Contributing Writer,
Techstrong Group

The injection of generative AI into the workplace over the past year thanks to OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot is putting a spotlight on corporate learning and development (L&D) programs and highlighting the difference of opinions between workers and employers on their value.

According to a recent survey by online learning platform edX, 84% and 93% of C-suite executives believe companies are responsible for the ongoing education and training of workers. However, they part ways when asked how effective the training is; about half of employers in the survey said there is a strong culture of learning at their businesses. Whereas only about 20% of employees feel the same way.

In addition, 65% of executives said their employees were very satisfied with their companies’ L&D program, but only about 32% of employees felt the same way.

Such discrepancies are a big deal, and companies need to be proactive in addressing them, according to Andy Morgan, head of edX For Business.

“The implications of this discrepancy are substantial,” Morgan told Digital CXO. “It can lead to reduced employee engagement, lower job satisfaction, and potentially increased turnover. Employees who do not feel supported in their professional development may seek opportunities elsewhere.”

It also can hurt the business if employees aren’t learning the skills they need to help it keep pace at a time of significant industry changes and technological advances, particularly in AI and digital transformation, he said.

Employees Turn to Employers for More Training

EdX interviewed 800 employees and 800 C-suite executives to get their views about L&D programs, which have been around a while but are continuing to see growing demand and budgets. According to Statista, the global L&D market last year was almost $363.7 billion, with an average per-employee spend of $1,280.

Companies are growing their budgets accordingly. About 48% of L&D leaders expected their budgets to grow in 2022; that number was 41% this year.

The advent of generative AI is accentuating a trend that already has been underway, with employees expecting employers to supply the training and upskilling they need, rather than having to find their own via post-secondary institutions, Morgan said.

“The evolution towards employer-provided training is part of a natural progression in the modern workplace,” he said. “This change has been driven by several factors, including the rapid pace of technological advancements, the increasing complexity of skills required in various industries, and the growing recognition of continuous learning as a key component of career development.”

Generative AI is the catalyst of the moment.

“To effectively leverage these new technologies, a workforce skilled in using these tools is essential,” Morgan said. “This is leading to a more urgent and pronounced expectation from employees for their employers to facilitate their learning and development.”

Addressing the Discrepancies

The differences in opinions about the value and reasons for L&D programs need to be addressed by companies if they hope to keep and attract skilled employees who can keep the business apace with advanced technologies, according to edX.

About 53% of executives said such programs were needed to upskill at scale, while 50% said it was to drive employee performance. About half saw it as a way to keep employees engaged. However, employees said their top reasons for more training were to challenge themselves and learn something new (58%), improve their job performance (55%), and get a raise or promotion (46%). Almost 80% said they were more likely to stay with their current company if they got good training.

About 80% of employees said they essentially had what they needed to succeed in their current jobs, though only a third strongly felt they could improve their skillsets and advance their careers using only their company’s L&D program. Many also felt they needed help figuring out where to start

“This is a particularly significant problem when it comes to AI skills,” edX said in the report. “Employees are feeling pressure to adapt to these new tools, but are notably more apprehensive than leadership about embracing them. L&D teams should view this as an opportunity to step in and provide the much-needed clarity on where to start and what skills to prioritize.”

The More Options, the Better

Many of the skills employees have today won’t be needed in the coming years, making L&D programs increasingly important in such a fluid business world. For employees, the top requirements they have for these programs are the ability to put their knowledge to use through practice exercises, access to new or regularly updated content, and a range of teaching methods that include such tools as videos and readings.

They also should offer various options, from self-paced content to online cohort learning to face-to-face sessions. Half of the executives surveyed said they offer in-person sessions, but the other options are becoming increasingly popular. Employees also have preferences: Gen Z workers leaned more toward coaching and apprenticeships while most Millennials opted for online learning.

A key is ensuring that the learning is practically relevant and as up to date as possible – aspects that are best met via online learning and where the highest satisfaction rates are, according to edX.

“Investing in L&D is indeed a strategic move for businesses, and when viewed from a holistic perspective, the benefits far outweigh any perceived downsides,” Morgan said. “While there are considerations to manage, such as cost and program design, these are not so much downsides as they are aspects to be strategically planned for.”

He added that the “overarching impact of L&D is overwhelmingly positive, contributing to a more skilled, satisfied and loyal workforce, and positioning the company for ongoing success in a rapidly evolving business landscape.”