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Leadership & Culture

Learning cultures will make (or break) future employers

The reality of COVID-19 was that skills acquisition happened in organisations - whether it was planned or not. Teams needed to rally to pivot their operations in often unforeseen directions. They were forced to learn in real-time.


As Australia emerges from the pandemic, L&D and HR teams will need to more comprehensively and cohesively supports their organisational vision for the future. Working together, they will need to join up the workforce skills needs they have mapped with the expected skills needs of the future by nurturing a powerful learning culture.


This will also help them maintain agility to be able to meet the constant challenge of change over time.


Yes, your employees are ready to learn 


The first thing to realise is employees are, by and large, ready to learn.


A survey from RMIT and Deloitte Access Economics in 2021 found 52% of workers would prefer a learning culture over a fun culture at work, and that a significant proportion – 38% - preferred paid study leave over a promotion.


But the barriers to learning the survey revealed were familiar. A 23% slice of respondents said learning isn’t available in times and ways that suit them, while work commitments, coursework costs and personal commitments like caring responsibilities came out on top as the three barriers keeping Australians from learning more for work.


Swinburne University’s Centre for the New Workforce says we have a major problem creating successful learning cultures. It found (pre-pandemic) only 42% of workers had had formal training as part of their work, less than two in five employers encourage knowledge sharing, and 51% of employees spend less than an hour a week learning.


It has also found that some workers were more at risk of being excluded from learning through collaboration opportunities at work, particularly older workers, women, frontline workers and new age remote workers.


How can organisations foster a learning culture that meets learning needs and removes barriers?


Learning how to make learning better


One way is to build on the success of others who have done just that.


The most critical thing in building a learning culture, successful L&D leaders say, is to make workplaces a safe place for learning to occur. They are clear that it is hierarchical or ego-driven workplaces in particular that lead to learning being stymied and employees shut down when questions are asked or curiosity followed.


What is required are shifts from the top, where employee initiative is encouraged and learning is approached humbly in a spirit of no one having the ideal answer. This ensures all feel safe to contribute ideas, make mistakes and learn.


SEEK Manager of Learning and Development Australia and New Zealand, Melitta Hardenburg, has said learning culture success at SEEK has come from designing for ‘connection, context, simplicity and space’ in addition to safety. ‘Connection’ are those collaborative opportunities that foster learning, ‘context’ refers to making learning hyper-relevant to an employee’s role and flow of work, ‘simplicity’ means stripping learning back to key takeaways rather than overloading, and ‘space’ means giving people time to utilise and reinforce what they have learned in their everyday roles. At SEEK, designing for things like connection or context comes before content, not after.


Centre for the New Workforce research has found integrating learning with everyday business activity is important. Learning that best enables innovation is 'worker-driven learning', with an ideal mix being 70% new tasks (where people were pushing boundaries), 20% learning from colleagues and 10% through formal structured delivery of content. Even pre-packaged content is now often being re-imagined as on-demand learning that assists employees directly with ‘just-in-time’ skills or knowledge in their flow of work, rather than being delivered out of context.


It may be that giving employees more agency over their learning pathways will build learning culture success and employee engagement. Deloitte has suggested that empowering workers with ‘creative’ choice will create more value than overly prescriptive approaches in future (Global Human Capital Trends Report, 2021).


“Organisations that afford workers the agency to explore passion areas will be able to more quickly and effectively activate workers around emerging business priorities than those who take a prescriptive approach to filling skills needs,” it said. In a world where automotive workers can retool production lines using 3D scanners and computer simulations to manufacture ventilators during a pandemic, dare we rule out the power of learning possibility?


Interested in learning how we partner with complex employers to provide next generation workforce skills management technology? Learn more here.