UK learning and development
Training & Learning

A Comprehensive Guide to Learning and Development in the UK

The Great Resignation is as much about employees demanding better learning and development as it is about saying no to toxic workplaces. According to Work Institute’s 2020 Retention Report, a lack of career development opportunities — often a significant result of an absence of learning and development — is the main reason employees are leaving their jobs. In the UK, 7 out of 10 employees feel confident about moving to a new job in the coming months.

There's no easy way to drive better engagement through learning and development, but the mass exodus has given employers a starting point by identifying the problem of a perceived lack of development opportunities. Organisations that acknowledge and take the time to act on this problem by focusing on development needs are likely to attract and retain talent.

Learning and development, commonly referred to as L&D, is the process of upskilling an employee through training courses, development programmes, eLearning, and personal growth opportunities. They are the learning interventions that drive an employee’s career development.

In this article, we’ll explore what learning and development is, explain the benefits of learning and development, run through some key L&D challenges, and show you how to create a successful L&D strategy that benefits your employees and your business.

But before you start planning, be sure to check out the findings from our employee survey on what learners really want. Download the ebook below.

employee engagement survey

We surveyed 600 learners. This is what they said.

What is learning and development?

Learning and development is a term that encompasses everything a company does to foster its employees’ career growth, from skill acquisition to interpersonal savvy. Historically, many organisations have conceived of L&D as formal training courses employees complete during working hours. Today, learning and development also takes place through the blog posts learners read after hours, the advisory committees they join, and the knowledge and expertise they volunteer to share with peers.

Learning and development is not just great for employee growth; it contributes to business success as well.

Benefits of workplace learning and development

Learning and development is the best way to attract new talent and retain your existing employees by providing them with continuous opportunities for professional development. When done right, L&D can also help you boost employee engagement and job satisfaction, develop leaders within your company, promote a values-based culture, and control hiring and onboarding expenses.

1. Attract and retain talent

According to LinkedIn Learning’s 5th Annual Workplace Learning report, 76% of Gen Z employees globally view learning as the best way to be successful in their careers. Gen X and millennials aren’t far behind, with 61% and 56% respectively citing learning as instrumental in career growth.

Companies that provide great learning and development opportunities are, then, more likely to attract and retain talent than companies that don’t. When employees learn new skills and discover new opportunities in their workplace, they feel the company is interested in helping them grow and are motivated to stay.

Besides, hiring new employees is expensive both in terms of time and money. According to Oxford Economics, it costs £30K to replace an employee, while it takes 28 weeks for a new employee to reach optimum productivity. Learning and development programmes can help save precious resources by catering to employee development and lowering turnover.

The key to Gen Z's heart is career growth

Image source

2. Address specific skill gaps

When employees don’t receive necessary or relevant training, this can create skill gaps. It can frustrate and demotivate employees who aren’t able to excel at their jobs. That’s where learning and development interventions can fill these gaps.

A training needs analysis—where L&D assesses current performance and business objectives to determine which courses they need to prioritise—helps identify and address specific skill gaps.

For example, a product manager who’s transitioned into a sales role would benefit from training in prospecting and active listening to be successful in her new position. L&D can address this specific need with a tailored course to help develop these skills. They can then reuse the course when another employee makes a similar transition in the future.

3. Develop leaders within your company

Learning and development programmes can support employees as they move into managerial and leadership positions. Advancing the careers of existing employees—who are familiar with your business objectives and invested in your company’s success—can be more beneficial than searching for new, external candidates.

Especially in current work environments with flat structures and increased collaboration, interpersonal and mentoring skills are crucial for future leaders. Help them improve the necessary mix of technical and interpersonal skills with L&D opportunities.

4. Increase employee satisfaction

Research shows learning and development programmes that reskill employees significantly improve employee satisfaction.

Effect of organizations' reskilling programs on given key performance indicator, % of respondents

Especially in a turbulent work environment characterised by swift and sudden changes, reskilling employees is critical because they need skills to adapt to automation and new technology. When people feel confident in their ability to navigate changes, it gives them a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in their work.

5. Reinforce organisational values

L&D isn’t just about developing the core skills people need to excel in their roles–training programmes can be curated to offer content that supports company values and culture.

For example, if an organisation values teamwork, humility, and having a growth mindset, it can create content on specific codes of conduct that show employees how they can embody those values in the workplace.

This is an often-ignored area of L&D but one with great potential. In a survey of nearly 100 HR professionals, a majority of respondents said that less than 40% of employees could recite the core values of their companies. If employees don’t even know their company’s core values, they can’t apply them, and it negatively impacts employee experience.

6. Give your business a competitive advantage

The businesses that focused on maximising human potential as a strategic priority made it to Fortune’s list of 100 hottest workplaces. Your employees are the biggest drivers of organisational success. When well-equipped to do their jobs, they can solve problems and innovate more quickly. Both give businesses a competitive advantage.

A learning organisation that focuses on continuous development is the key that unlocks this possibility.

Key challenges in learning and development

Learning and development experiences aren’t that simple to create and implement. 9 out of 10 UK employers are struggling to recruit people with the skills they need. The lingering pandemic has added to the challenges—low morale, the challenges of remote work, high employee turnover, increased anxiety, and outdated skills.

1. Low employee morale

Imagine trying to learn a new skill when you feel pessimistic and anxious. When employee morale is low, it’s hard for even the most engaging and relevant learning programmes to make an impact.

Unfortunately, 6 in 10 Britons are finding it hard to stay positive in the face of the pandemic. In another study of 2,132 UK employees, 26% reported feeling like they were struggling to cope, and a large number feel they have to put on a brave face at work by embracing “pleasanteeism,” even when they don’t feel mentally well.

2. Shift to remote work

In a survey of 1,000 L&D leaders in the UK, 33% said that moving from in-person to online training is the single biggest challenge in training employees.

The sudden and sweeping shift to remote work meant that training had to be quickly digitised. But it’s not realistic—or impactful—to simply convert two days of in-person training to two days of learning on Zoom.

3. Worries about health and safety

It’s hard for employees to get the most out of learning programmes when they’re constantly worried about their own and their family’s health and safety.

Some employers were adopting hybrid work and asked employees to return to the office for a part of their workweek when it briefly seemed like the pandemic had abated. With new COVID-19 variants, however, a key challenge is to assuage concerns about employee health and safety, especially for working parents and those with elders and immunocompromised members at home.

4. Too many job vacancies

When employee attrition is high, L&D managers find it hard to develop training programmes. With every new hire, they must start training all over again. Plus, it becomes harder to assess skill gaps and create core competencies when employees are exiting faster than you can hire. In the UK, the number of open jobs surpassed a record million in August 2021 and continued to rise in the following months.

5. New skills quickly become inapt

In a fast-paced environment where business transformations take place quicker than we can keep track, current skills may not be relevant in just a few months. Therefore, creating relevant course content is an ongoing challenge.

Besides, a remote and distributed workforce needs more than just technical skills. As collaboration and communication assume greater importance, employees need social and emotional skills to work effectively with distributed team members. Thus, L&D leaders need to expand their programmes to include training on these critical skills.

How to create a successful L&D strategy

Reskilling employees through learning initiatives would translate into a high return on investment (ROI) for about 75% of UK employers. This means that a robust L&D strategy can help businesses overcome at least some of the challenges we mentioned above.

1. Start with high-impact onboarding

Onboarding is the perfect starting point to introduce your new hires to your learning and development initiatives—and make a great first impression. Whether it’s training on company values and tools or connecting with other new hires, onboarding makes new employees feel connected and supported.

Plus, research shows that onboarding experience has a direct impact on productivity, engagement, and retention. Onboarding becomes even more important for a remote workforce where new hires are building connections through a screen. Here are some tips for delivering an engaging onboarding experience as part of your L&D strategy:

  • Give new hires a head start by sending reading material and onboarding videos before their first day. For instance, send an introduction to company history and company values.
  • Once new hires start, ease them in with role-specific training so they’re clear on job expectations and duties.
  • Introduce them to tools they’ll be using and share how the tools enable employees to do their best work.
  • Use knowledge-sharing software like Scribe or a company wiki where learners can easily access information.

2. Align learning and development with business objectives

87% of organisations in a 2020 study by Brandon Hall Group agree that aligning their learning and development programmes with their business objectives is critical. Yet only 13% are ready to take action on developing this connection. This means the training material they spend precious resources creating doesn’t equip employees with skills that’ll help the business grow.

To better align your learning programmes and business objectives, start by clearly outlining the business objectives your company wants to achieve in the next quarter or year. Get buy-in from stakeholders by talking to them and making sure they agree with the business objectives. As a next step, you can refine existing content and create a long-term plan for future content so it’s relevant and useful in helping employees contribute to organisational success.

3. Adopt a bottom-up training needs analysis

Employees know best which skills they need to better perform their jobs. In a bottom-up approach to training needs analysis, employees declare their own learning needs by requesting specific courses through a learning needs tool.

A Collaborative Learning platform can help learners request training needs that other learners can upvote. This makes it easier to prioritise training a maximum number of employees are seeking.

4. Create a culture of Collaborative Learning and knowledge-sharing

In a traditional set-up with a top-down approach, information is siloed, and companies risk losing that valuable institutional knowledge when an employee leaves.

Employees learn best through collaboration and sharing expertise with each other. With an authoring tool, internal subject matter experts can quickly and easily create courses for others. Peers can comment on and react to the training material, which helps managers assess which courses are useful.

Build an effective peer feedback loop within teams where employees engage in continuous learning through discussions and iterations on training material, keeping it fresh and up-to-date.

5. Design learning journeys

According to a recent study, six in ten working-age adults in the UK don’t have the skills they need to thrive in their jobs in the next five years. These skills won’t appear overnight or by sitting through one training course. Focus your learning and development efforts on designing continuous learning journeys for employees so they can apply what they learn right away.

The 70:20:10 framework for learning suggests that 70% of learning takes place through on-the-job experiences, 20% from peer interaction, and 10% from formal education. Yet, this has largely remained a theoretical rule, with a majority of training focused on a formal one-way programme delivery.

It’s time to put the framework into practice. Or, as a Forbes article suggests, implement a new 3-to-1 model, which means offering three on-the-job application exercises for each formal learning event. Use this model to design better learning journeys by tapping social learning initiatives that include interaction with course material through gamification, quizzes, videos, and peer discussions.

6. Lean on the right learning technology

Your learning and development efforts are wasted if you don’t leverage technology to distribute training material. A Learning Management System (LMS) is a tool that helps you create, manage, and deliver training content to your employees.

An LMS acts as a centralised home for your courses and offers many benefits—it boosts learner interaction, knowledge retention, and employee satisfaction. To maximise these benefits, choose the right LMS software based on your needs and the features important to you.

An LMS is a huge investment, so make your selection carefully by considering factors such as SCORM compliance, management capabilities, reporting and analytics, cost, and the integration capabilities of the software.

7. Maintain a focus on employee well-being

The effectiveness of your learning and development strategy hinges on the mental fitness of your employees. You want them to be in an optimal state to learn so they’re ready to soak up the training material you poured precious resources into. Here are some ways to maintain this focus on well-being:

  • Build wellness programmes into your L&D, like yoga and mindfulness workshops.
  • Make learning easy and accessible with the help of microlearning, which means delivering training in bite-sized chunks employees can effortlessly engage with.
  • Train managers to better support team members with empathy and compassion.

Drive maximum training ROI with a shift to decentralised learning

Decentralised learning puts learners at the centre of learning and development efforts by not just including them but letting them take charge of their own growth. This doesn’t mean that L&D leaders fade into the background—they take on the role of guide and help employees align learning to their goals and skills gaps, resulting in a naturally higher return on investment from training activities.

Interested in seeing how to incorporate decentralised learning in your LMS? Grab a free demo below!

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