Companies prioritize learning and development in the wake of coronavirus crisis

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As the coronavirus pandemic creates uncertainty within the workforce, more employers are investing in learning and development as they seek to keep their remote employees engaged and promote strong mental health. Indeed, 66% of learning and development professionals say that their roles within their organizations have grown substantially in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, according to a recent LinkedIn Learning report.

Of the 864 development professionals and 3,155 workplace learners — employees who interact with learning content provided by their employers — surveyed, 68% of learning and development professionals say employers have been placing a larger emphasis on launching learning programs designed to teach employees new skills with an eye on boosting internal mobility.

“The appetite for learning coupled with the fact that the needs of remote employees have shifted, has created a spotlight on L&D to develop and deliver the sorts of engaging and relevant learning experiences that employees want and need during this challenging time,” says Mike Derezin, vice president of LinkedIn Learning.

To that end, companies are investing in technologies including virtual instructor-led training (VILT) — live training done digitally, and online learning — recorded digital learning content. The report found that 66% of learning and development professionals expect to spend more on VILT than they did last year, with 60% saying the same for online learning. Furthermore, the report says that developing the right mix of VILT and online learning — blended online learning — will be essential going forward.

“Blended online learning is especially beneficial for employees during a time where they feel isolated because it’s a form of social learning,” Derezin says.

The LinkedIn Learning platform has seen a 301% rise in enrollment and a 153% increase in courses shared between members and their networks in March and April, compared to January and February of this year.

“We’re also seeing instructors engaging more, and companies tapping subject matter experts to create learning moments. What’s more, social learning drives up learner engagement and helps learners remember content,” he says.

About 75% of the professionals surveyed by LinkedIn expect social learning, including online learning groups, to increase over time and play a large role in their organizations.

Employers are placing strong emphasis on reskilling the workforce. Since the coronavirus hit the U.S., nearly 43 million Americans have filed for unemployment, having lost their jobs when businesses were forced to close down in an effort to promote social distancing.

“Employers are still focused on keeping high-value employees, even when faced with the task of moving them into new positions as a result of changing business dynamics,” Derezin says.

One employer that took this approach was tech retailer Verizon. When the company had to close down some of its retail locations it allowed many of those employees to apply transferable skills to other areas of the business. Verizon gave employees a choice of career paths and then implemented personalized learning, with the goal of enabling these workers to close any skills gaps before moving on to new roles.

“By offering online tools and training, Verizon was able to help brick-and-mortar employees work from home and contribute in roles like customer service,” he says.

The LinkedIn research also shows that 69% of learning and development professionals feel responsible for their employees’ mental health and well-being. Over the last several years, employers have become more focused on supporting employee mental health as it is a strong attraction and retention tool, and as employers realize that supporting employees is about work-life integration, rather than work-life balance.

PayPal has had success with practices that support employee mental health, like holding more frequent all-hands meetings, promoting company-wide access to its executives, and conducting weekly wellness surveys.

As employers and employees navigate the new normal of the workplace, managers are expected to become more active in curating content that will help build up the skills of their workforce. In March and April managers were spending twice the amount of time on learning and development than they did in January and February.

“With the rise of AI, remote work, and widening skills gaps, the value of an always-on learning culture has never been more clear,” Derezin says. “By supporting learners in the moments that matter to their present and future careers, you’ll not only have happier employees, but retain them.”

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