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Now is the time for L&D to go virtual

12 Jun 2020 By Patricia McEvoy

Coronavirus has forced employers to assess what skills they need and how learning is delivered, says Patricia McEvoy

Covid-19 has impacted the lives and livelihoods of communities and individuals across the globe. As the UK looks to recover from the initial impact of the crisis, businesses must consider the long-term implications for their operations, including their approach to talent and skills. 

The impact on the labour market has been significant and continues to unfold, with different sectors facing new pressures and challenges. As businesses assess how they will emerge from the crisis, investing in the differential skills that drive performance in their markets will be critical to adapting to the post pandemic world. Learning that is tailored according to need and delivered flexibly is vital to ensuring that workforces have the right skills and capabilities available at the right time. This is particularly important in an environment where technology and automation have disrupted the business landscape for several years, with the expectation that this will continue, if not accelerate, when the crisis passes. 

For many businesses, face-to-face training may have been a normal part of corporate life prior to Covid-19. A remote working environment inevitably requires a different approach. There is certainly a place for classroom-based learning in the future, but the current period is an opportunity to consider how some of these activities can be transitioned to an online setting. The shift to virtual learning will likely be a new approach for some businesses and it may take time to identify what works best. As programmes are rolled out, it’s important to continue reviewing, refining and improving to develop a better understanding of how to successfully deliver sessions away from a classroom setting and to secure acceptance from learners and stakeholders that virtual learning is not a compromise on quality. 

Virtual learning offerings, many of which are bitesize and available on demand, allow individuals to invest in their own skillset in a way that suits their schedule and learning style, while also enabling businesses to build their workforce skills capital in readiness for new future demands. Virtual learning can enable companies to scale their L&D activities in a more cost-effective, accessible and sustainable way, and package content into bitesize chunks that are easily updated to remain relevant. 

For those looking to enter the job market, virtualising programmes and moving content to online platforms helps this talent pool continue to develop and gain the skills or qualifications required to access job opportunities. For example, EY apprentice and graduate programmes are continuing in full, adapted where necessary for virtual working, including exam qualifications. The EY Foundation, the independent charity we support, has shifted its programmes online to help young people from low-income backgrounds and it has also rolled out a new online mentoring service to the young people it works with. 

Greater collaboration between employers through initiatives like the Skills Builder Universal framework, led by a taskforce comprised of the EY Foundation and leading education and skills organisations, also plays an important part. The framework provides tools to help employers identify key skills in both their existing workforce and in prospective candidates. It also provides development opportunities for employees and young people wishing to continue their professional development and better prepare themselves for the post-Covid working world. This will be important for bridging the gap between education and employment.

The pandemic will likely encourage businesses to reassess the skills they need and how they deliver learning and development to their workforce, and see more people take steps to proactively build their insights and knowledge where possible in a mass remote working environment. As the country sets its sights on recovery, a robust and sustainable virtual L&D infrastructure will play an important part in ensuring that businesses are able to respond in an agile way. 

Patricia McEvoy is talent development director for UK and Ireland at EY

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