Majority of firms say L&D is critical but many struggle with investment, research shows

Experts highlight the risks of failing to prioritise learning and adapt it to hybrid models

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Learning and development (L&D) is seen as critical by the majority (86 per cent) of businesses, but this can be undercut by a lack of financial backing or resources, a new survey has found.

The 2022 BIE Executive study of more than 200 HR leaders found that many viewed L&D as a necessity, with more than two-thirds (68 per cent) saying they prefer to appoint senior roles internally. 

In the report, Shaping the Workforce of the Future: People, Culture and Talent, half (50 per cent) said their L&D efforts were hampered by cost, while just under half (47 per cent) said they couldn’t always access the resources they needed.

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Idris Arshad, people and inclusion partner at St Christopher’s Hospice, said problems with L&D investment can often be the result of how it is perceived. “L&D can be a neglected part of HR and something that is easy to push down the agenda,” he said, adding that people would be “up in arms” if recruitment was put on the back burner, and that HR must “prioritise” learning. 

“Learning will happen, people will develop on their own and it's up to organisations to decide if they want to manage and leverage that,” he said. 

The survey also found that the top HR challenge was accessing external talent. Gary Cookson, director of Epic HR, said it was clear that L&D investment was important, and not just because of its impact on talent outcomes.

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“If we cut L&D budgets, we then leave the success of hybrid working and the business as a whole to chance,” warned Cookson, describing a move like this as a risk we “cannot and should not take”. 

However, the survey also highlighted that investment wasn’t the only L&D challenge. Mentoring and job shadowing were seen as the most effective ways for employee advancement by more than a third (39 per cent) yet, after costs and resources, hybrid learning was flagged as the biggest challenge to L&D teams post-Covid, with fewer opportunities for in-person traditional mentoring and ‘learning by osmosis’.

John Vickerman, chief people officer at Magnox, said hybrid working models were the “biggest” challenge across multi-generational workforces. “Older workers are often happy to work from home exclusively, but we’re working hard to ensure that they impart their knowledge and experience in person, especially because younger and more recent starters are beginning to be frustrated by this,” Vickerman explained. 

Ed Johnson, CEO of PushFar, added that organisations should also see adapting L&D to hybrid models as something that can offer previously inaccessible benefits, such as linking mentors and mentees from around the world. He said: “Implementing a hybrid L&D programme can help to make mentoring more convenient, flexible and accessible to employees – allowing for mentoring partnerships that might otherwise be geographically impossible.”