How will hybrid working impact the future of L&D?

Amid the skills crisis, learning practitioners need to offer far more personalised development opportunities to be truly effective, says Alan Hiddleston

Now that workers have gradually returned to the office, hybrid working has introduced a new set of challenges – particularly for learning and development (L&D) teams. According to the latest research conducted by the CIPD prior to the pandemic, 65 per cent of businesses either did not offer regular remote working options, or offered it to less than a tenth of their workforce. As we begin to return to ‘normal’, that number is expected to fall to 37 per cent, representing a significant shift in working patterns, which is something that people professionals and L&D teams really need to prepare for. 

For most organisations, the introduction of hybrid working requires a significant culture change. New practices and policies must be in place to accommodate such structures – and naturally, this requires more digital tools and communication. Training programmes have to be far more agile and flexible as employees need to be able to learn from anywhere, at any time and, most importantly, on their terms. 

Whether employees are working in the office or remotely, leaders must ensure employees have a more positive work-life balance and provide more opportunities for them to grow and reach their full potential, as they look for greater job fulfilment and satisfaction. After all, numerous businesses have been facing the ‘Great Resignation after many employees have experienced burnout over the last year.

Facing a skills crisis on two fronts 

A concern for government and businesses alike is that the UK is facing a skills crisis on two fronts. First, the remote working economy has revealed the state of the digital skills deficit. As indicated in a report by the Learning and Work Institute earlier this year, there is a disconnect between the increasing demand for digital skills and the availability of workplace training. Indeed, 70 per cent of new employees expect their company to offer digital skills training on the job, but only half of employers have the capabilities to do so. This has of course been magnified by the fact that new staff have been onboarded remotely, sometimes with rushed or incomplete training programmes, while others have had their training put on hold.

Businesses are also facing one of the most complex talent shortages to date. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), UK job vacancies soared to an all-time high in July this year, with available posts surpassing one million for the first time. The reopening of society, coupled with the departure of many overseas workers as a result of Brexit negotiations and Covid restrictions on international travel, have left talent gaps throughout major industries. Though the UK government recently launched its Professional Qualifications Bill, which recognises the qualifications of foreign professionals entering the UK, more action is needed to propel our economic recovery and provide some security for UK businesses. Furloughed and prospective workers will need to be reskilled and upskilled as we continue propel our economic recovery.  

Reinventing the HR function through programmatic learning

As the hybrid work pattern begins to take shape, businesses will likely identify even more learning or development challenges. HR and L&D professionals will have to move beyond content and provide more complex, personalised learning pathways because a ‘one-size fits all’ approach is simply no longer viable. A one-off e-learning module or course does not expose employees to the breadth of information that is needed to cover the more complex issues.

L&D programmes must be far more agile and require more digital technologies to enable employees to top up their skills on a regular basis and learn around their busy schedules, whether in the office or at home. To accommodate this and to maximise engagement, content and training should be presented in a variety of formats, including classroom-based sessions, interactive webinars and videos.  

Compared to traditional corporate training, programmatic learning relies on collaboration and feedback, and actively encourages social learning. As continuous, action-based blended learning programmes, they provide employees with the opportunity to test their knowledge in real-life situations, often spanning several months, with an understanding of how a particular task or skill will relate back to the overall business function. However, in order for these programmes to be effective, all parties need to be involved in the design phase: L&D teams, HR as well as department leads and even line managers. 

By doing so, organisations can tap into their home-grown talent by giving subject matter experts and mentors the opportunity to provide more ‘realistic’ content. Together, they can draw upon their experience and design a programme that addresses the skill gaps and needs of the company. Providing opportunities for real-world application so employees can test their knowledge in a scenario relevant to their everyday work, with informed feedback from their colleagues – whether that is in person, or via online forums and panel sessions.

The skills deficit is challenging. If L&D is to succeed, it’s important to address the issue from all sides – all onboarding, upskilling and wider training programmes need to be reviewed. A good first step is discussing this with employees themselves, allowing them to air their views but ultimately ensuring that they too are on board with the process. All leaders need to review the shortages and talent deficit specific to their business and adapt training programmes to fit individual learner needs. It is here where learning technology will likely play a major role in helping to deliver these programmes.

Alan Hiddleston is director of corporate learning for EMEA at D2L