Learning & development professionals, your day has come.
As the market continues to change, organizations must pivot their talent strategies to recruit 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.
That’s why a rising player in this pivot are the professionals who drive learning & development (&D) programs within an organization. “The only constant in today’s talent market is uncertainty, and talent professionals are at the center of steering organizations through this change,” says Linda Jingfang Cai, LinkedIn’s VP of Talent Development. “Workplace learning is key to developing agile and resilient workforces to navigate these macro shifts.”
Jingfang Cai points to recent LinkedIn data showing that 89% of organizations agree that proactively building their workforces’ skills will help them navigate the future of work. “As a result, 82% of global leaders believe the HR function is more critical now than it’s ever been, and L&D’s C-suite influence continues to surge,” she says.
In my interview with Jingfang Cai, she shared the fast-rising influence of L&D on companies’ business imperatives, as well as what employers can do to strengthen their talent acquisition and retention strategies.
LinkedIn’s most recent Workplace Learning Report found that younger workers, ages 18–34, now want vibrant learning and growth opportunities at work above all else—even higher than they rank work-life balance. “Career-focused learning cultures attract and retain them,” says Jingfang Cai.
What kind of skills are most important to employers and employees alike? LinkedIn’s recently released Most In-Demand Skills list breaks down the most desired skills of 2023, in both general skills and technical competencies.
Soft skills that AI can’t duplicate—such as management, communication, leadership and teamwork—are high on the list. “This is no surprise, especially in today’s hybrid workplace—a strong ability to connect and lead teams through change is what companies need to get through this time,” explains Jingfang Cai.
Upskilling for all
Upskilling, says Jingfang Cai, is becoming increasingly important to business leaders looking to become more agile and adapt to today’s changing economic landscape. “Our data shows that since 2015, skill sets for jobs have changed around 25%, and, by 2027, this number is expected to double,” she says.
It’s a daunting task for companies to tackle, and it has two components. “Aligning learning programs to business goals and upskilling employees are the top two priorities for L&D in 2023,” says Jingfang Cai.
But is the push to upskill working? According to Jingfang Cai, there’s still much to be done. “Our data shows that large-scale upskilling and reskilling initiatives are not progressing fast enough,” she says. “Just over half of companies are at the mid-stage, where they’ve built learning programs but are still forming teams and trying to get buy-in from all of the stakeholders. Forty percent of companies are in the early stages, and 4% haven’t even started.”
While this may sound discouraging, it’s really just a tip to pivot your short-term L&D strategy to a more individual approach. “Although large-scale upskilling and reskilling programs take time to implement, companies can focus on creating more individual, employee-driven learning opportunities to inspire internal mobility within their organizations,” says Jingfang Cai.
That’s where the immediate wins can take place, while you continue to fully implement organization-wide training initiatives.
L&D for retention
With budget crunches looming for many companies, it has become more critical to get the right person in the right role, right from the start. It’s also crucial to retain the workers already in place. Not only are these employees more productive than someone new to the role, but the upfront expense of recruiting new talent can come with a high cost not just in money, but also in morale.
All of this is just one more reason that L&D is gaining momentum. “As priorities shift, and HR becomes a more critical function to organizations, we’re seeing L&D teams work more closely with their counterparts in talent acquisition,” says Jingfang Cai. “81% of recruiting professionals say they need to work more closely with L&D as their responsibilities expand to include internal mobility, skills-first hiring and employee retention.”
Learning opportunities at work are now, in Jingfang Cai’s term, “a strong retention tool” to meet the demands of today’s employees, whose number-one motivation to learn is driven by a desire to make progress toward their career goals.
To retain top and tenured talent, Jingfang Cai offers three pieces of advice:
- Make small changes toward a culture of learning. “These can be in the form of creating job shadowing and mentorship opportunities or rotational programs. Fostering new skills can also come from managers helping their employees take on stretch assignments or try projects that fall outside of their typical day-to-day responsibilities,” she says.
- Allow self-directed learning. “There’s an opportunity for L&D and business leaders to give employees greater agency over their career growth—at a time when so much in today’s economy seems beyond their control—by allowing them to set their own career paths, take learning into their own hands and ultimately build careers with resilience,” says Jingfang Cai. “We’ve found that engaging young learners in these ways gives them a sense of growth, advancement and adaptability.”
- Increase visibility of internal job opportunities. “Not only does it make it easier for employees to find their next play internally, it also makes it easier for organizations to redeploy talent to other strategic areas of the business,” says Jingfang Cai. “After all, we see that internal mobility plays a big role in retention. An employee who has made an internal move by the two-year mark is more likely to stay with the company.”
Deploying L&D in the War for Talent
As the world continues to change, continual workforce retraining will no longer be a function relegated mainly to high-tech industries. Instead, it will become an imperative to some extent for every field.
While an organization’s ability to train new and current employees was always important, it has now become even more vital. Technology, market conditions and business needs have never changed so quickly. Getting the right people, in the right roles, for the right reasons is now closely linked to your ability to train individuals to become those right people—and then motivate them to stick around long enough to make a meaningful contribution.
As workers come to prize their learning and growth opportunities more highly than ever, companies will rise and fall by the strength of their L&D culture. Employees who feel that they have a clear path to grow, along with robust resources and training to do so, are far less likely to jump ship for an opportunity elsewhere. Likewise, workers who do not feel supported in their skill journey will be up for grabs.
The War for Talent isn’t over. May the best L&D cultures win.