Can Learning Consume the C-Suite? Why It Will in 2021 & Beyond

learning for the c-suiteBack in 2019, very few businesses were expecting a pandemic. After all, epidemics were things of the past, relegated to the history books. We’d probably never live through one. There was no need for a strategic plan addressing business continuity in case of a pandemic, and no need to make sure every worker was equipped to work from home. It just wasn’t worth planning for.

And then 2020 happened. No one was prepared, but the companies that did the best weren’t just video conferencing companies, streaming providers, or companies who delivered food to people in lockdown  — they were the companies able to change directions quickly, adopting new technology and sometimes even pivoting their business model to take care of their people, their customers, and their bottom line.

How did training adapt during the pandemic?

Training was a big part of business’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Early last spring, in-person training was still favored over online learning in many businesses. Data from Brandon Hall Group showed that pre-pandemic, 96% of companies relied on instructor-led training and only 50% had remote, digital programs in place. As of March 2020, in-person trainings were  no longer feasible, so organizations needed  to change their training programs to an entirely digital model, and quickly.

Many made the change almost overnight; the Tauranga City Council in New Zealand, for example, launched a digital training program for more than 900 employees in just two weeks.

“Implementing an LMS has created the foundations for a significant step change in learning and development for our people,” said Allan Lightbourne, Chief Digital Officer for the  Tauranga City Council. “The fact that we were able to partner with Litmos to achieve this during lock-down, and in two weeks, shows what’s possible when you work with the right partners that are nimble and driven to meet our business needs.”

How did training help companies adapt?

Not only did training itself have to adapt during lockdown, but it has helped organizations adapt to the crisis.

Training workers instead of laying them off

Many companies found themselves changing in one way or another over the last year. Some were shrinking, some pivoted and changed their business model, and others grew. In every case, this changed their personnel needs. Many companies simply didn’t need the same kinds of workers they needed before the pandemic. These organizations were faced with the unpleasant need to cut jobs during an already-difficult time.

Some organizations decided to do something else — rather than lay off unneeded employees and hire new ones for different roles (both actions that cost a company money), companies decided to reskill their workforces. Brandon Hall Group found that 56% of the companies it studied were planning to reskill their workers due to shifting business priorities and models. The same data showed that 43% of businesses are concerned about determining whether employees will be returning to their old jobs, or whether their new jobs will change because of new business conditions.

Reskilling existing employees for new jobs isn’t new. PwC announced a $3 billion upskilling project in 2019 as a way to combat the skills gap many companies have been struggling to close. “If you opt in… we will not leave you behind,”  said PwC global chairman Bob Moritz, quoted by  Business Insider. “I can’t guarantee you the specific job that you have or want to have. But I can guarantee you you’re going to have employment here.”

Building relationships between organizations 

Some organizations are reskilling their workforces for other industries. Take the example of Scandinavian Airlines, which was faced with the dilemma of temporarily laying off 90% of its cabin staff last year. Rather than simply leaving its workers jobless, Scandanavian Airlines offered a short medical reskilling program so those employees could enter jobs in the struggling healthcare industry as medical assistants. Later, a second initiative was added, sending airline employees into the schools as teaching assistants. Both programs were short, moving employees from their jobs to new positions in a matter of weeks. These initiatives helped cabin staff find work during hard times, helped two other sectors out while airplanes were grounded, and built bridges between the airline and other industries.

Training the skills needed right now

Training has also been vital to companies that now rely on remote technologies; not all employees understood Zoom, Slack, and other such technologies before the pandemic. Brandon Hall Group found that 71% of organizations were using training to teach employees the skills they needed right at the moment.

These skills, which organizations trained rapidly will benefit companies going forward, since many organizations are moving to remote work. McKinsey uses the example of a pharmaceutical company that moved from an in-person model to a completely remote model in February of 2020, training 10,000 sales reps to work from home. These new skills will come in handy as the company moves to a 30 percent-online–70 percent-offline working model.

Training means adaptivity

If 2020 proved anything, it’s that organizations need to be adaptive to survive. The more agile an organization is, the better it will weather a storm — even if no one at that organization saw the storm coming.

The need for an agile organization became abundantly clear to the C-Suite this past year as they were faced with huge decisions that required them to think creatively. Training, many of those decision-makers realized, is the key to having an agile, adaptable organization, allowing companies to change everything from their workforce to their business models, and do it quickly, while most employees worked from home.

Without a centralized learning platform and the ability to rollout training super quickly, people will be left idling in obsolete roles.

Because “adaptability” will be a watch word for the C-suite in the coming months, upper management is likely to keep a much closer eye on learning and its effect on the organization’s ability to adapt than ever before.