Workforce upskilling creates value in a recession

Businesses typically cut back in multiple areas when times are tough. But with lean investments in scalable, contextualised learning technology, they can develop and retain excellent staff, and be well-positioned for future growth
Fow Lepaya

The ability of companies to develop and retain the right skills is critical to their success. But in a fast-changing world, the necessary capabilities stretch far beyond the completion of particular tasks. In short, companies need a range of deeper ‘power skills’.

For instance, while robotics and artificial intelligence increasingly automate routine operations, leadership skills must also improve if companies are to deliver successful adaptation to the current times. This means leaders must develop power skills such as data-driven decision-making, strategy and alignment, and intentional learning. Equally, by using these skills they can empower proper diversity and inclusion.

Yet for many businesses, learning and development efforts are stuck in the past, and as much as 80% of the $400bn annual training expenditure by organisations is ineffective. Typical approaches include sending teams to lengthy workshops or distant conferences. “It’s an expensive, broken model that focuses on content only, when instead today’s workforce needs to be able to interact with, practise and internalise the new skills,” explains René Janssen, chief executive and founder of the training company Lepaya.

Somewhat more modern approaches include massive open online courses (MOOCs). But these have inherent problems, Janssen explains: “While they can be rolled out across an organisation, they are essentially knowledge repositories – and reading or watching a video about a skill is not how people learn. In the average organisation, only 1 in 10 employees will use these resources. Learning is achieved by forming habits and repeating the practice.”

These analogue and digital knowledge methods are leaving companies with an uphill struggle to ensure impactful learning. “When it comes to training at work, people have multiple pressures, so their attitude is: ‘Do I have time?’ ‘Is it fun?’ ‘Is there a purpose to it?’ Organisations have to think seriously about how they deliver their training and what the incentives are,” Janssen explains. “By making learning enjoyable, relevant, and practical to career growth, you increase the level of participation.”

Success here means introducing dynamic learning, using technology to augment human experiences. “In order to master a skill, you must first understand its importance, then practise on the job. That’s why it’s essential to train and use the skills directly within a fully contextualised workflow. This way we bridge the gap between the skills trained and the direct business impact,” Janssen notes. “Such practice can be done digitally with other people, including through the use of intelligent and engaging avatars.”

With upwards of three billion individuals making up the global workforce, training services must be able to personalise at enormous scale. “So many skills are behavioural. The latest tools mean people can be analysed immediately on how they act, allowing them to figure out what works and what doesn’t,” Janssen explains. “AI can now read emotions and behaviours, offering advice on improvements. Meanwhile, virtual reality headsets enable immersive experiences with emotionally-responsive avatars, so users have effective practice and receive nuanced, direct responses on the spot.”

L&D are becoming more strategic purchases, as organisations think more about the big challenges they face

This training is especially important in a recession, as it is cheaper and more efficient, using intelligent systems. Outcomes and returns on investment are improved, by consistently and engagingly developing a workforce with the actual skills needed to excel in the long run. “Learning and development are therefore becoming more strategic purchases, as organisations think more about the big challenges they face, and how to develop their workforces accordingly,” Janssen says.

Companies globally are already working with Lepaya to develop their teams’ power skills. They start by looking beyond nice-to-have capabilities and focusing on more fundamental aspects of leadership, management, and team capabilities. From there, they can think about how to optimise learning interventions, so that people have the incentive to participate and can learn more rapidly on the job. Using Lepaya, users can prepare for upcoming meetings, brainstorming or presentations, and have relevant skills automatically honed multiple times in advance, ultimately building better habits that become entirely natural.

“Change typically begins with the business’ leaders, then permeates the rest of their organisation,” Janssen explains. “Participants can practice key skills in VR goggles, in a mock situation simulating real tasks. For example, for an important team meeting or a presentation, a practice conversation or speech can be assessed for focus and relevance, and for eye contact and variations in spoken pitch. We can give instant feedback, which users then immediately use to improve their skills in more virtual sessions, all in preparation for the real-life scenarios.”

Lepaya has helped thousands of companies make significant steps forward, including the professional services giant Accenture, which uses a customised learning programme to develop new hires into consultants within just nine days. Meanwhile, Picnic, the tech-based grocery delivery startup, works with Lepaya to implement a bespoke learning pathway to develop its employees towards leadership roles. And the consultancy KPMG is working with Lepaya to give staff personalised learning, resulting in 86% of them registering for courses, and increasing talent retention.

Looking ahead, Janssen expects artificial intelligence and virtual reality to be critical in upskilling workforces, and in strongly advancing equality and diversity. “So many job appointments are made by someone looking at an applicant’s education or the previous jobs they’ve done. This ignores the unique range of skills a person may have, and potentially overlooks swathes of individuals with essential capabilities and valuable attributes,” he says. “The new technology means companies can focus completely on actual skills, taking into account the totality of talent available, bringing the best on board, then developing and retaining it.”

Today, facing a recession, businesses can make a huge difference in their profitability and talent retention by investing in efficient skills development. “In tough times like these, businesses have less money and have to be extremely strategic in where they assign their budgets and time. As they look to staff to do things differently, it’s essential to adjust and grow skill sets in the smartest ways,” Janssen concludes. “By getting upskilling right, and training staff efficiently and effectively using intelligent technology, businesses can ensure they are strongly positioned for growth.”

To find out about scalable talent upskilling and retention, visit