The days of learning all the skills you need as part of your formal education are long past. Take Maria, for example. She joined a content firm, full of confidence. After all, she held a Masters degree in English Literature and writing was her forte. Presumably, she had all the skills to shine in her new job. She quickly learnt that it was not smooth sailing! It might have been if she was given only writing tasks. But the firm had just landed a project to build a course for an EdTech giant on Digital Marketing and they wanted all hands on deck. Maria was asked to brush up her PowerPoint skills and was given a few weeks training on how to build PPT animation storyboards. A skill she never anticipated she would need!
That’s life in the new work environment. Most individuals end up learning more than 150 new skills as part of their job requirements. Some of us learn them the ideal way with hands-on training and mentors while others are put through factory modes of mind-numbing courses and training sessions. Whichever way it is, we need to learn to survive. There is no getting around this 21st century reality.
Most organizations recognize the need to upskill and reskill employees. If you’ve been to any recent HR conference or participated in corporate resilience discussions, you may have noticed that a discussion on employee skilling is inevitable. However, are we putting money where our mouth is? And if indeed you are spending your hard-earned dollars on employee development, is it effective? Now, that’s the million-dollar question.
Like lean management and lean manufacturing before that, learning and skilling is also going the lean way. So now, the industry has started talking about just-in-time learning. Applying your learning in real life situations strengthens your understanding and ability to apply your knowledge. This is not new information to us. Edwin Locke’s theory of motivation has been around from 1968, but we still only apply this sparingly to corporate training.
Uniform training programs that force employees to learn general topics as if they are cattle being herded in a single direction helps no one. Most employees sit through these training programs just to get the certificate and improve their chances of a promotion. They might even score very high marks if tested immediately. However, you’ll be surprised to know that the person who scored 80% immediately after the training might score 20% for the same subject a month later.
Why? Because human beings are biologically programmed to retain only useful information. Hermann Ebbinghaus's discovery, The Forgetting Curve says that we will forget 75% of the new information we acquire in just six days, if it is not used. This is why we need to drastically change the way we learn and train. Employees should be allowed the freedom to learn what they need for their immediate job requirements. You can, of course, measure their proficiency and devise a fair method of rewarding skill acquisition. However, the actual process of learning and acquiring new skills should be more personalized.
Employees should also be given the opportunity to learn in their preferred format. We have so much content out there for any skill under the sun. Why restrict your team’s learning to a structured course that they might not even complete? The reality is that less than 3% of the courses taken up are ever completed. Not because of lack of interest but because of lack of time. Bite-sized learning that can be done on the go would solve this time-crunch. Let’s also not forget that human beings have highly evolved brains,but our attention span is less than that of a goldfish. A training program that allows the learners to learn at their own pace, from a wide range of resources like videos, articles, podcasts, as well as courses is proven to gain more engagement than run-of-the-mill courses. Let’s aim to adapt our learning and training programs to our employees' needs rather than the other way round!