In The War For Talent, May The Best Learning & Development Cultures Win

New LinkedIn data shows that in a market that puts skills first, workers are drawn to organizations that support their learning journey.

Learning and development professionals, your day has come.

As the market continues to change, companies need to adapt their talent strategies to attract and retain employees, who have become a little more choosy about things like culture, flexibility, and—oh yes—the opportunity to grow their skills and careers.

Because of this, the professionals driving learning and development (&D) programs within an organization are an emerging player in this pivot. “The one constant in today’s talent marketplace is uncertainty, and talent professionals are at the center of guiding organizations through this transformation,” said Linda Jingfang Cai, vice president of talent development at LinkedIn. “Workplace learning is key to developing agile and resilient workforces to navigate these macro changes.”

Jingfang Cai points to recent LinkedIn data showing that 89% of companies believe that proactively building their employees’ skills will help them master the future of work. “As a result, 82% of global leaders believe the HR function is more important now than ever, and the influence of L&D leaders continues to grow,” she says.

In my interview with Jingfang Cai, she spoke about the rapidly growing impact of L&D on the business needs of companies and what employers can do to strengthen their talent acquisition and retention strategies.

Skills in demand

LinkedIn’s recent Workplace Learning Report found that today’s younger workers, aged 18-34, most want other vibrant learning and development opportunities at work – even higher than work-life balance. “Career-oriented learning cultures attract and keep them,” says Jingfang Cai.

What skills are most important to employers and employees? LinkedIn’s recently released Most In-Demand Skills list breaks down the most in-demand skills of 2023, both in terms of general skills and technical competencies.

Soft skills that AI can’t duplicate — like management, communication, leadership, and teamwork — are high on the list. “It’s no surprise, especially in today’s hybrid workplace – a strong ability to connect teams and lead through change is what companies need at this time,” explains Jingfang Cai.

On the list of hard skills, technical skills dominate the scene, including the skills needed to build products and manage and process the data that informs innovation and service. Jingfang Cai notes that software development, SQL, finance, Python, Java, data analysis, JavaScript, cloud computing, operations, and CRM are all in-demand skills in the hiring field.

Continuing education for everyone

According to Jingfang Cai, upskilling is becoming increasingly important for leaders who want to become more agile and adapt to today’s changing economic landscape. “Our data shows that job skills have changed about 25% since 2015, and that number is expected to double by 2027,” she says.

It’s a daunting task for businesses to tackle, and it has two components. “Aligning learning programs with business goals and upskilling employees are the top two priorities for L&D in 2023,” says Jingfang Cai.

But does the urge for further education work? According to Jingfang Cai, there is still work to be done. “Our data shows that large-scale upskilling and reskilling initiatives aren’t moving fast enough,” she says. “Just over half of companies are in the mid-stage where they have built learning programs but are still forming teams and trying to get stakeholder buy-in. 40% of companies are in the early stages and 4% have not even started.”

While this may sound daunting, it’s actually just a tip to align your short-term L&D strategy with a more individualized approach. “Although large-scale upskilling and reskilling programs take time to implement, organizations can focus on creating more personalized, people-centric learning opportunities to encourage internal mobility within their organizations,” says Jingfang Cai.

That’s where the immediate gains can be made while you continue to fully implement company-wide training initiatives.

L&D for retention

In view of the looming budget constraints for many companies, it has become increasingly important to find the right person in the right role from the start. It is also crucial to retain the workforce that is already in place. Not only are these employees more productive than someone new to the role, but the upfront cost of recruiting new talent can come at a high cost, not just in money but in morale as well.

All of this is just another reason L&D is gaining momentum. “As priorities shift and HR becomes a more important function for organizations, we’re seeing L&D teams work more closely with their peers on talent acquisition,” says Jingfang Cai. “81% of recruiters say they need to work more closely with L&D as their responsibilities expand to include internal mobility, skill-based hiring and employee retention.”

Learning opportunities at work are now, in the words of Jingfang Cai, “a powerful retention tool” to meet the demands of today’s workforce, whose greatest motivation to learn is driven by a desire to make progress toward their career goals.

To retain top and permanent talent, Jingfang Cai gives three pieces of advice:

  • Make small changes towards a culture of learning. “This can take the form of job shadowing and mentoring opportunities or rotation programs. Fostering new skills can also come from managers helping their employees take on challenging assignments or trying projects that are outside of their typical day-to-day responsibilities,” she says.
  • Allow self-directed learning. “L&D and business leaders have the opportunity to give their people more leverage over their career growth—at a time when so much in today’s economy seems out of their control—by allowing them to chart their own career paths that Taking learning into your own hands and ultimately building careers with resilience,” says Jingfang Cai. “We found that engaging young learners in this way gives them a sense of growth, progression and adaptability.”
  • Increase the visibility of internal job offers. “Not only does it make it easier for employees to find their next game internally, it also makes it easier for organizations to move talent to other strategic areas of the business,” says Jingfang Cai. “Finally, we see that internal mobility plays a big role in retention. An employee who has changed internally within two years is more likely to stay with the company.”

Use of L&D in the War for Talent

As the world continues to change, the continuous reskilling of workers will no longer be a function primarily reserved for high-tech industries. Instead, it becomes a kind of imperative for all areas.

While an organization’s ability to train new and current employees has always been important, it has now become even more important. Technology, market conditions and business needs have never changed so rapidly. Getting the right people in the right roles for the right reasons is now closely linked to your ability to train individuals to be those right people – and then motivate them to stay long enough to make a meaningful contribution.

As workers value their opportunities to learn and grow more than ever, companies will rise and fall on the strength of their L&D culture. Employees who feel they have a clear path to growth, along with robust resources and training, are far less likely to abandon ship to find an opportunity elsewhere. Likewise, workers who do not feel supported on their journey to skills will be left behind.

The war for talent is not over yet. May the best L&D cultures win.

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