be adaptable and productive. Investing in learning, development and training allows organisations and employees to have the knowledge and skills not just to keep up, but to thrive in a rapidly evolving world of work.

Unfortunately, training fell from many organisations’ list of priorities as leaders worked to resolve the immediate challenges wrought by the pandemic and in some cases, it still hasn’t been put back onto the agenda. It is these businesses that need to take note and take action now. Not only do they risk not being able to shift gears quickly enough when the market returns, but they risk a disengaged workforce and will struggle to attract the talent they need.

Opportunities for learning and development are key priorities for professionals when considering a new job. It’s something most candidates ask about at interview, and that most employers claim to offer their employees. Continuous learning and the opportunity to upskill are no longer the preserve of junior staff, but more experienced professionals will be equally aware of the impact of digital transformation and how rapidly their skill sets need to continue to evolve to keep up with an ever-changing workplace.

So, a shortfall in learning and development has negative consequences for the future availability, attraction and retention of talent, as well as innovation and business growth now. But, what should leaders do to build a positive learning culture within their teams and organisations?

1. Learning can’t just be left to your employees

It is too easy to suggest that continuous learning is solely the responsibility of the individual – but that is only part of the puzzle.

Instead, leaders should look closely at areas of skill shortages within their own organisation and target their team’s development accordingly. Crucially, think ahead: you know where your skills gaps are now, but will they be the same in 12 months or five years? Then, align your learning and development programmes with this bigger picture view.

2. When it comes to training, think flexibly

Furthermore, leaders should look at how they offer training opportunities to their staff. Training doesn’t have to – and in these socially distanced times, shouldn’t – mean spending a whole day in a meeting room. Instead, training should be flexible and virtual. It should be able to fit around how your employees work and be adaptable enough to suit everyone’s individual learning preferences.

With new technology and cloud-based e-learning platforms, such as Hays Thrive, employees can undertake training when and where they want, in a way that suits them best. The appetite is there from professionals, so managers should be thinking about what online training platforms might suit their teams.

3. Promote your own learning journey

It is vital that you ensure these learning opportunities are accessible, visible and – most importantly – encouraged. Too often, employers offer some learning opportunities, but candidates are not made aware of them, and they are not taken up by current staff.

Promote these opportunities to candidates throughout the hiring process. Shout about them within your organisation. Continually stress the importance of upskilling not only to the growth of the business, but for the career progression – and indeed career satisfaction – of individual employees. And here, leaders must lead from the front: remember to be open about your own upskilling journey – show your employees that you take your own learning and development seriously and you’ll inspire your team to do the same.