The future of work means the meeting of human and machine, technology and creativity, analytical thinking and empathy. Andy Young shares three steps to help organisations transform learning.

Throughout this blog series, I’ve been looking at a research study from Accenture and CIPD that shows a gap between what UK organisations say about learning and where they’re actually investing. I’ve also been sharing what leaders are doing to reskill people for a new reality, and actions you can take to close the gap. Lest you think I’m living up to the consultant stereotype by telling everyone else what to do, let me share how Accenture addressed the challenge of having to rapidly reskill its workforce.

In 2015, we recognized we needed to rapidly pivot over 160,000 employees to be conversant in new IT skills, and more than 100,000 to be job-ready in less than two years.

Our new skilling framework was built on innovative learning methods grounded in neuroscience research. We built a learning tool called the Future Talent Platform (FTP), starting with key success factors. The platform had to be focused on creating business value; easy to update and change; tailored, targeted, and time-efficient; adaptive; and supportive of continuous learning. For the company it’s scalable and cost-effective. For learners, it’s an engaging, personalised platform that delivers curated content ‘anytime, anywhere’. Progress is both transparent and fun, with badges and certifications for learners.

Digital technology helps democratise learning. We’ve created 4000 Pinterest-like digital learning boards that are curated by approximately 900 experts. They give employees access to resources to develop technical and soft skills. And we’re able to provide learning at scale. Consider that employees have completed more than 50 million learning activities since their inception, and across the organization, 63 percent (nearly 300,000 people) have completed training through the FTP.

That means hundreds of thousands of people with new skills for a new reality, and many have transitioned into entirely new roles. The FTP has helped Accenture pivot and shift into high-growth, high-martin lines of business. We can track the impact of our talent strategies at every level, visualize key learning data at a dance, and make smart choices about talent interventions. And we’ve actually lowered the cost of training hours by more than 25 percent, while increasing the number of training hours that people spent by 40 percent.

A shameless plug

Accenture has consistently won top industry learning awards. Since 2014 we’ve won 243 Brandon Hall Awards—54 in 2019 alone—and each year since 2014, have been recognized as Learning Organisation of the Year by Chief Learning Officer magazine. We work with an ecosystem of learning experience platforms and learning technology providers to help organisations transform learning.

We now also offer the FTP to clients to help them rise to the talent challenges of the post-digital age. Contact me if you’d like to talk about how we can help your organisation close the skills gap.

Bring learning to people, not people to learning

Robotics, physical, and software sensors could create profound changes to the working experience. They can create alert and responsive systems that anticipate the learning needs of workers, right when they need them. That means content readily available to help an individual complete the work.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can curate digital learning assets to facilitate contextual, personalised learning at the moment it’s needed. Modular design is another key enabler, because smaller chunks of content can more easily fit into day-to-day work. It also helps learning teams curate work through metadata, because the content itself will be more discrete, specific, and accurate. Together, these factors can help provide learners the right content at the right time in the right place.

Three steps to transform learning in your organisation

1. Speed up experiential learning: Multiply the impact of your lifelong learning investments

Is your organisation experimenting with experiential learning techniques? Are your learning and recruitment systems ready to participate in apprenticeships or on-the-job training initiatives? Are you applying design thinking or simulation tools to improve decision-making and learning? Have you identified partners that can apply new technologies to personalise training and create immersive learning experiences?

Thanks to advances in neuroscience and technology, the development of experiential learning techniques have progressed significantly in recent years. These techniques are about learning through hands-on application, rather than absorbing knowledge by listening or reading.

When it comes to experiential learning, virtual reality (VR) offers the closest experience. It’s likely VR will only expand as 5G networks make these solutions more accessible and effective. Research from the Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab shows that compared to video, VR learning results in 33 percent better learning retention.

2. Shift focus from institutions to individuals: Stimulate your people to expand their horizons

Has your organisation assessed the evolving blend of skillsets that your key workforce groups need to acquire? Can your learning systems and metrics adapt to develop a broader range of skills within individuals?

Most of us recognise the value of a broad variety of skills across the workforce. But there needs to be a greater emphasis on broadening the variety of skills within each worker. The most useful and relevant blend of skills for each person will continuingly shift and become more complex. Organisations should design metrics and incentives that encourage the blending of skills in each person.

3. Empower vulnerable Learners: Act responsibly to support your people

Has your organisation assessed which workers are most exposed to automation? Have you identified how their talents can be redeployed to new areas of value? Are your skill building systems set up to support older workers and the lower-educated with lifelong learning programs suited to their particular capacities?

For example, our analysis confirms that lower-skilled work is more susceptible to automation. Workers in these roles also require the broadest range of skill building, but tend to participate less in training, compounding their disadvantage. Education and corporate lifelong learning systems must be accessible to all in order to truly close the skills gap.

We’ve gone over a waterfall and we’re not going back

The world is at a tipping point where new technologies are requiring new skills, people are expecting more from their employers, and uncertainty is the norm. In a landscape like this, learning is one of the most critical capabilities that can help equip people and organisations to thrive in turbulence, adapt with agility, and capture the opportunity in crisis.

Research from Accenture and the CIPD shines a light on learning and development in UK organisations. It shows that professionals have good intentions and recognize how essential learning is for performance, productivity, and agility. But at the same time, they are grappling with limited resources, a lack of robust evaluation and measurement, and sluggish adoption of technologies that can make learning more effective and engaging.

We need to close the gap. The cost of not doing so is tremendous. If skill-building doesn’t catch up with the rate of technological progress, the UK could lose US$185 billion in cumulative GDP growth in the next ten years. That’s equivalent to losing half a percentage point from the average annual growth rate every year over that period. And that calculation is from before the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s time to close the gap between intent and action, the human and the digital, what we know about learning and how we can deliver it today. With great challenges come great opportunity. Let’s move forward to create the new reality of work.

To learn more: 

  • View the infographic for the study’s key findings—and what they mean for your organisation. 
  • Read the full report, including nine recommendations to help learning professionals close the gap. 
  • Read the case studies for examples of different approaches to transform learning. 
  • Get in touch with me here, or @andyyoungACN on Twitter.

This blog makes descriptive reference to trademarks that may be owned by others. The use of such trademarks herein is not an assertion of ownership of such trademarks by Accenture and is not intended to represent or imply the existence of an association between Accenture and the lawful owners of such trademarks.

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