No Longer Just for the Overly Ambitious, Lifelong Learning Is Now an Economic Imperative

A three-step process to create a culture of lifelong learning that not only upskills your workforce, but also delivers a great ROI.

Lifelong learning used to be on the “nice-to-have” list of employee benefits. Today, Millennials rank Learning & Development (L&D) as more important than paid vacation, or even cash bonuses. Since 55 percent of workers believe they need new skills to stay competitive, it isn’t hard to see why they love L&D programs promising to upskill and reskill them.

But what about the other side? Does investment in L&D help businesses?

HR Magazine reports higher profits for companies with greater L&D investment. In today’s fast-moving technological world, training can provide immediate benefits to your company because newly upskilled employees can increase output immediately, especially by adopting new, high-tech skills or tools.

Here’s a three-step process to create a culture of lifelong learning that not only upskills your workforce, but also delivers a great ROI.

STEP 1: Create a learning culture

A learning culture does not start with one pebble making waves. If you wait for the overly ambitious to start your learning culture, it will never catch on. Everyone has to participate.

How can you get everyone moving in the right direction? You look to your leaders. At BenchPrep, we encourage a learning culture by offering an annual $1,200 professional development fund to each employee.

This stipend allows us to leverage new, industry best practices that expand upon our own company’s internal knowledge. It’s a win-win because employees receive the training they desire, while we benefit from a team member who can immediately apply new skills to help our business.

Other companies also see the ROI inherent in upskilling their workforces. Amazon will retrain a third of its U.S. workforce by 2025 to the tune of $700 million. Similarly, AT&T committed $1 billion to retrain half of its workforce. Finally, Orange will invest $1.6 billion in retraining its global workforce.

What can you do if you don’t have millions to invest in re-training, but still want a great L&D ROI? Here’s a few strategies to start implementing a company-wide learning culture:

  • Align learning with company goals and knowledge gaps so upskilled employees can apply new skills and make an impact immediately.
  • Invest in employee professional development by funding additional coursework or conferences available from third-party trainers.
  • Make a plan for how employees can apply any new skills so they gain the benefit and receive immediate gratification from their training.

STEP 2: Leverage managers

Managers play an important role in any learning ecosystem, so it makes sense to upskill them first to see an immediate ROI. Upskilled managers can mentor employees and help them use new skills to combat the forgetting curve.

A learning culture also happens when companies empower employees to make their own choices. For example, 62 percent of IT professionals report paying for training out of pocket. Instead of letting employees hone their skills alone, newly upskilled employees can share their learning with peers in Lunch ’n Learns or team trainings. Plus, teaching others provides a great way to solidify knowledge and provide leadership opportunities for any employee.

Managers also can help their staff find the certifications and trainings they need to meet business goals. Some 46 percent of employees find out about learning opportunities through their managers, according to the 2019 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report. Certifications have become the currency of the workplace because they verify employee competencies, unlike college degrees. Certifications are a win-win—your business stays competitive with highly trained staff and your employees stay marketable.

Here are a few strategies to make managers an integral part of your L&D strategy:

  • Train managers first, so they can train others.
  • Ensure managers understand the big picture and value that a learning culture offers (both short and long term).
  • Ask managers to make a plan for how employees will use approved professional development.
  • Empower your managers to suggest courses to their staff that align with company goals.

STEP 3: Incorporate Technology

Any investment in learning technology needs to meet the needs of the modern learner otherwise it’s a waste—they won’t use it. How do you keep from investing in unused technology? By making it on-demand and continuous the way modern learners want.

Businesses will see the highest ROI if they offer highly consumable, easily digestible microlearning chunks. After all, modern learners only have 24 minutes/week to learn, so you don’t want to waste them. Plus, once your workforce develops a learning habit, they’ll be agile and flexible to any new changes.

Here are a few “look fors” when assessing the ROI of learning technology:

  • Search navigation: Ensure your learners can find what they want when they want it. Search technology can radically reduce the amount of time an employee spends digging for information.
  • Performance support: Some 70 percent of workers already turn to Google search engines in their time of need. A needs assessment can help L&D departments identify what performance support employees need to help them find relevant, curated information.
  • AI-driven learning: We’re already accustomed to receiving recommendations from entertainment technology like Netflix or YouTube. Artificial intelligence (AI) learning products can recommend courses, but they also can create personalized learning pathways designed around your unique learners’ strengths and weaknesses.

What Happens if You Don’t Invest in Lifelong Learning?

Lifelong learning used to only be for those at the top with good benefits or the overly ambitious. Today, investing in upskilling your workforce isn’t a luxury—it’s an economic imperative.

Currently, the half-life of skills sits at five years. So half of everything you know today will be obsolete five years from now. What does that mean for your employees?

Some 61 percent of employees feel they lack the skills necessary to adopt technology that improves their output, according to WestMonroe’s The Upskilling Crisis: Effectively Enabling and Retraining Employees for the Future. Companies that invest in L&D today will see an immediate return on investment for that 62 percent of employees.

Imagine if you could boost your workforce’s productivity tomorrow? You can—with a learning culture. A learning culture will make sure everyone’s on the same page so employees choose skills that benefit your business immediately, while learning technology can help everyone adopt new tools and combat the forgetting curve.

Ashish Rangenekar is the CEO of BenchPrep , a provider of a professional learning platform that delivers a premiere online learning experience for leading education and training companies.