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Education, education, education: Why learning and development attracts talent

Human Resources

Education, education, education: Why learning and development attracts talent 

Published 9 December 2022 in Human Resources • 6 min read

To retain the best and grow talent, organizations must recognize that learning and development is no longer a “nice to have”. 

In 2021, when people began to leave their jobs in droves, it was assumed that “The Great Resignation” was a direct result of the pandemic and that the trend would soon settle down. Yet a recent global survey from Deloitte suggests that this is far from being the case. The survey found that four in 10 Gen Zs and nearly a quarter of Millennials would like to leave their jobs within two years, and roughly a third would do so even without having another job lined up, signaling an ongoing level of dissatisfaction among employees. Interestingly, when asked what they might look for in a future employer, the highest percentage cited good work/life balance and learning and development (L&D) opportunities (29%), above a high salary.  

Resetting the employer-employee relationship 

The findings reflect the pressure that social change is exerting on the traditional social contract between employer and employee. It is widely accepted that the concept of a “job for life,” with retirement the end-point and a gold watch for long service the reward, is a thing of the past. Employees are quicker to assess their levels of satisfaction with their jobs and employers and, when dissatisfied, are quicker to leave.  

A direct result of this greater mobility is that employees are keen to develop a transferable skillset, to enhance their own marketability and employment opportunities. With shifts towards the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies precipitating the widespread automation of tasks, employees are conscious of the need for a point of difference in their own employability, making employers who are taking steps to help with this development all the more attractive.  

The relevance of L&D lies not only in attracting talent but also in its retention.  A recent LinkedIn study highlighted the fact that the number one driver of a great work culture was the opportunity to learn and grow, which was ranked ninth place only two years ago. In addition, it found that companies who help people develop and grow into more diverse and responsible roles over time retain employees for an average of 5.4 years – nearly twice as long as companies that struggle with it.   

That is not to say that this new generation of workers has a lesser sense of loyalty or thinks nothing of jumping from one organization to the next. Rather, they are giving greater thought to where they bestow their loyalty, and choosing employers whose principles and values are aligned with their own. Clearly, they see L&D opportunities and encouragement of personal growth as key components of an attractive job offer.  

People want to make a difference 

Employees clearly want to improve their skillsets, but underlying this is a desire to contribute to the achievement of overall company goals. I even had the experience of this trend some 20 years ago with German automotive brand Mercedes-Benz. As part of a five-year strategic plan, Mercedes-Benz mapped out an expansion into fleet management to offset the cyclical nature of its car manufacturing and sales business.  

The company identified the need to equip people with new skills and began to address this by developing a curriculum for fleet management. They found people who were looking to expand their experience and skillsets and pre-developed a new line of business. When the acquisition of a fleet-management company in Poland was made many months later, the organization already had in place a cadre of employees primed to take over the management of that business and align it with Mercedes-Benz’s strategic priorities.  

The development of those employees offered a win-win solution by both growing the knowledge within the company to address the strategic challenges, and addressing the employees’ appetite to accumulate knowledge and skills valuable in the marketplace and relevant to their development within the organization. 

Education, education, education: Why learning and development attracts talent

As seen in the case of Mercedes-Benz, if employees can perceive L&D as contributive to their overall professional progress, it will imbue them with a greater sense of purpose and motivation to participate, naturally fostering loyalty at the same time. A successful L&D program will cater to the interests of both employee and employer and be intrinsically linked to furthering the organization’s strategic aims. In this way, employees can see a clear connection between the skills that they are learning and their own career trajectory, validating their decision to stay with their current employer. 

L&D should not be sidelined 

The LinkedIn study also found that 72% of learning professionals believe that L&D has become a more strategic function within their organizations, yet only 48% of learning professionals expected to see an increase in the L&D budgets (which is nevertheless at a six year high).    

Historically, when fiscal constraints are called for, learning becomes a prime target. This tends to be particularly the case in companies where the Learning function struggles to demonstrate impact to the organization. There is a widening chasm between the organizations who still fall into that paradigm, and those that cite their L&D program as their biggest competitive advantage.  

As a means of attracting and retaining talent, L&D is too important to be labelled a “nice-to-have” that can be cut from budgets when belts need to be tightened. This point resonates particularly loudly under current downbeat economic conditions. By linking learning to strategic priorities, Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) are able to showcase learning as an investment, rather than unnecessary additional expenditure.  

Of course, any L&D initiative must have measurable impact beyond attendance rates and hours clocked. Organizations must ask themselves whether they have moved the needle on skill acquisitions, attitudes and new competencies. The learning function needs to be able to gather and analyze that data, and play it back to the C-suite to promote achievements made. The more that the Learning function can demonstrate the importance of its programs and initiatives to the overall business, the more readily these will be ringfenced as vital investment.  

Learning on the front line 

There is a difference between academic and corporate learning, with the latter more directed, practical and resource-focused. In the workplace, rather than the accumulation of esoteric learning, people want to feel that their training and knowledge will be put into immediate practice, and they want to see the benefits of a new skillset in the environment around them before they put the effort into acquiring it themselves.  

It is a two-way process. CLOs need to have a seat at the table and be close to decisions about prioritization, workforce planning, and which skills to target in recruitment. They also need to hear from the bottom up, through employee-engagement surveys and needs analysis, to gauge accurately what employees are looking for and what they need from their work to feel fulfilled.  

Time spent planning a learning program that engages employees and allows them to grow with the company will be paid back manifold. 

Authors

Shlomo Ben-Hur

Shlomo Ben-Hur

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior

Professor Shlomo Ben-Hur works on the psychological and cultural aspects of leadership, and the strategic and operational elements of talent management and corporate learning. He is the Director of IMD’s Changing Employee Behavior program and IMD’s Organizational Learning in Action, and author of the books Talent IntelligenceThe Business of Corporate Learning, Changing Employee Behavior: a Practical Guide for Managers and Leadership OS.

Steven Smith

Steven Smith

Senior Advisor at the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and at IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Steven Smith is a Senior Advisor at the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and at IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland.

With over 25 years of experience in Corporate Learning, Steven has been the Chief Learning Officer at Nordea Bank and an Executive Vice President at Capgemini where he was Director of their Corporate University which he successfully led through accreditation.

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