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How to build a learning culture for 2020 and beyond

Our Chief People Officer, Dean Corbett, spoke with Training Journal about the importance of building a learning culture. 

It’s not easy to build a workplace that has a great culture, let alone one that promotes and facilitates learning. However, the coronavirus crisis has made it apparent to both businesses and individuals that learning is one of the best ways to advance a career, keep employees engaged and reduce the costs associated with hiring.

The skills gap in the UK economy costs an estimated 4.4bn pounds every year, and could make companies more siloed and inefficient. The good news is that employees are aware, and willing to learn. As an HR leader, how can you go about building a learning culture in your organisation, encouraging both internally and externally-provided development?

On one level, it’s fairly simple to promote learning programmes and make the case to senior stakeholders for the importance of learning budgets. However, these kinds of budgets are not always forthcoming, especially at this time, so you may need to find other ways to foster a culture of development and learning.

It’s worth looking internally to see if there is anyone in your organisation who might already have the skills you’re looking to build more broadly, and who could invest time to upskill the rest of your team. Could someone in finance teach your colleagues how to use MS Excel, for example?

A large part of promoting a learning culture is to encourage people to connect with one another about any learning they are taking on as individuals. What are they learning? Are they enjoying it, and why?

If someone has found a great course in their own time, and one that’s valuable for their career, their recommendation could be passed on when it’s time to approve learning for others. Alternatively, that person might be willing to share their learning with wider teams.

With so many people working remotely, connection is vital and craved more than ever. Whatever learning your employees undertake, it has to be adapted to meet the virtual environment we all now work in. In-classroom learning is less practical right now, and can also be very difficult for people to manage alongside work and other responsibilities.

However, like most businesses, many learning providers have adopted virtual interactive sessions. Equally, some online learning (commonly called ‘Click next’ learning) tends to leave people feeling frustrated, bored, and burnt out - not something you want to impose on your employees, and not conducive to building a true learning culture.

Listening to your employees’ feedback, and thus protecting their mental and physical wellbeing, is crucial in building a genuinely productive learning culture. Employees can’t feel that their course is just another element of presenteeism, or work intruding into their personal lives.

Businesses who implement a learning culture tend to make time and space for learners to progress at their own pace, and line it up with their overall personal and organisational objectives. This means providing development that is empowering, and enables people to direct their own career trajectory, whilst managing other elements of their busy lives.

However, if a requirement to complete a course in a certain period of time is added to the day-to-day pressures of a full-time job, it could lead to burnout; always be really clear about why learning is required and equally clear about what you want to see as a result of the learning.

There is ample evidence to show that tired, unhappy employees are less productive and engaged, making this a complete lose-lose situation. Connected learning is hugely valuable in preventing this, allowing employees to match their own speed of progression to what is possible for them, and doing that with others at a time people need connection more than anything. 

There’s no one way to build a learning culture - a combination of factors comes together to make people feel supported and enabled in their development, and to answer the business’ needs. Making sure your employees have what they need elsewhere in their day-to-day jobs is crucial, as is understanding the skills your business will likely need in the future, not just right now.

One thing is for certain - if more businesses are not able to encourage a meaningful, clear culture that fosters learning, the skills gap is likely to continue to grow, costing our economy, and leaving precious talent underused, disengaged and unproductive.

HR professionals and business leaders alike must act as best we can to enable a flourishing learning culture within our organisations, allowing employees to upskill and reach their full potential.  

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