Illustration of figures completing work and running against the backdrop of a large clock.

For businesses that implement workplace learning programmes to upskill their employees, selecting a learning programme and implementing it is only part of the task.

Getting prospective learners on board with the programme in question and ensuring that they complete their training is the other half of the equation, and it can often be a challenge. According to Econsultancy’s latest report, Winning the Race for Digital Skills, organisations that were identified as learning and development (L&D) leaders cited their employees’ willingness to devote time to learning as the top obstacle to upskilling. Companies own willingness to allocate time ranked second.

Similarly, when asked about why it is challenging to engage employees in learning, two fifths (40%) of executives surveyed by Econsultancy cited time constraints (“everyone is too busy”) as a top contributing factor. This would seem to paint a clear picture of employees who are unable or unwilling to devote time to upskilling, while organisations are perhaps not setting aside dedicated learning time for them to do so.

However, the picture from learners themselves is more nuanced – and suggests that what is being perceived by higher-ups as a failure to allocate time may have more to do with the value and relevance of learning programmes. While more than two fifths (43%) of learners did cite time as an obstacle to completing learning programmes, among those respondents who said that their learning plans match career goals and offer a variety of learning modes, the percentage who said they didn’t have time to learn dropped to 19%.

In addition, when asked what changes they would make to the learning or training experiences they receive, the most-cited improvement (chosen by 68%) was to make learning “more specific to my job role”. Those employees who found that their learning plan maps to their career goals were also much more likely to agree with the statement, “Learning opportunities here are a tangible benefit to my job”, with three-quarters (74%) of such employees saying they agreed.

Organisations that were identified as L&D leaders (defined as organisations whose learning programmes achieve at least three of the following benefits: valued employee benefit, increased retention, competitive advantage, source of innovation, and identifying/developing leadership) were also found to be more likely to offer on-demand video training for employees’ job specialities (81% of L&D leaders versus 59% of non-leaders), and to offer training in the realm of specialist skills related to job function (74% versus 52%).

Organisations who offer learning that maps to employee career plans… are much more likely to see successful uptake

As report author Stefan Tornquist identified, allocating dedicated time for learning is certainly a measure that organisations can use, but it may not solve the issue of employees being reluctant to complete training if they don’t perceive the training to be worthwhile:

“…some companies give employees a set time to learn, but data is scarce on the efficacy of the practice. On the one hand, it clearly establishes priority and could be a powerful complement to a popular learning program. On the other, for some employees it can feel like a burden rather than a benefit, especially if the learning program isn’t seen as highly relevant.”

In other words, it can be dangerous to view time as the sole barrier to learning and only seek to remedy that issue, even if that may appear on the surface to be the cause of non-completion. Organisations who offer learning that maps to employee career plans and caters to their job specialities and specialist skills, as well as blending a variety of learning modes such as on-demand and structured learning, are much more likely to see successful uptake of the learning programmes they have invested resources into.