Teaching Workers: An Afterthought?

A new study shows that most employees don’t believe their organizations have an effective learning culture.

Companies in the United States spent roughly $87 billion on training in 2018. On average, employees each received 46.7 hours of training last year. And yet the question remains: what are people learning?

Despite the importance leaders place on establishing a learning culture for business success—a Google search on the topic returns 595 million results—their efforts don’t appear to be catching on. A recent survey of 1,000 employees receiving professional development training, dubbed “learners,” found that 75% of them believe their organization doesn’t have an effective learning culture. Moreover, 23% of employees described learning and development opportunities as a “tick the box/afterthought” at their organization.

Caroline Werner, senior vice president, global talent, at Korn Ferry, says part of the challenge organizations face is that a “one-size-fits-all training solution doesn’t work anymore.” She cites a workforce that includes boomers, millennials, and Gen Xers; remote employees; cultural barriers; and even how individuals learn (i.e., reading text versus watching video) as examples of some challenges organizations face when designing training and development programs. “The challenge is figuring out how to tailor programs to meet the different needs of different audiences.”

Digital transformation, a shortage of properly skilled talent, globalization, and other factors have elevated learning agility—or the ability to adapt skills sets and apply experiences to new situations—to the top of the list of traits and characteristics leaders look for in talent. The belief is that learning-agile talent will foster a culture of values and practices to increase shared knowledge to achieve business goals. Werner notes, however, that “it can’t just be HR saying you have to learn this skill or take this training. The company has to own it, the manager has to own it, and the employee has to own it.”

For employees, as well as companies that are trying to attract the cream of the crop, the issue has taken on even more relevance. In the so-called nomad economy, workers are job-hopping far more frequently and hoping to pick up new skills and training from employers before they move to next outfit. That places firms that focus resources toward training at a potential advantage in today’s tight job market.

Ronald Porter, senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise, says there is also a disconnect between current work trends and leaders’ desire to create learning cultures. Shorter tenures, more project-based assignments, and tighter budgets complicate the calculus of training and development investments. “The value of training with a longer-term payoff has fallen off a bit,” says Porter, noting that most training offered is specific to a particular task. “If employees don’t see the urgency in the training, the less likely they are to lean into it. They need a line of sight from what they are being taught to what they are doing.”