Why learning and development are key to retaining tech workers [Q&A]

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Skills shortages in the tech sector are nothing new but COVID and the Great Resignation have highlighted matters over the last year.

Retaining tech workers and keeping their skills up to date is more important than ever, so we spoke to CGS’s senior director of learning strategies, Regina Nowlan, to find out why learning and development are an important factor in the equation.

BN: How can training, learning, and development help retain workers who might otherwise resign from their positions?

RN: There are several reasons, amid the pandemic, as to why there has been a major shift in the workforce — from compensation and benefits to flexibility in schedule. While compensation-related causes are not to be ignored, employers might be overlooking training/skills development (or the lack thereof) as another defining factor.

We conducted a survey in late 2021 that found nearly one-third of respondents (32 percent) would leave an employer because of the lack of opportunities to gain new skills. The same survey found that 35 percent of respondents desired technology training.

Further to the tech skills training, employers must be aware of generational differences and approaches. Some might assume that younger workers are inherently tech-savvy and require no training in this area. Yet, the constant evolution of technology and the risk of being replaced by innovations such as robotics and AI affects a wide range of employees, resulting in concerns around needing to continuously hone technology skills. In fact, millennials (44 percent) were most likely among generations to cite technology/tools as their most needed/wanted training area.

In 2022, leaders must invest in training tools and opportunities that prioritize learning and development programs for employees. As the Great Resignation persists with no end in sight, it’s imperative to look at the full picture (beyond pay or work flexibility) to enable employees to do their jobs and feel supported and passionate about their careers.

BN: How has COVID disrupted the workplace as it relates to learning and development?

RN: While the effect of COVID-19 on employee retention is transparent, its effects on learning and development (L&D) in the enterprise may be less obvious. The nature of L&D has shifted to engage a remote/hybrid workforce. Onboarding, compliance, skills development and other business needs have had to adapt to this new virtual model. To meet the demands of this shifting L&D landscape, the enterprise is looking to technologies such as emerging technology — BI tools, AI and mixed reality — to address these new challenges.

Today’s L&D strategy needs to align with enterprise-wide needs, which requires digital acumen. The hybrid remote workforce necessitated new applications for employees’ use. L&D leaders must ensure that employees have access to more technology-oriented training to grow their technical skills. In addition core non-tech skills — communication, creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and cultural understanding — which complement technology skills, are imperative for grooming future leaders. In our latest workplace survey we found that many employees, of all ages, want to boost their skills, yet they are not receiving support from their employers. L&D professionals should assess what tech tools and skills are needed to engage learners.

We’ve seen businesses transform the very fabric of how they connect with employees — learning and development should be no different. L&D leaders must pivot their strategies to ensure business success. Immersive technology solutions such as augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) will push businesses to the next frontier of L&D. Those too slow or apathetic to take advantage won’t just fall behind, they’ll lose their employees.

BN: How will technology such as augmented reality and mixed reality support the future of learning? How can companies integrate immersive tech into their L&D strategies?

RN: AR and MR tools are bridging gaps in learning by improving workforce engagement and retention, offering real-time interaction that benefits employees and organizations alike. These immersive technologies can help build remote learning programs to enable cross-team collaboration, support new employee onboarding and allow seasoned workers to learn on their own, at their own pace. For instance, AR can help engineers visualize the steps and tools necessary to install systems or fix those in need of repair. In this new work-from-anywhere environment, workers can train and transfer knowledge among colleagues from any required location.

The companies already working with AR are noticing increased productivity and accelerated training. Accelerated training is driving the deployment of AR as enterprises look to invest $4.1B in AR training globally by 2024.

BN: Why is it important to deliver learning in a multi-dimensional format, including layering in technology?

RN: L&D professionals must go beyond the old, one-dimensional format and tools. Today’s business environment requires delivering learning with layered technology. It takes an ecosystem to be agile and responsive to learners. Think of the learning journey guiding employees as we would consumers online. If the learner has a question or needs more information, there is a chatbot to offer advice or prompt the user in taking the next step.

We are operating in an era of cutting-edge technology, rapidly changing needs and an extraordinarily competitive landscape, exacerbated by the Great Resignation. Instead of traditional face-to-face learning formats, learning should be multilayered, incorporating tools that enable more agile and collaborative learning programs. Along with the technology, L&D must also focus more on human-centered skills to develop organizational capabilities. As technology continues to accelerate and replace certain job responsibilities, L&D professionals should add immersive experiences for training these types of skills.

BN: How can L&D leaders transform their roles from being ‘functional’ to a more ‘learner-centric’ culture?

RN: Addressing a skills gap takes a culture of continued learning. Organizations must develop strategies from the employee perspective to address current and future skills development. The first step to creating this type of enterprise culture is to develop a robust and actionable L&D strategy. Every organization will end up with variations in its strategy and program, but many have phases that include skills gap analysis, specification of learning objectives, training content design, and continued monitoring/evaluation. Employers can take these programs a step further by incorporating immersive technology such as AR/MR to foster a culture of continuous learning for employees anytime, anywhere and in a way that is most receptive to an employee’s learning style.

Leaders should look to foster a learner-centric culture in the new year. By equipping your employees with relevant skills training, you empower your workforce for the future of work. Soon, what we experience as consumers will be the standard for learning solutions at work. Just as businesses are focused on customer engagement and retention, L&D will need to be learner centric.

The Great Resignation is complex; learning and development is one of several important components that employers must invest in for 2022 and beyond. By investing in technologies, leaders can onboard, re-skill and address real-time problems in digital settings. If employers want to stem the tide of workers departing, they will need to do more than address compensation. Today’s business environment requires refreshed employee skills and leveraging emerging technologies to enable employees to achieve their career ambitions that will benefit the learner and the organization.

Image credit: Matej Kastelic / Shutterstock

Author: Martha Meyer