Do you think digital learning isn’t for you or your business? How do you fancy becoming a work-from-home facilitator? What about a data detective or maybe an extended-reality immersion counsellor? If those jobs don’t float your boat, could tidewater architect, cyber-calamity forecaster or even algorithm bias auditor be more suitable, perhaps?
If you don’t think you’re qualified for any of the above roles, you’ll be far from alone. But don’t feel complacent about that, because they are among the top 10 professions emerging in the wake of the Covid crisis, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). And, given that the WEF estimates that technology will replace 85 million human jobs while 97 million new ones will be created in the next four years, you may well need to reassess your attitude to digital learning – and quickly. From both individual and organisational perspectives, it’s crucial to invest in online education now.
The pandemic has completely disrupted the workplace. With many businesses concentrating on ensuring their immediate survival, training and development activities have stalled. People just embarking on their careers have been especially badly affected by this.
Indeed, 87% of UK business leaders surveyed by LinkedIn in September admitted that young employees had suffered a “development dip” during the Covid crisis. The networking platform also polled 1,000 people aged between 16 and 34 about their learning experiences. Well over two-thirds (69%) of these respondents agreed that the pandemic was harming their professional development.
For all those struggling to get to grips with digital learning, Becky Schnauffer, senior director of LinkedIn Talent Solutions in the UK and Ireland, can offer some valuable guidance. Her role, which she started in July after joining in 2018 as director of LinkedIn Sales Solutions, covers the company’s recruitment and learning activities. In essence, Schnauffer helps businesses to “attract, engage, develop and retain employees”.
With the skills gap widening and the war for talent raging during the so-called Great Resignation – the trend in which hordes of dissatisfied workers are quitting their jobs – her views are well worth heeding.
“While digital learning has been around for a lot longer than the pandemic, now is the time for companies to prioritise it and build it into their strategy,” she says. “An awful lot of people, not only those just now entering the workforce, have been digitally savvy from a young age. You’d therefore expect part – if not all – of their learning to be digital. They are very comfortable with this medium.”
Schnauffer, who gained a degree in business management from Swansea University before joining IBM’s graduate scheme in the late 1990s, recalls that “even at a technology giant, every piece of learning at that time was one-size-fits-all, delivered in a classroom and lumped together in intensive, week-long chunks. Now, though, digital learning is personalised, interactive, community-based, snackable and stackable. Customisation of learning on the digital pathway is becoming so much more important and effective.”
Given that she has two children who are both at secondary school, she has a vested interest in promoting digital learning. Schnauffer is confident that, by the time they enter the job market, employee engagement and career development will be on a higher plane. “Everyone must embrace digital learning – it’s the new normal. And it’s going to continue evolving,” she says.
Businesses that are already investing heavily in employee development stand to gain a competitive edge in attracting and retaining the best talent, Schnauffer argues. This in turn should improve their chances of achieving the holy trinity of innovation, agility and resilience.
“You want highly skilled people on your team who are always learning,” she says. “Business leaders have to allow their employees the time and space to develop themselves. Moreover, leaders must look ahead to where they want their business to be in two to three or more years, and plan how to narrow the skills gaps that are likely to emerge.”
Her point is that it’s hugely more cost-effective to build a learning culture and invest in employees’ skills than it is to scour the market for new talent, where the competition will be fierce. LinkedIn’s new skills-building platform, the Learning Hub, has been designed to help employers do the former.
When asked how damaging it could be to organisations that don’t encourage digital learning, Schnauffer quotes an aphorism that’s widely attributed to Henry Ford: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”
More encouragingly, the LinkedIn survey of business leaders indicated that more than three-quarters (78%) are planning to establish training courses to help employees – particularly younger ones – adapt to new ways of working. But Schnauffer stresses that members of the C-suite must also schedule in digital learning for themselves. Progressive leaders are doing just that on the LinkedIn Learning platform, which offers almost 17,000 courses across a wide range of categories.
The most popular course over the past year has been one about detecting and avoiding unconscious bias, followed by one on strategic thinking. Other subjects in the top 10 include inclusivity, public speaking and the agile approach to project management.
“You only grow and improve by building your knowledge,” Schnauffer says. “And digital learning makes the experience convenient. It’s always available, relevant, personalised, and enjoyable.”
Business leaders, take note and act accordingly – or watch your organisations wither on the vine.