Retaining talented employees is crucial for an employer’s productivity and overall success, and HR professionals play a crucial role. With industry trends and labor market conditions constantly in flux, employers can remain competitive by prioritizing employee learning and development (L&D) efforts. Such initiatives have increased in popularity and demand to support today’s workers and changing workplaces.

"A 2023 study by employment website Zippia found that 68% of employees say training and development are the most important company policy, and 74% of workers are willing to learn new skills or retrain to stay employable."

Professional development opportunities are highly valued by employees as they strive for meaningful work and career growth. Furthermore, in today’s tight labor market, robust and personalized learning opportunities could be the attractive offerings that organizations need to attract and retain talented employees.

Successful L&D efforts can help workers discover and master skills that will further their individual careers and benefit the organization. These efforts have a far-reaching impact and can be used to address skills gaps, promote the development of internal leaders, help with succession planning, and boost employee attraction and retention.

This how-to guide provides HR professionals and their organizations with the knowledge and tools to confidently develop L&D strategies that may boost employee retention, satisfaction and productivity.

Overview of L&D
Employers can use L&D initiatives to improve employees’ job-related skills and knowledge. This can boost workplace performance and increase employee satisfaction and loyalty by showing workers that their employers are investing in their futures. L&D programs include two primary components:

Learning describes the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors. This is an integral part of organizational training to make employees knowledgeable, and it sets the foundation for development.

Development encompasses the broadening and deepening of knowledge in relation to employees’ professional growth goals. It’s action-focused and requires constant practice and refinement to hone new skills into a habit.

Unlike training, which is the practice of transferring specific work-related skills, L&D is an ongoing process that can be used to help foster employees’ professional, personal and career growth.

The Importance of L&D
Employees with access to professional development opportunities are more likely to be engaged at work, which can increase productivity and ultimately impact an organization’s bottom line. It can also significantly impact retention. In fact, research by software company ClearCompany showed that most (94%) employees would stay at their company longer if it invested in their career.

Investing in L&D may positively impact organizations in the following ways:

• Improves attraction and retention—L&D programs show organizational commitment to employee professional development, which may make it easier to attract and retain employees.

• Contributes to employee performance and growth—L&D opportunities can help employees become better at their jobs and overcome performance gaps, augmenting long-term employee and company growth.

• Improves succession planningOrganizations can better prepare for talent shortages and the uncertainty of the future by investing in employee growth and career development.

• Boosts employee engagement—When employees don’t have development and career advancement opportunities, they may feel unchallenged or unmotivated in their roles. Providing L&D opportunities shows employees they’re valued and can improve engagement and satisfaction.

• Improves workplace culture—An authentic learning culture supports a growth mindset, an independent pursuit of knowledge, and a collective understanding related to organizational
missions and goals, which can boost internal communication and problem-solving.

• Helps employer branding—If an organization has a reputation as a workplace that develops employees, it will help their employer brand and recruitment marketing. Employee satisfaction and workplace culture are critical components of an employer’s brand, and L&D efforts can positively impact both.

• Contributes to operational excellence—L&D initiatives can help leaders meet operational demands by aligning with overall company business goals and supporting the productivity and performance of employees.

Lack of growth and development opportunities is one of the top reasons employees leave their jobs. It may also disproportionately affect an organization’s ability to attract and retain young workers, such as millennials and members of Generation Z, who typically value career development more than their older counterparts.

Workplace Considerations for L&D
Before initiating L&D programs, HR professionals should understand how such initiatives can be implemented in their organizations. This may include discussing topics such as organizational structure, the use of technology, workplace learning cultures and potential legal implications. This section provides an overview of critical organizational considerations.

Organizational Structure
Although L&D is traditionally thought of as a core responsibility of HR, that’s not always the case. In fact, L&D programs are unlikely to be collaborative and holistic if they’re siloed to a single person or department. For successful implementation of L&D programs, it’s essential that employers foster collaboration among L&D leaders, internal stakeholders, subject matter experts, managers and other partners throughout the company.

The implementation of such initiatives may vary with the structure of an organization. Typically, organizations either have a flat or hierarchal structure. One structure is not better than the other for L&D purposes, but it’s an important consideration for employers as they plan and implement initiatives.

A hierarchical structure resembles a pyramid and relies on a vertical chain of command with several layers of management. This type of structure typically has defined career paths and clear reporting relationships.

A flat structure has few middle management levels between leadership and employees, giving employees more responsibility and decision-making authority. In this structure, employees may have more opportunities to learn various skills from their colleagues.

Today’s workforce needs to be flexible, and technology can create efficiencies in the learning process. The right technology learning environment can facilitate and support continuous learning for all employees, whether they work remotely or in person.

The following are a few common types of technology used for workplace L&D efforts:

• Intranets
• Learning management systems
• Learning experience platforms
• Video tools

Workplace Learning Cultures
Organizations that have strong learning cultures support a growth mindset among employees and encourage the independent pursuit of knowledge and a collective understanding of organizational missions and goals. HR professionals and their organizations can contribute to a positive learning culture with the following practices:

Personalising  learning
Supporting risk-taking
Recognizing and rewarding learning
Providing online training resources
Hiring lifelong learners

Legal Considerations
As with any workplace initiative, HR professionals must consider legal implications to avoid potential consequences and financial penalties. It’s crucial that employers ensure employee development programs do not create potential liabilities due to discrimination, retaliation and training time payment violations. Before implementing companywide changes or expanded offerings, employers should review Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as other applicable laws, and consult local legal counsel.

Developing L&D Strategies
Well-developed L&D strategies are crucial for employee retention and satisfaction and can help employers address existing and future skills gaps within their organization. Whether employers have an existing L&D plan or have just begun the brainstorming process, they should consider the following steps of creating and updating a strategy for employee training, learning and professional growth. This section describes the five-step process for implementing a successful L&D plan.

Step 1:

Audit Current Skills Sets.

Assessing current employee skills and identifying possible skills gaps in the organization is often the first step to developing a beneficial L&D program. This can help HR professionals understand their organization’s future skills needs and use this understanding to form a comprehensive L&D strategy. A skill set audit may include the following steps:

• Identify the roles and responsibilities within an organization.
• Determine the skills necessary for each role.
• Evaluate the existing skills of employees (e.g., team discussions, skills matrix outlining or one-on-one skills audits).
• Review and understand organizational strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.

Understanding the specific skills needs of an organization and its employees’ current abilities enables HR professionals to process and further build out their L&D game plan.

Step 2:

Establish Goals and Metrics
After HR professionals understand the skill sets of their current employees, they can create overall goals and measurable metrics to measure the success of L&D programs. Organizational goals should be designed to meet both the needs of employees and the organization. HR professionals can establish L&D metrics and goals with these steps:

• Determine business goals.
• Create criteria for success (e.g., knowledge assessments or training participation rates).
• Establish required or desired knowledge, skills and abilities.
• Outline organizational goals and metrics that connect to business goals.

Step 3:

Engage Employees
Simply creating L&D programs isn’t enough to guarantee the success of a program. Employees must be interested in participating in these initiatives in order for them to impact employee engagement and satisfaction. Therefore, HR professionals must ensure L&D efforts are valuable enough to attract employees’ voluntary interests. This may include the following strategies:

• Match training and development programs to learners’ preferences.
• Show employees how participation will help their careers and personal growth (e.g., honing soft skills, obtaining career experience and gaining certifications).
• Draw employees toward L&D efforts by making them attractive, not mandatory.
• Highlight the difference between L&D programs and employee training.
• Don’t micromanage employees to participate.
• Provide incentives (e.g., plaques, bonuses, promotions and gift cards).

HR professionals can use these tips to establish L&D programs. However, they should remember that such programs are only a starting point. For employees to benefit from L&D programs, organizations must develop initiatives that resonate with employees’ needs and interests.

Step 4:

Develop Initiatives

A tailored approach to L&D initiatives is more likely to have a meaningful impact on employees than a one-size-fits-all program. Therefore, it’s crucial that HR professionals shape opportunities to meet the needs of their organization’s workforce. Organizations can use these questions to help them formulate their programs for their employees:

• Who is the target audience?
• What is the primary topic?
• What are the desired learning outcomes?
• How will L&D opportunities be offered?
• How will competency be measured?

Outlining specific and descriptive answers to these questions can help organizations create a holistic approach to L&D opportunities in the workplace. It will also help HR professionals understand how programs will fit into the existing structure of their organizations.

Step 5:

Evaluate Initiatives

HR professionals should continually evaluate and improve their organizations’ L&D strategies to better suit employees’ needs and goals. The following are common workplace measurement methods that can be used to evaluate L&D initiatives:

• Calculate L&D’s return on investment (ROI). Tangible ROIs can help HR professionals measure if employees are learning what they’re supposed to. They can also help get further buy-in for L&D programs from managers, leadership and other stakeholders.

• Measure performance. A combination of quantitative and qualitative measures can be used to evaluate the success of L&D programs. Quantitative measures can include tracking employee engagement, completion or progress, while qualitative measures can involve employee and manager feedback and employee engagement surveys.

• Ask for feedback. Constructive criticism and honest feedback are essential to ensure that L&D programs are having their intended effect. HR professionals should make sure employees and managers feel comfortable openly sharing their opinions so L&D opportunities can be better tailored to their needs.

Types of Learning
Learning and professional development efforts are most impactful when employers tailor an approach to their employees’ unique needs and wants. Using multiple delivery methods allows employers to broaden the reach of their learning programs, helping them achieve maximum benefits. The following are popular types of learning and training methods for HR professionals to consider:

• Instructor-led training is generally formal and held on-site in the workplace, typically in an office, conference room or another type of training room. This type of training often involves an instructor (or instructors) presenting to the group through lectures, presentations and demonstrations. This type of training can also be done virtually and is good for topics requiring problem-solving or teamwork.

• E-learning (electronic learning) refers to structured courses or learning experiences delivered
electronically on electronic devices (e.g., computers) that are connected to the internet. M-learning, or mobile learning, is also used as a type of learning that refers to employees using personal mobile devices (e.g., tablets and smartphones) to access education and training. Since employees can access this type of learning wherever they are, E- and M-learning can be well suited for complex topics.

• Blended learning involves using a mix of learning methods, such as combining online or digital components and face-to-face instruction. This type requires some elements of control over the time and place of learning, along with control over employees’ learning paths or pace. Blended learning tends to work well for organizations with diverse training requirements and complex learning objectives.

• Simulation training mimics work-related situations and conveys information and skills as the
employee progresses. This method is typically best suited for industries or roles requiring hands-on skills mastery training.

• Self-directed learning empowers employees to take the initiative with their own learning by selecting tasks to fit their learning needs and goals. This type of training embraces individualized efforts.

• Coaching and mentorship programs can aid in employees’ professional and personal development. With mentoring, a senior employee (mentor) forms a relationship with a junior employee (mentee) and has frequent one-on-one sessions to train on soft and hard skills, provide guidance and influence the mentee’s growth. On the other hand, coaching is a method of training, counseling or instructing an employee or group of employees—or coachee(s)—to unlock potential and maximize personal and professional performance.

• Cross-training involves training employees on various tasks performed at the organization so they can complete the duties of others. This technique benefits the organization, often reducing overall labor costs, and presents new educational opportunities for employees.

• Microlearning involves presenting small chunks of content so employees can learn at their convenience. Specific to the workplace, microlearning could be effective for new employee training or a product, system or tool launch.

The methods that best support employee learning may vary among individuals. Therefore, it can be beneficial for HR professionals to understand general concepts about adult learning and the different learning styles their employees may have. There are four types of learners that organizations should be aware of:

1. Auditory learners prefer to obtain information by listening.
2. Kinesthetic learners absorb information best when they are physically engaged and active.
3. Reading and writing learners like to consume information by reading text and rewriting or
paraphrasing it.

4. Visual learners prefer to visualize relationships and ideas.

HR professionals should keep in mind that adult learning isn’t the same as child learning. The practice of teaching adult learners is called andragogy. American educator Malcolm Knowles is known for creating principles of andragogy that can be applied to adult learning. He theorized that successful adult education is future-centric and involves purpose-driven applications. Knowles also concluded that adults can benefit from feeling responsible and intrinsically motivated for their learning. They’re also more likely to engage with learning if it’s problem-focused, solves an immediate problem and builds on their experience.

Employers who offer L&D opportunities may experience a competitive edge when it comes to attracting and retaining workers. Such programs can provide meaningful work and growth opportunities for workers looking to develop their skills further and advance their careers. This can create motivated and engaged employees whose new skills can benefit their careers and their employers.

The right L&D opportunities and initiatives vary by organization and industry. Following the steps presented in this guide can help HR professionals create thoughtful and effective L&D programs to encourage employee growth, learning and development.