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5 ways corporate training has gotten it wrong

Why do some corporate training programs fail? Here are five reasons. 
Corporate Training
Credit: Elena Poritskaya; Yeti Studio, Sergey Zvyagintsev / Adobe Stock

Corporate training is a collection of activities designed to help employees learn new skills and develop existing ones. It can take many different forms including instructor-led classes, on-the-job training, eLearning, and mobile learning. It can be asynchronous, where employees learn independently at their own pace, or synchronous, where learners follow the guidance of an instructor. Many programs employ a blended approach, utilizing several of these methods.

Just as training modalities can vary widely, so can the content of corporate training. Many organizations are pressing for the development of hard skills, for example – the Amazon Technical Academy is designed to move employees in non-technical roles into software engineering professions. But just as important is soft skills development. Some of the most desirable soft skills of the day include communication, creativity, and adaptability.   

Corporate training can directly impact an organization’s culture and bottom line. However, sometimes there’s a gap between facilitating training and demonstrating positive results. Why do some programs fail? Here are five reasons corporate training programs fail. 

They’re shortsighted

In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, nearly nine in 10 executives reported that their organization is facing a skills gap or will in the next five years. Yet many business leaders don’t feel prepared to address potential gaps. 

Training Industry defines a skills gap as a gap between the skills an employee has and the skills they need to perform a job. In terms of the broader workforce, a skills gap is created when organizations struggle to find talent to meet their needs.

Nearly 9 in 10 executives say their organization is facing a skills gap or will in the next 5 years.

A number of factors have contributed to the skills gaps organizations are dealing with today. One is that rapid technological evolution has led to easily-automated skills being taken over by artificial intelligence. People are having to learn to work alongside machines but at the same time, advancements in technology are driving the need for workers to strengthen the soft skills that code and circuitry can’t replicate. 

Learning and development leaders can be proactive by remaining aware of the biggest anticipated skills gaps over the coming years:

  • Advanced IT skills 
  • Advanced data-analysis 
  • Complex information processing 
  • Leadership 
  • Adaptability 
  • Critical thinking 

Most of all, organizations need corporate training programs built around addressing the unique skills gaps they’re facing. This starts with conducting a skills gap analysis. Once existing gaps are well understood, L&D teams can create an action plan to reduce the gaps, which may include offering upskilling and reskilling programs. 
Upskilling can help ensure that an employee’s skill set remains up-to-date with developments in their field, and prepare them for a promotion. On the other hand, reskilling trains an employee on new skills with the intent to transition them into an entirely different role. Companies undergoing radical transformation may need to reskill entire segments of their workforce to meet new demands. 

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They don’t meet workers where they’re at

Today’s always-connected, on-the-go culture brings with it a set of expectations. Millennials – the largest generation in the U.S. labor force – count on technology ecosystems in their workplaces to match that of their personal lives, and Gen Z demands more mobile learning experiences. 

While the ideal training method will differ depending on a program’s unique objectives, L&D teams must recognize the importance of meeting their people where they’re at. Consider that 74% of employees want to learn during their spare time at work, yet stand-and-deliver training remains the most used method.

 74% of employees want to learn during their spare time at work.

On-demand, mobile, and micro-learning are a few terms L&D teams should familiarize themselves with. On-demand refers to corporate training that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. It allows for just-in-time learning interventions, which makes employees more likely to engage with content.

Microlearning interventions are another convenient option. Because microlearning breaks training content into 5-10 minutes chunks that focus on one objective per module, employees can learn with minimal distractions and easily incorporate training into their daily routine. (In a typical work week, most employees only have about 20 spare minutes to dedicate to learning!) 

And of course, with people relying on mobile devices for more tasks than ever, mLearning is now a necessity. Mobile learning is training that’s accessible from a personal device such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. In one survey, 70% of respondents said they were more motivated to learn when completing courses on mobile devices. 

Another study showed that mobile learners completed courses almost twice as fast as non-mobile learners. L&D leaders should be asking themselves if they’re ready for a mobile-first future and how their organization can best take advantage of the technology that learners carry with them everywhere.

They don’t exist within a learning culture

Corporate training shouldn’t be viewed as a one-and-done event, but oftentimes, there isn’t structured follow-up or opportunities for ongoing support offered to learners. Piecemeal efforts not only result in unengaged employees, but they make it harder to build a belief in the value of continuous learning across the organization.

In many instances, lasting transformation will require more than a series of training sessions. More than anything, it will require that a learning culture is built into the DNA of an organization to encourage the constant pursuit of growth. 

Organizations with a learning culture extol growth mindsets and intellectual humility. 

Organizations with a learning culture extol growth mindsets and intellectual humility. They foster collaboration by creating learning experiences that span departments and opportunities for peer-to-peer knowledge flow. Leaders within the organization don’t see failure as the antonym of success, but part of the learning process. 

The executive team is L&D’s biggest advocate, and managers allocate time for learning – conveying its importance to their entire team. One example of what this can look like is Google’s 80/20 rule. The company offers employees 20% of their time to learn, develop, and experiment on new ideas. This sort of culture better positions the entire organization to adapt to future unknowns. 

They don’t follow best practices of adult learning

For a corporate training program to have the greatest impact, L&D leaders should be well versed in the ways their people learn best. Adult learning theory, popularized by Malcolm Knowles in the 1960s, provides several guideposts for designing training for maximum engagement:

  • Adults are more likely to engage with training when they understand from the onset what they’re expected to learn and why. This is perhaps one of the most important principles of adult learning theory – for information to stick, the learner must find it to be both significant and relevant. 
  • Because adults have the ability to direct their own learning, they should be offered the option to do so. Adults don’t like to be taught – they’d rather learn. The former is a passive, inactive experience. The latter lets the adult take ownership of their education and make it a personal investment. 
  • Since adults bring many life experiences into their learning journeys, new information is filtered through a series of schemas – cognitive structures, unique to each individual, which help them interpret the world around them. When corporate training is designed to pull from relatable real-world examples, schemas can be helpful because they reinforce the learning. 
  • Adults become more ready to learn when they need to know something. The quicker their needs can be met, the more likely they are to remember the information. With careful planning, L&D can create and curate resources in anticipation of what their learners need. 
  • Adult learners are focused on trying to solve problems, and they desire to apply new learnings immediately. So, for example, a trainer might simulate a problematic scenario to give employees a chance to practice what they’re learning in a realistic setting.
  • As a person matures, they develop an intrinsic motivation to learn. This could be because of career goals, a desire to impress friends and family, or simply an enjoyment of the learning process. 

Since their introduction, various philosophies and models have been developed from these principles. These insights into how adults learn best can serve as the backbone of any corporate training program. Still, learning leaders should experiment with and test different approaches until they find what works best for their people. 

Budget constraints

A survey of 2,500 companies found that those with “comprehensive training programs” had 218% higher revenue per employee and 24% higher profit margins. Yet the amount of money companies spend on training per employee has dropped over the last few years.

When the time comes for budget cuts, corporate training often gets slashed first. There’s only so much learning leaders can do to prevent this, but consistently making the value of learning clear is one way to gain buy-in from the C-suite. L&D teams should work to align the vision of their programs with business objectives, in order to eventually showcase impactful results.

 Making the value of learning clear is one way to gain buy-in from the C-suite.

Designing corporate training programs with their potential return-on-investment in mind, planning ongoing initiatives to measure their impact, and always being prepared to communicate on progress to goal are a few helpful habits to adopt. If needed, learning leaders can also bring in analytics experts to ensure they’re assessing the right data to drive results. 

Perhaps one of the most compelling benefits of corporate training is its potential to decrease turnover. The number of people leaving their jobs has reached record numbers in the past six months. But in the age of the Great Resignation, 94% of employees say they’d stay with an organization longer if it invested in their learning and development. 

With Gallup estimating the cost of replacing an employee to be anywhere from one-half to two times their salary, organizations with engaging corporate training programs will see real results on their bottom lines.

Final note 

Rutgers School of Business argues the reason corporate training isn’t helping some organizations gain a competitive edge is that programs often overlook key details – like alignment with business objectives and measuring the effectiveness of learning interventions. 

When learning professionals work to avoid these all-too-common pitfalls, training and development has the potential to increase retention, productivity, and build a stronger organizational culture.

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