Learning and Development (L&D) is something that, ideally, should be top priority for organisations in 2023 and yet, when economic uncertainties hit and budgets tighten, it is far too often the first thing to fall by the wayside.

This is why events such as  Learning at Work Week are so vital. It reminds us that keeping L&D front of mind can offer employees and employers numerous opportunities and benefits including future-proofing businesses, bolstering transferable skills and providing a competitive edge.

 The theme this year, “create the future”, encourages us to look towards building skills that not only serve to better the employee and organisation today, but will stand the test of time. Focusing on timeless soft skills, such as communication or time management, as well as providing training on emerging sectors, such as AI or Machine Learning will provide invaluable benefits to all involved.

2023 and beyond

One of the greatest advantages of upskilling and training is the opportunity to future-proof organisations in order to help them navigate changing times and economic uncertainty by providing a competitive edge. As Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft details, “the uncertain economic climate has led to more employees being required to take on additional or different responsibilities in their roles. As such, there is an increasing need for employees to upskill and adapt to meet the ever-evolving demands of the workplace. At the same time, disruptive technologies such as Generative AI and Large Language Models (LLM) equally require a new set of skills for businesses to best leverage their capabilities – with those not able to adapt likely to be left behind. With this in mind, it’s clear that developing talent and building skills is more important than ever. Organisations with a strong learning culture will find it easier to stay agile and adapt to new technologies.

“Continual upskilling is the key ingredient to future-proofing operations but this requires the right training tools to optimise employee learning. Content should be able to be consumed on-demand, in bite size chunks that can be incorporated into the work day. For example, on-demand access to videos, podcasts, e-books, and assignments will allow employees to learn when best suits them, and will help embed a culture of continuous development. Training providers should offer personalised recommendations and clear learning paths so that employees don’t waste time searching for content and are able to find the learning they need. Furthermore, with hybrid work becoming the norm, programs must be adaptable and accessible from any device, wherever the employee is.

“Organisations who implement these recommendations and provide employees with the time and encouragement to take advantage of them, will find they have a distinct business advantage. Setting themselves up for the future with employees who are able to adapt to new technologies as they appear, is vital as workforce transformation continues”.

Jen Locklear, Chief People Officer at ConnectWise expands on this, stating that “skills gaps remain an ever present issue, particularly in the technology sector, and with economic pressures discouraging many organisations from hiring, upskilling current staff is an obvious solution. There are more resources out there than ever for those looking to boost their skills, and increasingly learning can be completed anywhere and any time, serving the hybrid workforce and fitting into existing business priorities. For example, ConnectWise provides on-demand certification courses through ConnectWise Certify, which allows IT professionals to invest in their personal development and expand their knowledge. We also offer partners access to a wealth of educational resources, including ConnectWise University.

“Of course, whilst remote learning solutions are convenient, it’s vital that HR continues to find ways to allow staff to connect and collaborate. Utilising new technologies can ensure that remote training still offers opportunities to connect with others. Equally, there’s still value in ensuring there is time and resources for in-person learning. At ConnectWise, we’re particularly proud of our events for colleagues and partners that offer the space for them to share their knowledge and expertise”.

The new world of work

The way we work has changed drastically over the course of the past few years. Employers and employees alike are all too aware of this change and yet L&D strategies have been slow to adapt. Sadie Wilde, Head of Professional Development at Node4 explains, “while most businesses are now settled into a hybrid way of working, many are yet to adapt their Learning and Development (L&D) strategies to fit with this new routine. Opportunities for learning from shadowing, observing, and listening to conversations between colleagues are significantly reduced when employees are regularly working remotely. Therefore, making the most of the days that colleagues are in the office is essential. Encouraging teams to meet together – be it a formal brainstorm or an informal coffee morning – cultivates an environment that enables everyone to bring a different idea to the table. On those days when colleagues are working from home, online platforms are crucial for ensuring that this collaborative and creative environment is maintained, even when teams are physically apart.

“Too often L&D is considered to be an annual training session, but a strong L&D strategy should be an integrated part of our daily working routines. At Node4, we work hard to implement this and encourage learning and development at every opportunity. First of all, we have a strong coaching and mentoring culture, whereby colleagues are encouraged to learn from and support each other in their development. We also invest heavily in our emerging talent programme which hires apprentices and supports them through learning new skills, gaining nationally-recognised qualifications and embarking on a long term career with us. In addition, we run our Exceptional Service workshops and the Node4 Academy, where we teach an array of courses to all our employees, from our new starters to our longest serving.  We also ensure a strong focus on Leadership development supporting our Leaders at all levels including those aspiring to progress into a leadership role”.

Adapting with the times

While the day to day life of the UK workforce now looks very different in 2023, a lot of the same principles for success still exist, notably: adapt to survive. Organisations that cannot keep up with the rate that technology is changing will have a much harder time delivering competitive services and products. Bruce Martin, CEO of Tax Systems advises, “in order to keep pace with technological change, business leaders should be encouraging employees to grow alongside technology. At Tax Systems, it is clear that learning and development is important to our employees, which therefore makes it important for us as a company. We want to ensure our colleagues are able to continue their development and invest in their happiness so we regularly check in to see what more they need from us. Through open discussions, Tax Systems have recently made developments to our company learning strategy, which has initiated a more thorough push to ensure daily development to, and raised awareness of, our Learning Locker – a resource which has always been there but wasn’t always used to its maximum extent.

“As everyone learns in different ways, encouraging and supporting your employees to manage their own development will enable them to choose the path that best works for them and set them up for long-term success. Competence leads to confidence, so it is important for business leaders to encourage their people to flourish and thrive. It is not enough anymore just to attract the best talent, it is about providing employees everything they need so that they will want to stay. Invest in your people and they will invest in you”.

Looking forward

Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla concludes, “finding time for learning and development can be difficult when employees work on a hybrid basis, and the whole team is rarely in the office on the same occasion. Add to this the ever-increasing workloads that many are experiencing, and it is no wonder that learning and development opportunities are decreasing. But Learning at Work Week is all about promoting lifelong learning and provides a chance for organisations to assess their strategy for the training and progression of their employees…As they say, every day is a school day, and business leaders should encourage their employees’ continual development”.