Ramping up the focus on learning and development

Making it a higher organizational priority only part of the solution

By Claudine Kapel

What does it take to create a robust organizational approach to learning and development?

The Conference Board of Canada’s latest Learning and Development Outlook identifies several key drivers it says will enable organizations to move toward a stronger learning environment. These include:

  • Creating and maintaining a strong learning culture.
  • Ensuring learning is a top priority for the organization.
  • Offering diverse learning delivery methods.
  • Providing learning support (resources, technology, funding).
  • Aligning learning with organizational strategy.
  • Giving priority to leadership development.

The survey results – which reflect responses from 198 Canadian organizations – found only 55 per cent of respondents feel facilitating learning is a top priority in their organizations. This was down significantly from 74 per cent in 2010.

 The Conference Board notes there are likely a number of factors responsible for the “lackluster investment” in learning and development. It suggests organizations are “still constrained” by the effects of a longer than expected economic recovery period, noting “in uncertain economic times, learning and development budgets are often the first to be sacrificed or at least considered to be a discretionary spend.”

Still, the Conference Board observes spending per employee on learning and development increased by a modest three per cent in 2012 over 2010 levels, representing a “modest reversal of the downward trend of the past two decades.”

While economic conditions influence an organization’s commitment to investment in learning and development, so do other concerns.

A common fear is that the organizations which lead the pack when it comes to employee development run the risk of having their highly trained talent poached by other organizations that don’t make such investments.

Not surprisingly, this is not a uniquely Canadian concern.

Across the pond, British Skills Minister Matthew Hancock recently called on employers in the United Kingdom to adopt “a change in attitude” towards training. “An under-performing skills system has one big problem: it builds its own momentum,” he noted, speaking at a recent Work Foundation conference in London.

“In response to skills shortages, employers have options. They can train up people themselves. They can hire abroad or find immigrant labour. They can poach trained staff from competitors. Or they can rifle through their supply chain, and poach from there.”

Hancock notes the fear of being poached is fuelling a low-training culture in the U.K. “So what does each boss and business do? Who would be the first business to train – the first to risk losing their trained staff? Why train if no one else in your sector does?”

Hancock suggests there is a viable alternative and pointed to Germany as an example of a country with a high training culture.

“An employer seeking staff has the same set of options: train, import, or poach. But because most companies assume their role is to train their staff, there is no penalty in training. And that, in turn, makes training more likely.”

Added Hancock: “That’s the culture we must inculcate.”

A strong learning culture is not only vital for the health of individual organizations, it’s essential for the health of industry or business overall. It’s the key to unlocking how we get from where we are today to where we want to go.

The costly irony is that organizations cut back on learning and development during challenging times – which is perhaps when they need it the most.

Claudine Kapel

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a human resources consulting firm specializing in compensation design, performance management, and employee communications. Claudine is also the co-author of The HR Manager’s Guide to Total Rewards and Straight Talk on Managing Human Resources.
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