The Trouble with Training

A new study opens a serious dialogue about the state of U.S. workplace training.
By: | March 8, 2018 • 5 min read

As employers lament the dearth of critical skills among many new entrants to the workforce, a recent study raises serious concerns about employers’ lack of initiatives to prepare those individuals to be effective and efficient workers. According to the second annual State of Workplace Training study, an online survey conducted in November-December 2017 by global market-research firm Ipsos on behalf of Axonify, nearly one-third (31 percent) of the U.S. workforce doesn’t receive any formal job training.

“It’s shocking how little companies invest in the knowledge and skills of their employees,” says Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, a Waterloo, Ontario-based corporate training/microlearning platform. “They just have them show up and start to do things without any real basis in foundational knowledge or what they are expected to do.”

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Perhaps even more alarming, that number ticked up slightly (1 percent) since last year. Leaman views that as a sign that employers are headed in the wrong direction. She blames the transient nature of today’s workforce for employers’ reticence to invest in training, particularly in retail, hospitality and other industries where turnover is especially high.

“When under budget constraints, companies aren’t going to invest in people they don’t expect to keep for more than a few months,” says Leaman. “Where you have deskless workers that are not expected to stick around very long, you’re going to have fewer and fewer companies investing in training those people.”

While formal training may be on the decline, that’s not at all concerning to Pete Sanborn, managing director, human capital advisory in Aon’s Atlanta office. Rather, he says, the finding signifies the continuation of a move away from formal training in favor of more informal coaching and development from managers and co-workers, which he says is far more effective.

Sanborn says he wasn’t at all surprised that Axonify found 43 percent of employees who receive formal training say it’s ineffective. He interprets that as a sign that organizations need to branch out beyond traditional training methods and seek to meet employees’ individual needs.

“Just offering a program doesn’t necessarily mean that people are really going to learn from it or that it’s even relevant to their particular needs,” says Sanborn. “Companies should be exploring more effective ways for people to learn and looking at more individualized training, which is much more effective.”

According to Leaman, employers are “going wrong all over the place,” beginning with a rigid adherence to one-size-fits-all training and the old-fashioned approach of “getting people into a classroom and fire-hosing them with so much information that may or may not be relevant to them.” Far better, she says, would be to assess the skill set, background and experience of each individual employee and design a development plan that recognizes what they bring to the job and what they are lacking.

Employers should also endeavor not only to give employees the training they need to do their job effectively now, but also recognize new skills that will be required in the future and better prepare them for new roles and promotions, says Sanborn. According to Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director in the Chicago office of Willis Towers Watson, companies are starting to recognize that the workforce of the future will require radical and continuous reskilling.

“The greatest challenge facing HR leaders is how they will meet this [reskilling] need,” says Jesuthasan. “Doing so requires a reprioritization of investments and for HR leaders to approach learning very differently, adopting a more nuanced approach that taps the broader learning ecosystem that has developed over the last few years.”

While 80 percent of respondents to the Axonify study say it’s important to receive regular, frequent training, so they don’t forget the information, employers are hindered by their reliance on “one-and-done training,” viewing it as a “check-the-box activity,” rather than something that is ongoing and continuous, Leaman says.

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As millennials increasingly make their mark on the workplace, employers may find themselves forced to rethink their training approach or risk losing this valued block of employees. Three-quarters of millennials place a high importance on anytime/anywhere training, while nearly as many (74 percent) say they value short training sessions, according to the Axonify study. According to Jesuthasan, that’s likely to drive employers to adopt a more “continuous and bite-sized” approach to training, as they seek to attract and retain talented workers.

With 92 percent of employees saying the right kind of workplace training positively impacts their engagement on the job, rethinking how they deliver training needs to be at the top of HR leaders’ agenda, says Sanborn.

“You’ve got to be thinking about the capability requirements now and in the future and how you can do a better job of developing people to meet those needs,” says Sanborn. “You might have a great rewards program, or you might do well in one area, like leadership development, but if you’re not creating the right kind of skills for the future, it will negatively impact the competitiveness of your business.”

Julie Cook Ramirez is a Rockford, Ill.-based journalist and copywriter, covering all aspects of human resources. She can be reached at [email protected]

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