Skills Development Is Its Own Reward

Millennials and others in today’s workforce view training as a benefit, not a burden.

Statistics on workplace engagement—or the lack thereof—which are released each year are always startling. More than 8 in 10 workers are not engaged or are actively disengaged, according to Gallup’s most recent “State of the Global Workplace” report, resulting in approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity.

“In a nutshell, this global engagement pattern provides evidence that how performance is managed, and specifically how people are being developed, is misfiring,” states Jim Harter, chief scientist of Workplace Management and Well-Being for Gallup’s workplace management practice and a coauthor of “12: The Elements of Great Managing.”

Most modern businesses rely on annual reviews to provide feedback and evaluate performance. “The new workforce is looking for things such as purpose, opportunities to develop, ongoing conversations, a coach rather than a boss, and a manager who leverages strengths rather than obsessing over weaknesses. They see work and life as interconnected, and they want their job to be a part of their identity,” says Harter.

Growth as an Opportunity?

The mantras for managing today’s Millennial- tilting workforce are well-known: They value purpose over paychecks, crave regular feedback, and prize skills development that will help them further their career. HR managers and Talent and Development directors we spoke with from the Training Top 125 say the importance of a company’s ongoing training effort cannot be overstated. We were curious if many in the workforce need incentives to complete training, but were told the type of workers companies want to recruit and retain see training as its own reward.

Gift cards, wearables, and other non-cash recognition items will always be part of the motivation and recognition mix for many companies, but few workers need to be tugged into training.

“We incentivize employees with more learning—giving them access to more platforms,” says Steve Boucher, vice president of Global Talent Development at Mastercard. “We see a lot of people who are consuming learning and asking for more resources. It’s just ingrained in our culture.”

The Coached Become Coaches

To that end, the direction to managers at Mastercard from top executives is to ensure employees have an average of two hours per week built into their schedules to learn. Certification is a badge of honor at the company, says Boucher’s colleague, Director of Global Talent Development Maureen Doran-Houlihan. Employees take great pride in achieving certification and then turning around and coaching others in the company.

“Instead of paying a vendor to deliver classes, they’re able to go out and coach software development teams or deliver training classes. People start to build their own brand as subject matter experts. They are recognized not only at Mastercard, but globally, as experts in their field,” says Doran-Houlihan.

Of course, there are monetary rewards for attaining additional skills, as well. At Two Men and a Truck, a franchised moving company, workers in front-line positions understand early on that completing training is an important part of moving to the next pay level.

“If you have ever tried to move a baby grand piano, you know it’s not that simple,” says Sara Bennett, chief talent officer at the corporate office of Two Men and a Truck. “Customer service skills are not that simple. Management skills, the technology we use, safety, Department of Transportation compliance…You could train on something new every single day.”

Know Your Team

Bennett and Emily Holley, Human Resources Project and Systems manager for Two Men and a Truck, help franchise owners develop training programs and incentive structures. Front-line employees understand that completing training will increase opportunities for long-haul moves and career advancement. Training is used to fill in work hours during slow seasons, and franchise owners are encouraged to develop their own incentive programs that suit their employees.

“What makes the most difference is when managers and franchisees really know their audience,” says Holley. “You have to know what motivates your team and how to connect with them. For some, it’s straight cash, while others crave public recognition.” One franchise in Omaha buys whole pigs from a local butcher and rewards top performers with cuts of meat. Holley says the team, well, ate it up.

The bottom line, say the Training professionals we spoke with, is that employees will be engaged in their work if you give them reason to be. That starts and ends with making skills development readily available. As Bell & Howell has transitioned from a hardware company to a services company, ensuring that its 700-plus field technicians are properly trained is vital, says Donald Bullock, vice president of Customer Support at the company.

“We try to run our training like a typical university. We have typical prerequisites for some training classes; we have online learning that can be done prior to some hands-on sessions; and we have midterm exams and final exams when classes are completed,” Bullock says.

Bell & Howell does reward technicians for completing cross-training, and its Service Excellence program recognizes technicians monthly for going above and beyond in terms of customer service. At the end of each year, executives select the “best of the best” from hundreds of monthly award winners. Ten national winners are invited to the company’s national meeting, where their efforts are feted with a banquet.


A new report from Udemy based on a survey of more than 1 ,0 0 0 Millennials across the U.S. unveils what these workers want from employers:

  • Learning and development (L&D): Although some feel education prepared them for their career, many expect they'll need additional education or training to advance in their careers (73 percent).
  • Benefits that matter: “ Fun” office perks may grab headlines, but Millennials actually want substance, including health care (4 8 percent), L&D opportunities (42 percent), and a 401k/savings program (39 percent).
  • Flexibility: They want greater flexibility in how, when, and where they work in order to work smarter and more efficiently. In fact, 4 4 percent say a flexible work arrangement is their ideal situation.
  • Respect: Millennials want to be loyal and stay with a company, but they need employers to show they're equally committed. Although 59 percent have been in their current jobs for more than three years, 8 6 percent feel undermined by negative stereotypes in the workplace.

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