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January 2023

Future Proof: How to Keep L&D Relevant and Impactful in a Changing World – Thoughts from the Talent Development Forum

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As the great resignation marches on, with an average of four million people leaving their jobs per month for over a year and a half, many organizations are finding that, as talent leaves, so does the institutional knowledge of business processes, systems, products, as well as best practices. The resulting skill gap is unprecedented.

The Southeast Wisconsin chapter of ATD held their annual Talent Development Forum panel on October 28, 2022 at Kohl’s Innovation Center, focusing on the impact of this skills gap to those of us in the Learning and Development (L&D) field.

For background, according to the ATD 2022 Skills Gap1 report, 83% of organizations report a skills gap, with 78% reporting that they expect to face such a skills gap in the future.

A skills gap is a significant difference between an organization’s current capabilities and the skills it needs to achieve its goals and meet customer demand. When an organization has a large skills gap in its workforce, it risks not meeting customer expectations and demands.

Michelle Reid-Powell

“This isn’t a training problem,” said CARA President and CEO Michelle Reid-Powell, “It’s a business problem. And there has never been a better time for Talent Development professionals to establish our relevance and make a significant difference in the success of our companies.”

Not only does Talent Development address the skills gap, it plays a significant role in retention.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Special Report2 2022 released in September discusses the connection between learning and retention. Per their data:

  • 76% of employees say they would stay at their company longer if they received development support. Numbers rise even higher for business decision makers (+7).
  • Employees consider opportunities to learn and grow as the #1 driver of great work culture, a jump from 2019 when it was ranked #9.

Taken as a whole, prioritizing employee learning and growth presents a winning retention formula for organizations—or, alternately, if neglected, could pose a threat.

RESEARCH AND INSIGHTS

Michelle Reid-Powell, President and CEO of The CARA Group, led the discussion with some insights into how to keep L&D relevant and impactful in a changing world. Based on their research and expertise, CARA recommends the following solutions to combat these challenges:

  1. Learning and Development teams should join forces with those associated with Workforce Planning and Talent Acquisition. Sometimes, the best way to fill a role is to recruit internal talent before they look elsewhere for career mobility. Working together, these teams can align approaches and metrics and partner to optimize talent initiatives.
  2. Review your course offerings and ensure you focus on value over volume. Rather than an endless database of possible courses, create learning paths to support specific roles in upskilling (especially those most in-demand by the organization).
  3. Support and develop your managers. The role of Manager is more challenging than ever. They need to build their skill sets around creating emotional safety, career and skills development, coaching, managing a remote workforce, and how to support diversity, equity and inclusion more fully. They also need a playbook for how to support their employees in training (many whom are new to both the organization and the role.)
  4. Connection is more important than ever. Learning strategies need to consider all stakeholders for learning – and ensure they have a role in supporting the success of the organization and the learner in applying the skills post-training.
  5. Metrics are still important, but organizations are focusing on only a few critical formal measures. Instead, more frequent stakeholder feedback from learning sessions is being reviewed. Focus groups, surveys and performance check-ins are important for all learning sessions.

PANEL DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS

After Michelle set the stage, she turned to the panel for their insights. We were fortunate to have four key leaders from SE-WI to share their experience:

  • Yolonda Evans, Organization and Change Effectiveness Consultant at American Family Insurance
  • Guillermo Gutierrez, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity at Manpower Group
  • Allison Peschel, Vice President of Client Services at JB Training Solutions
  • Mike Tack, Director of Talent Development at Kohl’s

Some highlights of the discussion:

How is the world of work changing?

Given the level of volatility in the business environment, we need to prioritize HOW to equip people managers to lead change and create a safe work environment where people can share their ideas and viewpoints.

Mike Tack emphasized the importance of walking in the manager’s shoes. He stressed the need to know the daily challenges managers face in performing their jobs and aligning that with learning solutions.

There has never been a more critical time for hard skills – what I mean by that are people skills. Those are most important now,” stated Guillermo Gutierrez.

Yolanda Evans

L&D is being embraced right now because managers are exhausted. We (L&D practitioners) must prioritize what our leaders truly need right now. Yolonda Evans chimed in, “Now they need us – for a long time we were the scapegoat. For the first time L&D is a first responder – double edged sword!” Yolonda exclaimed.

An interesting observation shared by Allison: “we are also finding that what is challenging now are the informal conversations that were happening before the pandemic are now more formal conversations in the remote world.” There is a need to be more intentional about having those informal conversations.

How do you make a business case for training?

We are all going to have a moment when we have to sell training as an investment: tell a story – why the training matters, why is it important? Talk about money but also the time invested by managers. Talk about skills and well-being – think about internal and external customers. A manager’s stakeholders are their direct reports. If a manager attends a training, what impact is that having on the employees of the manager’s team? What does attrition/retention look like? How will your learning strategy impact people three layers removed?

Mike Tack

Mike outlined how Kohl’s has changed their approach in how they offer training. His group found that they were offering too many options for the same type of training. People signed up but did not attend the training session leading to inefficiencies in deploying their limited training resources.

In response, the team tried a cohort model with a limited period to sign up for a limited number of seats. This created a sense of urgency around the training. They had four cohorts out of 50 people and all four filled up within 30 minutes. They did not change what they were offering but changed how they marketed it. A business case can be made by looking at how many people are clamoring for the training. This also required Mike’s team to be comfortable with having too many people interested.

Allison Peschel

What metrics are you using?

Allison noted that companies continue to track metrics including attendance, sign up vs. show up rate, net promoter scores, number of people reached, facilitator score, relevance to own job, tracking any barriers to application, etc. BUT – over the past year she has also seen a major shift to this idea of tracking sentiment, versus tracking skill. Michelle noted that this is something not traditionally done but could be a measure of engagement. Tracking sentiment can be a meaningful metric; if it goes well that is the business case for the training. If not, then the case can be made for why the training must happen.

Guillermo Guitierrez

Adding to that, Guilermo emphasized “ Show me the value rather than show me the numbers. How are we going to figure out what training did to the culture? How will we add questions to measure that? How can you be innovative in culture – how will your learning strategy impact people three layers removed.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

Lastly, panelists shared some final thoughts –

  • Design and solve for your business not trends.
  • Know your business, walk in your manager’s/coworker’s shoes.
  • Get a true sense of the business, what is happening, what is needed. Create, solve, and design from there.
  • We are all businesspeople in service of what the business needs.
  • Be your authentic self – don’t worry about pushing back on requests.
  • Talk about being remarkable. Is what we create remarkable? Aim to create something you want to tell your friends about.

Our thanks to the panelists and attendees for this dynamic, engaging, and insightful discussion!

Mark your calendars for this year’s Talent Development Forum scheduled for October 27, 2023 at Kohl’s Innovation Center!

1 ATD 2022 Skills Gap Report : https://www.td.org/research-report/bridging-the-skills-gap-workforce-development-in-changing-times-pdf-download
2 Microsoft Work Trend Index Special Report September 22, 2022: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work-is-just-work