May 24, 2024

The Broken Promise of Corporate L&D (+ How to Fix it)

Max Kurton

68% of workers
would stay at their company if it did more to upskill them, yet only 17% of UK businesses strongly agree that their teams are engaged with L&D initiatives.

Corporate L&D often uses a one-size-fits-all approach, failing to meet the unique needs of individual employees and reducing overall engagement.

Gen Z workers
seek self-directed learning and skills that impact their earning potential, but current L&D strategies don’t align with these priorities.

Companies often treat L&D as a box-checking exercise, leading to irrelevant or basic training that doesn't drive business growth.

To succeed, L&D should be flexible, employee-driven, and aligned with specific skills gaps to create a culture of continuous improvement and better employee engagement.

Meet Ruby. 

She’s a software developer, but she really wants to upskill and move into management. 

She has access to an online learning platform at work but isn’t sure which content is relevant to her career goals… plus it all feels pretty basic.

Meanwhile, Ruby is getting pressure from management to complete some courses, so she spends a few hours a month watching training videos - sometimes while doing other tasks. But mostly, it feels like a waste of time.

Too often, this is what corporate learning and development looks like. People teams are wasting their L&D budget on learning platforms that seem great but are actually flooded with user-generated, unvetted video content. There’s probably some valuable content in there somewhere. But where on earth do employees like Ruby start trying to find it? 

If any of this sounds familiar, there’s a good chance your company is being held back by an outdated model of corporate L&D that just isn’t delivering on its promise. This is a concern for people teams, whose job is to ensure the company is getting the absolute best out of its people. 

In this article, we look into the different issues with corporate L&D and consider how people teams can design a program that actually works.

The broken promise of corporate L&D

68% of workers said they’d be more likely to stay at their company if it did more to upskill them. But, at the same time, average corporate L&D engagement is quite low, and only 17% of UK businesses strongly agree that their team is engaged with L&D initiatives. So, what’s causing this gap?

Here’s the main problem with corporate L&D: It lacks nuance. When L&D follows a one-size-fits-all approach, it becomes another KPI for people teams to track, not a solution for employees’ needs. Here’s why corporate and traditional L&D practices are obsolete:

1. One-size-fits-all learning dominates 

People learn in different ways and have unique goals when it comes to their personal development. A software developer has different needs than a marketing manager. But priorities and learning challenges can even vary within functions and job roles. For example, not all first-time managers have the same skill gaps as others. One may struggle to delegate, while another might need to learn how to give actionable feedback.

Regardless, organizations often deploy a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Why? Because it’s simpler. But having skilled employees and well-trained managers is actually key to growth, and it depends on a more flexible approach to learning.

The best L&D strategies hit the sweet spot between supporting employees in reaching their career goals and driving the business forward. For that, managers and employees should be supported in working together to create tailored learning plans where the individual’s progression goals are taken into account alongside the company goals. It also helps when the resources are available in different formats, like courses, books, articles, or videos.

When your people are responsible for crafting and executing their own learning plans, they’re more likely to actually engage with it. That’s why a flexible approach to learning can result in more engagement overall.

2. There’s a mismatch between what employees want and what L&D actually delivers

LinkedIn surveyed 2,000 Gen Zers and 400 L&D professionals to show the gap between what they want and what people teams think they want. A quick summary of the differences:

  • Gen Z needs support to understand the value of soft skills: 62% of Gen Z think hard skills are more important than soft ones, but 61% of L&D professionals think the opposite.
  • They want to learn on their own terms: 43% of Gen Z want fully self-directed and independent learning, but only 20% of companies are offering or planning to offer this learning approach.
  • They expect L&D to impact their earning potential: 59% of younger workers believe learning will give them higher pay or bonuses. But only 33% of L&D pros thought compensation would motivate this group.

As Gen Z enters the workforce, they’re being met with corporate L&D strategies that completely misunderstand their priorities. That means the future generation of our workplaces isn’t being fully engaged or properly supported to grow.

3. Companies see learning as a check-the-box exercise

On average, L&D strategies are 10% less aligned with organization and people priorities now compared to a couple of years ago. This decrease, combined with the mismatch between what people want from L&D and what companies actually offer, reveals the truth: Companies are missing the opportunity to make L&D highly relevant to their people and their businesses.

That’s what happens when L&D is seen as a box-checking exercise. Learning opportunities become fixed, irrelevant, or simply too basic to be any use. Employees aren’t motivated to participate and companies don’t see the ROI of investing in their people—because the training they’re investing in isn’t contributing to tangible improvements in growth, customer acquisition, or any other KPI. 

However, when L&D professionals get more strategic about learning, they can create a culture of continuous improvement, where employees are encouraged to learn in a way that meets their goals and drives results for the organization.

4. L&D strategies aren’t tied to specific skills gaps

Often, organizations are piling money into L&D without seeing any impact on performance or revenue. But why?

That’s because companies rarely understand the specific needs and priorities of the company before making an L&D plan. Done right, learning and development can be a strategic asset to help build the talent you need that will keep you productive, innovative, and competitive long into the future. But without an understanding of how to get there - your L&D strategy can’t hope to deliver on this promise. 

The ideal learning priority should strike a sweet spot between the individual employees’ career goals and the strategic business needs of the company. In all likelihood, the employee already has a good idea of where they want their career to go and how L&D can help them. To find the right balance, it’s important for the people team and employees’ managers to know how their learning can benefit the wider organization as a whole. 

5. There’s too much focus on hard skills

Let’s bring Ruby back for a second. As a software developer, she’s pretty decent at coding and bug testing. These are hard skills; they’re pretty easy to define, quantify, and, perhaps most importantly justify. 

But what Ruby really wants is to be a manager. That’s going to require better communication, feedback, and time management skills. These softer skills are less tangible - but they’re hugely important to the career that Ruby wants to chart. And if she becomes a manager, they’re going to significantly impact how successful she can be in the role. 

Thinking of L&D as an accumulation of certifications is pointless. It might work for some people, but it’s never going to deliver the aspirational learning you need to really take your business forward and develop the careers of the people who power it. 

6. Learning isn’t used to strengthen your EVP

Your employee value proposition (EVP) is everything you offer as part of the experience of working for you, whether that’s perks, bonuses, or other employee engagement programs. Your EVP should answer the question: What’s in it for employees?

According to Gallup, almost half of US employees would switch jobs if they got an offer at a workplace with training opportunities. That means there’s a key opportunity to make learning a driver of the employee experience. Done right, this should help reduce employee turnover and make the business more attractive to new hires. 

Many L&D professionals haven’t realized this opportunity because their L&D programs aren’t delivering real value to their employees. Your L&D offering will strengthen your EVP if you can offer:

  • Diverse learning opportunities to suit different learning preferences
  • High-quality content from vetted learning providers
  • Curated, highly relevant learning pathways that support people’s individual interests and career goals
  • Budget visibility so employees know exactly what’s theirs to spend

The solution: How to enable learning that actually delivers

We’ve seen how a traditional L&D approach can derail the whole purpose of investing in team training and result in people looking for other job opportunities. How can you do it differently at your company? 

Here are five solutions to make your L&D strategy appealing to your employees and activate your talent

1. Offer diverse learning priorities and resources

Give your employees the power to choose when, what, and how to learn. Managers have the responsibility of setting learning paths that are aligned with business goals, but people also need the flexibility to learn in a variety of ways. That way, they can choose the learning approaches and topics that they find most engaging.

A strong L&D program could include any of the following:

  • Resources for a mixture of hard and soft skills
  • On-demand videos, audiobooks, books, articles, and short courses 
  • Social and group learning, like lunch and learns or peer feedback
  • External coaching or mentoring
  • Compliance training and certification

Using a tool like Learnerbly empowers managers and individuals to take ownership of their development and get trained in the way that suits them. And we know this approach works, because our clients have seen over 90% employee activation and 40-60% engagement with Learnerbly.

2. Map learning priorities to specific skills gaps

By matching learning opportunities to skills gaps, you can help your team upskill while supporting bigger business needs. Plus, if your organization has been hit by the current economic climate, you might be finding it harder to hire new people. That’s why many are looking into talent activation practices to train their people to diversify their expertise without increasing the headcount.

To do the same, analyze your people’s current skills and competencies and align learning priorities with employee career goals. Then, it’s a question of supporting managers to provide regular performance feedback. 

AI-powered platforms like Learnerbly streamline this process by matching skills to learning resources, fostering growth, and innovation. With Learnerbly, managers can also recommend learning resources to their team and prioritize resources that are most relevant to their skills gaps. 

3. Build a culture of continuous learning

L&D isn’t a case of getting employees to attend one or two yearly training sessions. It needs to be a constant, iterative process. Learning should just be something you take time out of your work to complete - it should be a mindset that’s integrated into everything you do. 

This means giving people ‘on-the-job’ learning opportunities and embedding a culture that embraces constant, constructive feedback. A crucial part of this is to give employees opportunities to own projects or develop skills outside their function. These experiences will equip people to take on promotions or lateral career moves. 

4. Employee-driven learning

When employees are incentivized to identify their own career goals and set learning priorities, they’re much more likely to actually engage with learning. It’s also important to ensure everyone across the organization has access to the resources they need to succeed.

If you pay for a platform that’s great for a software engineer but doesn’t have enough resources for a marketing manager, you’re favoring one team over the other. It also means your EVP for one department isn’t as strong as the other. It’s important to have a wide range of learning options available and let people identify what’s right for them. 

5. Provide visible learning budgets

People won’t engage with learning resources if they don’t know they’re there. Equally, if L&D resources are available only to those who request them, you end up in a situation where only the most outspoken employees get L&D support. Apart from being unfair, it also makes it difficult for your L&D program to deliver on its goals.

On the flip side, if you’re transparent about learning budgets, engagement will increase. People may also make more considered decisions about which resources to request, resulting in more relevant learning.

By far the best way to do this is to use individual and team stipends wherever possible. By giving employees or teams their own budget to spend, you put them in the driving seat of their own learning. Then, learners and managers can work together to identify the best use of the allocated resources. 

Turning L&D into a program people actually use

Just like Ruby, your people might feel that corporate training has no real value to them or their jobs. This can quickly become a shared belief at your company. 

But here’s the truth: your employees want to learn new skills. If they’re not engaging with your L&D program, it’s the program that’s the problem - not them. The tips and best practices we outline in this blog are designed to make it as easy as possible for people like Ruby to learn in a way that works for her and the wider company. And isn’t that, ultimately, what we’re all here for?

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