Should You Up Your Corporate Training Game?
By Alexandra Levit
As a workforce author, researcher, and consultant, I observed many organizations that were concerned about a labor shortage brought about by baby boomer retirement. This shortage, and the skills gaps that went along with it, was partially delayed in part by the financial crisis and subsequent recession, because many baby boomers lost savings and were working past traditional retirement age1.
Many baby boomers, born 1946-64, are now in their 70s, and the time has come for them to exit the workforce. According to a recent report by the Federal Reserve2, industrialized nations like the U.S. are facing a shortage of working-aged professionals, and employers need enough qualified employees to survive.
In my experience working with dozens of companies over the last decade, I’ve seen that corporate training and development can be an effective solution to this problem. As more senior roles are vacated, corporate training, particularly for succession planning, may be a good vehicle for mid-level professionals to master skills like team leadership, business acumen, strategic planning, conflict resolution, and decision-making.
All Employees, All Levels
One of the topics I write about most is increasing automation and machine participation3, and given this trend, I believe that even employees who will not become senior leaders must continuously upskill or reskill to maintain their value within the organization. The days of having one degree and one corresponding skillset may be numbered, because if that skillset is automated, what then? Corporate training provides one way to diversify what each individual employee can contribute and the variety of roles he or she can hold.
There are other benefits besides skill acquisition. I’ve written that despite technological advances, productivity in most organizations is lagging4. Corporate training is one method for adjusting your processes, targeting efficiency so employees can better perform tasks and focus their energies more specifically on company goals. I have personally seen that many organizations with solid corporate training initiatives keep their people longer because the employees appreciate the investment in their development. And, I’ve observed that organizations that do right by their people are perceived as having strong brands that customers want to support.
Blended, Integrated, and Measured
When I first entered the training and development space in the early mid-2000s, corporate training was often something HR trotted out from time to time, with courses that were not tied together in any meaningful way. However, I’ve witnessed an evolution, and in my work have seen that the strongest corporate training programs today are well-integrated with the overall employee experience and leverage a blended learning approach including both in-person and virtual, instructor-led and self-driven components. They often offer the opportunity to collaborate with experts and other professionals, and master skills on your own time, at your own pace.
I feel that the best corporate training programs also have clear success metrics. This means that they are reliable and valid in predicting performance improvement and achievement of designated business outcomes. Some organizations have taken training/course completion a step further, adding in-house microcredentials5 or certifications as proof of competency. These certifications may then be used to tap employees for special projects and/or promotions.
Overcoming Training’s Shortcomings
Despite the ever-increasing sophistication of corporate training initiatives, some still have flaws. The first challenge is that a one-size-fits-all training model sometimes doesn’t work, because individual professionals may approach their jobs in different ways. I believe that when training is appropriately customized and differentiated, it is more likely to resonate with employees.
Another corporate training deficit I’ve observed is the tendency to oversimplify complex, real-world scenarios. In a business environment that’s changing rapidly, I feel it’s important for employees to learn how to cope with ambiguity and unpredictability. If a training program is too scripted and basic, it may not deliver the necessary impact and preparation. Building variation and the element of surprise into your training scenarios can go a long way.
Finally, corporate training approaches may be too passive. It can be difficult to internalize learning and be motivated to act on it when you’re spending most of your time listening (instead of doing) and there’s nothing significant at stake. I’m a proponent of experiential learning, because shadowing experienced leaders under pressure can allow employees to see firsthand how advocated training behaviors work in practice. Additionally, personalized coaching can also help employees integrate training concepts into everyday responsibilities and use them in the industry and role-specific situations they are most likely to face.
Thankfully, if you’re looking to up your corporate training game, you don’t have to do it alone. I suggest a first step of assembling a team of internal and external constituents that can help you assess the approach that’s best for your people and the skills they need to acquire.
1 Steverman, B, 2017, Bloomberg.com, Working Past 70: Americans Can’t Seem to Retire, accessed on the Internet at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-10/working-past-70-americans-can-t-seem-to-retire (visited June 3, 2018)
2 The Federal Reserve, 2018, FederalReserve.gov, Beige Book - January 17, 2018, accessed on the Internet at https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/beigebook201801.htm (visited June 3, 2018)
3 Levit, A, 2018, LinkedIn.com, Why Automation Won’t Take Your Job, accessed on the Internet at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-automation-wont-take-your-job-alexandra-levit/ (visited June 3, 2018)
4 Levit, A, 2015, QuickBase.com, What Caused the World Productivity Slowdown?, accessed on the Internet at https://www.quickbase.com/blog/what-caused-the-worldwide-productivity-slowdown (visited June 3, 2018)
5 Ryerse, M, 2017, EdWeek.org, Competency-Based Microcredentials Are Transforming Professional Learning, accessed on the Internet at http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_innovation/2017/11/competency-based_micro-credentials_are_transforming_professional_learning.html (visited June 3, 2018)
About the Author
Alexandra Levit is the author of nine published books on careers and the workplace, including the international bestseller They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. A former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she has consulted with dozens of organizations around the world about issues facing modern institutions and their employees.