Employee training and development is receiving substantial attention: A tight labor market, political attention, and the pressures of automation make it essential for companies to institute sensible and effective workforce development programs.
We surveyed 510 full-time employees to learn their expectations and opinions about how companies should offer workforce retraining and job development.
Employees want job development opportunities that are wide-ranging, continuous, and facilitated by their supervisors. For example, employers can provide access to online learning courses that cover topics relevant to employees' roles or institute an employee mentorship program led by managers.
Workers who are offered effective job development opportunities that meet their expectations are likely to be satisfied with their professional growth and improve at their job.
Businesses can use this report to evaluate their current job development offerings and learn how to match their practices to employee expectations and industry standards.
- More than 8 in 10 employees (84%) think their company should be very or somewhat involved in helping them build skills to complete their job successfully. Employers should offer both standardized and customized training opportunities to their employees.
- Two-thirds of employees (66%) believe their supervisor or direct manager is most responsible for ensuring workers have the necessary skills and knowledge to complete a job successfully, underscoring the importance of managers and employees forming strong professional relationships.
- Nearly half of workers (43%) say completing company sponsored retraining is the most important action they can take to build job skills and knowledge. If business retraining is relevant, engaging, and flexible, employees are likely to participate.
- More than one-third of workers (37%) believe holding regular and individualized training sessions ensures a knowledgeable and skillful workforce. Businesses should stress and celebrate individual employees’ improvement.
- More than one-quarter of employees (26%) believe managers should coach employees on new skills. To have that capability, managers must be trained on how to use soft skills such as communication, flexibility, positivity, and teamwork at work.
- Employees are most interested in developing a range of skills, including technology such as coding (18%), leadership (17%), problem solving (15%), and communication (10%).
- A majority of employees (57%) say they prefer learning new skills at in-person events, so companies should institute a strong in-office mentorship program.
- Seven in ten employees (70%) say they most enjoy pursuing job retraining opportunities during the workday, more than the percentage of employees (57%) who expect natural light in their workplace. Employers should consider providing continuous, in-office retraining as obvious as choosing an office with windows.
Offer Standardized and Customized Skill Development to Employees
Businesses should offer both standardized and customized opportunities to help their employees build the skills needed to do their jobs.
More than 8 in 10 employees (84%) say their company should be very or somewhat involved in helping them build skills.
Experts say that to meet employee expectations for professional development, businesses should provide all workers the same initial development opportunities but individualize trainings as employees advance.
“Any business should provide consistent, standardized training for new employees to ensure that everyone starts on the same page and is rapidly onboarded,” said Pedro Santana, co-founder of SolidProfessor, an engineering training company that provides employee and manager technical training. “However, further training should be offered on a more individualized basis.”
Santana suggests that companies should avoid conducting boring training on techniques employees already know. Instead, companies should focus on helping workers build skills they need to improve or develop new abilities they've expressed interest in. This way, companies can keep employees engaged and improve their skills.
Ensure Managers Develop Relationships With Employees and Understand Their Development Preferences
Employees expect their managers and supervisors to help them develop skills and knowledge. To meet employee expectations and grow a company, managers must know their personnel and match them to jobs and opportunities that fit their strengths.
Two-thirds of workers (66%) believe direct managers and company leadership are primarily responsible for helping them develop skills and knowledge.
Meanwhile, less than one-quarter of workers (23%) believe that individual employees are most responsible for their own development.
Managers must spend enough time with employees to develop a strong understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, and desires.
“Knowing details about the employee gives development professionals the power to strategically plan learning and development opportunities that align with employees’ needs,” said Neil Morelli, vice president of product and assessment science at Berke, an employment assessment technology company.
The office does not have cubicles and managers and employees sit together.
Morelli says that Berke fosters a culture of transparency and openness to acquaint managers and employees. The office does not have cubicles and managers and employees sit together. Managers and supervisors also have access to assessment reports that chart each employee’s career history and professional interests.
With this knowledge, Berke successfully finds ways to retrain and reskill employees who are strong cultural fits but have outgrown their current positions. This way, the company minimizes turnover and maintains a broadly-skilled workforce.
To develop their employees, managers must know their employees. By forging a personal connection with their direct reports, managers can develop employees for the right roles, keep high performers in-house, and strategically plan the learning and development sessions that will improve their workforce.
Provide Relevant, Engaging, Flexible Retraining to Boost Employee Participation
If companies offer relevant, engaging, and flexible retraining, employees are likely to participate.
Already, close to half of employees (43%) believe participating in company sponsored retraining is the most important step they can take to ensure they have the skills and knowledge necessary to do their job successfully.
Nina LaRosa, marketing director at Moxie Media, a workplace safety, health, and HR online training company, believes employees will participate in retraining and job development if their company’s offerings are:
- Relevant to their job, industry, and work environment
- Engaging and command their attention
- Flexible enough to fit within their schedule and preferences
For example, Moxie Media specializes in e-learning and learning management systems (LMS), and LaRosa says that industry-specific training videos shot on a workplace location are popular among employees.
“When employees see familiar problems addressed in familiar environments, the value of the training is immediately clear,” LaRosa said. “An employee can interact with the coursework directly and individually rather than sitting in a group and tuning out after 10 minutes of a guest speaker seminar.”
“When employees see familiar problems addressed in familiar environments, the value of the training is immediately clear.”
Training that addresses familiar work situations is relevant, engaging, and capitalizes on employees’ willingness to learn.
Stress the Importance of Individual Improvement
Companies can improve performance by encouraging employees to acquire skill-based certifications.
More than one-third of workers (37%) believe holding regular, individualized training sessions for employees ensures a knowledgeable and skillful workforce.
To emphasize employee improvement and accomplishment, companies can provide access to learning resources that grant professional certifications, such as Hubspot Sales.
Individual employees can display certifications and newly acquired competencies on LinkedIn and their resumes and can even print diplomas to post at their workstations or around the office.
Experts are unsurprised that employees value explicit opportunities to improve and say that a focus on individual improvement is important both for maintaining employee morale and providing workers the ability to measure their progress.
“Training should be offered on an individualized basis,” Santana said. “Giving your team opportunities to pursue individual accomplishments will empower them and encourage them to stay with your company.”
Plus, companies are able to recruit new employees by pointing to the tangible, individual accomplishments of their former and current workforce.
By celebrating individual improvement and accomplishment, companies can empower employees and enhance their overall performance.
Develop Managers’ Soft Skills
To develop a workforce, a company’s leadership team should develop managers soft skills, such as how to coach employees effectively. When they do, managers can provide employees with the training they desire.
Soft skills include:
These soft skills are integral to coaching employees with a broad range of backgrounds and personalities.
Top-flight corporations already make managerial soft skill development a cornerstone of their operations.
For example, AT&T has a two and a half year leadership development program for recent graduates of MBA programs.
In their first rotation, AT&T’s developing leaders are tasked with managing a team of frontline technicians who install, repair, and replace cable wires. Cables can be stolen or malfunction, and AT&T’s program forces young professionals to manage the repairs that affect customers’ service.
“There’s no better motivator for learning how to lead a team and make confident decisions than having thousands of people out of service,” said Akshay Nemlekar, a Carnegie Mellon University MBA grad who managed the work and professional development of 15 repair technicians in Dallas, Texas. “Most importantly, the first rotation teaches you empathy and appreciation for the men and women who physically connect our customers to their world.”
AT&T forces young managers into a situation where soft skills are vital: Communication, empathy, and teamwork are indispensable to any manager effectively developing a workforce.
Plus, AT&T’s emphasis on developing soft skills matches employee expectations: More than one-quarter of employees (26%) believe that training managers to coach employees on new skills is the most important step company leaders can take to help workers build knowledge.
To develop managers who can effectively coach employees, companies must provide managerial training that emphasizes building soft skills.
Provide Employees Diverse Skill Development Opportunities
Companies that offer employees a spectrum of professional development opportunities boost a variety of skills and lessen turnover.
Employees are interested in building many skills to improve at their job and advance their career, including:
- Technology such as coding (18%)
- Leadership such as mentoring (17%)
- Communication such as writing (10%)
- Business skills such as bookkeeping and budgeting (8%)
Because employees indicate a breadth of interests, companies are best served by finding a way to offer opportunities to develop a number of skills.
Experts recommend two means of accomplishing this affordably and effectively:
- Cross functional jobs
- Rotational programs
Cross functional jobs involve working across different tasks, disciplines, and departments.
For example, Berke advises companies to train workers organically for future responsibilities without removing them from present business needs.
Rotational programs shift employees to different roles throughout their tenure at the company, exposing them to positions and roles throughout the business.
For example, Matthew Ross, chief operating officer of The Slumber Yard, a sleep and mattress review website, models his rotational program on medical residency programs.
If an employee leaves, we have other employees who can easily slide in and assume the role. We don’t even miss a beat.
The Slumber Yard rotates employees to new positions within the company each quarter, moving video producers to post-production roles and writers to customer service positions. Ross decided to institute the program both to develop employees and mitigate workforce turnover.
“By training employees to be competent in multiple disciplines within the organization, we’re able to reduce the negative effects associated with employee turnover,” Ross said. “If an employee leaves, we have other employees who can easily slide in and assume the role. We don’t even miss a beat.”
By mirroring medical residency programs and rotating employees to new positions, Ross develops competent employees who can conduct a variety of business operations.
To develop and retain a talented workforce, companies should consider methods such as cross-functional positions and rotational programs that grant employees wide-ranging development opportunities.
Develop a Strong In-Office Mentorship Program
Companies should provide an in-office mentorship program to match employee preferences and ensure consistent, cost-effective training. By doing so, businesses can help young employees understand the company's goals and their individual job expectations.
More than half of employees (57%) most prefer the opportunity to learn new skills through in-person workshops and conferences.
Instituting an active in-office mentorship program provides employees with the in-person development opportunities they prefer.
Caterpillar, the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer, has a professional development program for recent graduates that matches mentors and mentees according to professional interests and experience. Mentors provide mentees support with career exploration, job effectiveness, soft skills development, and learning about the company’s culture.
Through this development program, recent college graduates and other newly hired employees are able to improve their job performance and advance their careers – a double-win for Caterpillar and its workers.
Businesses large and small should emulate programs such as Caterpillar’s and provide an in-office mentorship and development program to improve employee performance and prepare workers for future responsibility.
Make Job Retraining Continuous and During Work Hours
For employees to learn new skills, businesses should offer continuous, in-office retraining that takes place during work hours.
Deciding whether to job development opportunities during the workday should not be difficult.
In fact, 7 of 10 employees (70%) most enjoy job retraining when it is held during the workday, more than the percentage of employees (57%) who expect natural light at work. For businesses, holding retraining during work hours should be as obvious as choosing an office with windows.
More specifically, businesses should give employees the opportunity to learn new skills during work hours and inside the workplace.
In-office retraining provides employees with what out-of-office retraining does not: an opportunity for continuous skill development.
“Training should not be a sporadic event,” Santana said. “Ongoing training provides a better ROI for your business and better satisfaction for your employees.”
Santana says business should institute monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals that employees can use in-office hours to attain. This way, employees will be incentivized to complete training and will be accustomed to learning new skills regularly.
Ongoing training provides a better ROI for your business and better satisfaction for your employees.
For example, a company can ask employees to regularly track objectives and key results (OKRs) that incorporate retraining and skill building activities. This way, managers will know exactly how many work hours employees are spending on retraining, and employees will understand that developing new skills should take place at work.
Worker Retraining Benefits Employees and Companies
Employees expect their companies and supervisors to provide retraining and development opportunities.
Companies can improve their employees’ abilities by:
- Offering both standardized and customized training opportunities to their employees
- Ensuring business retraining is relevant, engaging, and flexible
- Emphasizing and celebrating individual employees’ improvement
- Training managers on how to use soft skills such as communication, flexibility, positivity, and teamwork at work.
- Providing workforce development opportunities across a range of disciplines and topics
- Instituting a strong in-office mentorship program
To recruit and retain talent in a competitive labor market, businesses will have to improve their job development offerings.
By supplying workers consistent access to learning opportunities, companies can reduce their turnover, satisfy employees, and improve their business.