Training’s Renewed Role in a Rapidly Changing World

training in a changing worldI’ve had a song stuck in my head this week. Unfortunately, it’s Cruel Summer by the 1980’s pop band Bananarama.

Admittedly, summer doesn’t technically start until June 20th in the Northern Hemisphere, but usually as we enter this season, there’s an anticipatory sense of fun and cheerfulness as we look forward to sunshine, pool or beach time, backyard parties, vacations, and the like.

This year is different.

It’s the year of the novel coronavirus pandemic, massive unemployment and economic struggle, global protests and riots over senseless police violence, and social and political unrest around every corner. We didn’t even need murder hornets to file this year in the “not so great” category.

People are hunkering down for a long list of reasons – offices and schools are closed; physical health and safety, and financial concerns are top of mind. We’re avoiding travel and not congregating in groups beyond an inner circle of loved ones. Business meetings, conferences, vacations, weddings, concerts, festivals, and larger get-togethers have been postponed or cancelled all together. Even small trips and events have been put on the “let’s do that next year” list.

There’s Got to be a Silver Lining, Right?

Of course! Over the past few months, many people have enjoyed more time with family, discovered the benefits of working from home, found the quiet to be introspective, and savored simple things in life that maybe we’d taken for granted – just to name a few of the silver linings.

For businesses, some may have surprised themselves at how quickly and efficiently they were able to pivot. The pandemic obviously prompted major, nearly immediate operational changes and many did it well. Organizations were able to rapidly adjust to new ways of doing business, including implementation of remote working environments and new safety and compliance regulations for workers.

Now, as lockdown restrictions are being lifted and many businesses are reopening or preparing to do so, we’re seeing some semblance of normal, human activity, but it’s a new “normal.” It’s just not how it was pre-pandemic.

Training’s New Importance in a Post-Pandemic World

It may sound overly simple, but in times like these, every little thing helps. The plain truth is that eLearning is a very powerful tool to energize employees, pull people together, and perhaps even unify an organization.

In our tech-driven world, maybe we took something like an LMS for granted in the past. Maybe we didn’t see it as the powerful connector that it is. Maybe we underestimated the power of learning itself.

During normal times, HR, L&D, and company leadership may have been more interested in upskilling workers for specific performance goals or meeting standard compliance requirements. But now, many companies are seeing an opportunity to train workers on the new ways of working and of being.

A recent McKinsey article recommends a new strategy for upskilling – one that identifies which employee skills will be most valuable to the business, post-pandemic:

Focus your investments on four kinds of skills: digital, higher cognitive, social and emotional, and adaptability and resilience. The skill building in these four areas should be predominately digital and self-paced but not tailored to the individual in most cases.”

Skills like “adaptability and resilience” were likely not on the course list last year. But now, they’re as valuable as the left-brained stuff.

Further, companies are delivering courses and learning paths designed to clarify the company’s direction and future position in the market (e.g. change management, new sales and service models, etc.), to teach leading through adversity, to foster greater mental and physical health, and to offer employees other resources and support.

For example, according to Training Industry:

Employee well-being has become a key focus area for many L&D professionals. Encouraging and supporting employees through this time is almost more important than productivity. We must be understanding with ourselves and each other, as many people are juggling child care and other caregiving and work responsibilities simultaneously. Learning leaders are searching for ways to motivate and engage their workforce to boost morale and reduce anxiety and stress.”

L&D and HR can use training to do more good and drive more important outcomes than ever before. eLearning and the LMS, as well as off-the-shelf content in some of the above-mentioned areas take on new significance today. These roles and tools keep teams and individuals engaged – able at minimum to cope and at maximum to adapt and thrive. They combine to help us feel connected to the organization and our evolving roles in it.

As eLearning Journal states:

…at the end of the day Learning and Development during a pandemic is all about adapting. The corporations have to adapt their business plans, Learning and Development professionals to online and virtual approaches, and the workforce to an eLearning experience. Digital learning might just be the solution that helps corporations maintain a productive and healthy workforce during difficult crisis.”

Let’s all keep learning and adapting, and maybe it doesn’t have to be a cruel, cruel summer after all.