The new face of employee development: Social learning, supportive managers and skill-building reign supreme

2nd August by Lee Robertson

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New research from Degreed highlights the need for more social learning, supportive managers, and practical opportunities to build skills when it comes to effective employee development.

In its fourth edition of How the Workforce Learns report, it assessed how real people are learning today, when the rate of technological change is outpacing the workforce’s ability to learn and upskill.

Degreed asked 2,500 people (1,262 managers and 1,238 non-managers), working in companies with over 500 employees from eight countries, about their behaviours, values and assumptions in regard to learning and career growth. Here we delve into some of its key findings.

Access to learning is not always equal

The report found that 30% of respondents thought that their employers did not make learning available to all employees equally. It discovered that amongst semi-skilled workers, that number rose to four out of 10 and that the people who stand to benefit the most (those who need more skills) were not getting access to learning opportunities.

In order to address this, Degreed recommends democratising learning by providing all employees with a convenient front door to all of the organisation’s online development resources. It advises aggressively marketing learning programmes internally to ensure that everyone within the organisation knows what is there to help them build skills, perform and support the organisation’s key business objectives.

The motivations driving a learning mindset

The report finds that people are motivated to learn because they want to contribute. It ascertains that 43% of people are driven primarily to learn to perform better at their jobs and secondly, to complete requirements at 19%. Employees are prioritising this over their personal interests and career goals which demonstrates a shift towards putting their employers’ results ahead of personal gain.

Individual career goals are set primarily to improve performance in current roles (40%) with preparing for long-term career opportunities ranking second (26%).

Degreed recommends showing people how learning can help them excel at work right now and into the future by promoting L&D programmes and sharing learning success stories. It also suggests giving employees an internal resource like an opportunity marketplace where they can find details of stretch assignments, mentorships and internal gigs that inspire them.

Managers don’t always support learning

Almost half of the survey respondents (48%) indicated they’re not easily connected with work that stretches their skills. In addition, more than a quarter (26%) said their managers didn’t support their professional growth during the preceding 12 months.

As Degreed points out, these numbers represent a valuable opportunity for improvement and it recommends making managers collaborative advocates. Managers are well placed to embody and promote collaborative learning and should be encouraged to motivate employees during team and one-to-one meetings.

Managers can do this by offering colleagues the opportunities they lack or seek like stretch assignments or small group and cohort-based learning. Such efforts don’t have to be held off until formal review time and as managers become more involved, employers should be inciting them to better understand their teams’ skill profiles so they can call out the skills employees need to grow their careers, guide them and advance the business.

Employees demand social learning

Three quarters of the respondents (75%) gravitated toward some form of social engagement when it came to the ways they like to learn at work. When learning with others, they appreciated a small group or one-on-one session with a colleague or peer. A smaller subset (10%) said they wish to learn from their direct supervisor, while 9% preferred an internal coach or mentor and 6% said an external coach or mentor.

Degreed advises here to promote collaboration. It says collaborated development programmes support the 70-20-10 model, in which 10% of learning happens during coursework, while 20% happens with ongoing coaching and mentoring. The remaining 70% is accounted for with on-the-job experiential learning.

Karen Smart, head of consultancy with the AoEC’s business coaching service observed: “The report shows that it’s really important to understand what motivates individuals to learn in the workplace and that there are areas some businesses could improve upon. The first is to democratise learning for everyone working within the organisation. The second is to make learning practical so people can develop their skills in their roles through stretch assignments or coaching. The last is to improve managerial support because they are so influential in encouraging people to learn and grow. If employers are not taking these steps to make learning more impactful and personal, they will be missing out on aligning their skills base with the needs of the business over the long-term.”