If there’s one constant in the business world, it’s talent acquisition.
Growing businesses can often struggle to hold onto their brightest employees when rival firms are doing their best to win them over. This creates constant competition in the job market for people to fill those skill gaps, resulting in expensive and lengthy hiring processes.
So, how can businesses improve this area and help their operations run at peak efficiency? To many, the answer lies in continuous learning and professional development.
What is continuous learning?
As humans, we learn new things every day. In the world of business, recognizing this fact and committing to a culture of continuous learning is essential for employee longevity and retention.
You can think of it as a constant process of self-improvement that enables you to acquire new skills, go through unfamiliar experiences, and develop in the workplace.
Continuous learning is of paramount importance to employees—with 94% reporting that they would stay longer at an organization if it invested in their development—making it a crucial undertaking for HR leaders to get right.
8 Tips for establishing continuous learning for your employees
Set clear learning goals your employees should focus on
Everyone needs objectives to work toward—they give us a challenge, a point of reference, and the knowledge that a reward is waiting at the end for our hard work.
Whenever you set a goal, whether it’s for business or an individual, it must be SMART:
- Specific: Your objectives must be clear, well-defined, and focused on a particular outcome. Avoid vague or ambiguous targets as these will only create confusion.
- Measurable: Define how you will measure progress and success, using quantifiable metrics or criteria.
- Achievable: Set objectives that are realistic and within reach, given your employee’s available resources, skills, and constraints. Unattainable goals will only be demotivating.
- Relevant: Make sure the objectives align with your individual’s priorities and your business’s long-term goals.
- Time-Bound: Establish a specific timeframe for achieving each objective, as this creates a sense of urgency and helps with planning and accountability.
Setting SMART goals will also remove the threat of bias from skewing your employee’s learning goals or trust in the process. Make your measuring system transparent, so managers and employees alike can monitor their progress and know if they’re on track to meet their objectives. And if they’re not, then offer your staff supplementary advice, readings, and training videos.
Implement regular skill assessments for your employees
Sometimes, the biggest challenge with learning is figuring out what you don’t know.
We all like to think that we’re experts in our jobs, and some of us even get defensive when that notion is challenged (even when others are just trying to be helpful). As such, businesses need a diplomatic way of measuring employee skill sets, to see whether they’re fully capable of their day-to-day tasks or if they’re ready to move onto a new challenge.
The answer to this lies in a formalized skill assessment process. To get started, set out calendar dates for when HR will identify an employee’s necessary skills to perform their job. Then, ask that employee to identify their key skills. Once you’ve collected this data, you can ask them to complete a self-assessment test, with manager and peer evaluation after the fact.
From here, you can gain a clear view of your staff’s competencies, and whether they’re suited to the role that they’re in. Follow these skill assessments with feedback and development planning, and suggest to the individual their career path within your organization.
The best way to implement this process is to log all data in a centralized HR system software. Here, you can access employee insights, such as test scores and progress reports, and tailor a personalized learning package for them to improve their skill sets.
Automating this process will relieve much of your HR team’s day-to-day workload and let them focus on what matters most: people.
Make learning resources updated and accessible
We’re not saying you need to buy new textbooks every year, but keeping an updated library of learning resources is crucial for building an agile team in a rapidly changing market.
The best resources you can invest in are teaching programs—such as webinars, workshops, or certification programs. You can be sure that experts in your field will know about the latest industry trends and skill sets, and include these topics in their courses.
Alternatively, some businesses decide to go down the route of internal mentoring and on-the-job training. This is fine, but you’ll need to equip your supervisors with the relevant knowledge to speak authoritatively on a subject.
Another important aspect is accessibility—the idea that your employees should be able to engage with e-learning resources regardless of any personal disabilities. Make sure your videos come with transcriptions and features such as variable text sizes and audio narration.
Recognize and reward employees for their learning achievements
Ordering your employees to complete skills assessments and strive for the best is futile if you don’t demonstrate what they can earn from completing them.
So, whenever you set goals, be sure to also highlight how they are important to an employee’s career aspirations. Suggest what targets they need to reach to achieve a promotion, and, to make the deal sweeter, offer annual bonuses for your top performers. Just make sure that this system is transparent to foster trust among your team.
Incorporate training opportunities into your workflow
As the name suggests, ‘continuous learning’ is not a one-time event. Rather, it’s a culture where everyone aims to improve their skills every day.
To put theory into practice, you need to allocate specific time for employees to spend on professional development. You can offer them as little or as much as you think is necessary—but most companies offer two to five training days per year, depending on the industry.
As well as this, you should communicate to your employees that a line is always open for them to discuss development plans. For instance, you could sign eager staff up for extra mentoring sessions to keep acquiring knowledge from their colleagues on-the-job.
Promote peer learning among colleagues in the workplace
As we’re on the subject, mentoring and peer coaching really is a great way for employees to learn the necessary skills for their jobs. Regardless of the approach to learning you take, encouraging collaboration and teamwork is effective for so many reasons, including:
- Relatability: Colleagues share similar experiences in the workplace, meaning peer mentors are likely to understand a role’s challenges more intimately.
- Cost-Effectiveness: Since your employees are already on the payroll, you won’t be hit with any extra fees or unexpected costs.
- Flexibility: You won’t need to work to an external coach’s calendar—peer mentoring is available pretty much all of the time.
- Mutuality: Both mentors and mentees can learn new things from each other, making this style of learning doubly effective.
The only issue with peer learning is that it can be tricky to schedule these sessions around your employee’s other workflows, especially if they conflict with one another. Using a comprehensive time management system can help HR leaders plan their staff’s weekly calendars more easily, and allocate extra resources to a project if necessary.
Similarly, peer learning can be challenging if one of the employees works remotely, whereas the other is in the office. In that case, you may find that leveraging digital collaboration and communication tools – including video conferencing platforms – can streamline the interaction and boost its effectiveness.
Invest in employee training programs, courses, and platforms
Peer mentoring has its advantages, but your employees should also have access to external resources so they can introduce new ideas and skills to your organization. There’s no shame in recognizing that your business has a skills gap in an area—and the answer isn’t always to hire someone new.
Rather, look for training courses, educational platforms, or professional certifications that match what you’re looking for. You can sign your employees up to complete these professional development extras on the clock, or, if you can’t find the time, offer them overtime hours to take these courses when they’re at home.
Leverage learning tech to make the experience more interactive
A professional development program requires recognizing that everyone learns things in slightly different ways. To keep everyone engaged, you should offer a wide variety of e-learning materials and courses. This has become much easier with the development of educational software—otherwise known as ‘EdTech’.
Apps such as Duolingo and Khan Academy have nailed this business model, and have made education more accessible to everyone, regardless of their learning style.
Take the first step toward a culture of continuous learning
Continuous learning is something that we’re already doing every day, just not necessarily in the workplace. HR leaders need to recognize that employees want to learn new skills no matter their role in a business, and offering professional development is key to meeting these needs.
Getting started with continuous learning requires leadership from the top. Signal a culture change in your organization by setting aside dedicated time slots for training workshops and webinars. Complement this with peer mentoring that can be completed on the job. Finally, provide access to up-to-date reading materials and interactive EdTech apps.
Implementing this effectively is key to retaining top talent in a competitive jobs market.