It’s Time to Face the Three Challenges of Learning

Most executives acknowledge that learning is crucial to the performance of their business. But at a recent research workshop that my team and I ran with executives from over 40 companies, it became clear that organizations’ traditional learning models are facing pressure from the emergence of new work models. The participants identified these three learning challenges as the most acute:

1. Increased workloads have reduced learning time. Eighty-eight percent of executives at our workshop chose workload pressures as one of their top challenges. They said that many employees, particularly those managing others, feel that their workloads have significantly increased in recent years. Some shared sensitive internal data that suggests burnout has increased during that period. The net result of higher workloads is that employees not only lack the headspace for learning but also feel pressured to prioritize work tasks over learning activities. Battling this challenge will require leaders to maximize the value of any available learning time.

2. Hybrid work has increased the complexity of learning. Two-thirds (66%) of executives said that flexibility in terms of where and when employees work is an important challenge. Executives fretted that employees may not be connected in moments that matter for formal and informal learning. Managers reported that they find it more difficult to identify development opportunities for remote employees and that they fear that remote work is having a negative impact on how people share tacit knowledge. Indeed, research shows that 47% of employees are concerned about missing out on informal learning opportunities while working from home. Addressing this challenge will require leaders to build a robust learning strategy in a hybrid business environment.

3. A tightening labor market has brought skill shortages. Sixty-five percent of executives identified finding workers with specialized skills as a major challenge. Many of the executives we spoke with said their companies have historically looked to the external labor market for these specialty hires. However, as the market tightens, particularly for hard-to-find digital skills, the focus has shifted to boosting the skills of internal employees. Reskilling has always been seen as important, but now it’s critical. Tackling this challenge will require leaders to align business strategy with expertly executed upskilling and reskilling initiatives.

While these are tough challenges to face, executives also acknowledge how important it is to solve them. Skill shortages are one reason, but there is also the significant motivational impact of successful corporate learning.

In today’s volatile labor market, where employees are quick to move from one job to a more advantageous opportunity, the chance to learn something new that will be valuable in the future is a central reason why they stay. Indeed, studies show that 76% of employees say they would stay at their jobs longer if they could benefit from learning and development support.

Moreover, in the face of growing concerns about workplace inequalities, there is a perception that skills-based learning can help to significantly reduce them. This is particularly the case for employees who are not highfliers, who don’t have a college degree or an educational certificate, or who have historically been excluded.