Survey says learning leaders should be preparing their employees for the future as well as the here-and-now.
By Chris Osborn
Each year, multiple organizations publish reports about the state of the training industry featuring data points developed by asking questions from the organizational perspective. The value of some of that benchmarking should not be diminished. It’s important to know that investments in employee training are rising, and that organizations are telling the industry that they are making a certain amount of training available to employees, and that some training topics are more important than others. But we think another perspective is important, too.
Now consider nearly every other industry. How do they report on their health and vitality? How about electronics? Automotive? Telecommunications? Entertainment? Without exception, every other industry asks its consumers about the products and services it delivers to gauge the effectiveness and health of its respective industry. How much credibility would any of us give a report about the state of the cable industry, if the only people surveyed are cable providers? Aren’t we really most interested in how the consumers of cable services feel?
Since there isn’t much widely published data on what consumers (employees) of the training industry’s products and services think, we thought that kind of research would be invaluable. Therefore, starting in early June of this year and running until early August, BizLibrary gathered 1,821 survey responses from employees about their employer-provided training programs. The respondents answered three strategic questions:
1 How effective is your employerprovided training program at teaching you new things?
2 How effective is your employerprovided training program at improving your performance?
3 How effective is your employerprovided training program at preparing you for the future?
The responses were separated into two broad categories: 1,002 who work at organizations that are not clients of BizLibrary, and 819 who work at BizLibrary clients (the “control group”). For the purposes of this conversation, it’s less important who provides the solution. What is relevant is the type of solution the employees use. The control group uses a solution with the following characteristics:
>> Heavy emphasis on technology-enabled learning
>> Video-based content >> Primarily micro-learning (seven minutes is average length of the most recently added 2,500 courses)
>> A completion average of 4.8 courses per month
>> LMS’s that are designed expressly to maximize impact of video
>> LMS and video that’s all fully mobileready and mobile-optimized
>> A wide selection of content topics, and generally a high awareness of content availability
>> Minimum of 5,000 courses, and in some organizations 14,000-plus video courses
>> Low emphasis on ILT, though most organizations use some classroom instruction
The broader public participants reported a wide range of content-delivery tools, with ILT being the dominant form. The public participants reported some access to technology-enabled learning including traditional e-learning (click-and-advance PowerPoint-style courseware), virtual classroom and online videos. These participants generally reported fewer content options than the control group. In other words, the public participants generally reported access to traditional employee training programs.
Question 1: How effective is your employer’s training program at teaching you new things?
Employee learning is about acquiring new skills and knowledge. For training programs, this should be a foundational competency. Every employee learning program should be effective or very effective at teaching employees new things.
The chart on the below compares the responses for the public participants to the control group in response to Question 1.
There are significant differences between the public responses and the control group responses. When we combine the responses “Very Effective” and “Effective,” control group employees report that their training programs are 23.77% more effective at teaching them new things than nonclient employees (69.79% to 56.39%). The negative ratings are also lower.
Question 2: How effective is your employer’s training program at helping improve your performance?
Employees should perform at higher levels of mastery after they have been trained. That’s a given. Unfortunately, not all training programs deliver improved performance, and the survey confirms that employees believe many programs substantially under-perform.
Once again, the difference in the top two tiers, “Very Effective” and “Effective,” are striking. The control group employees report they believe their training programs are “Very Effective” or “Effective” at helping improve their performance at a combined rate of 66.41%, but 50.90% of public employees report the same levels of effectiveness for their employers’ training programs. The difference is 30.47% (66.41% “Very Effective” and “Effective” combined, compared to 50.90%).
Question #3: How effective is your employer’s training program at preparing you for the future?
Control group employees report even greater disparities in how their training programs help prepare them for the future: 34.99% better than their peers at other companies. In the top two tiers, 58.33% of employees at control group companies say their training program is either “Very Effective” or “Effective” at preparing them for the future. Only 43.21% — less than half — of the public participants said the same thing.
Of the three strategic questions in the survey, this question about preparing employees for the future elicited the fewest positive responses across the board. This ought to be an area of concern for all of us in the learning and development and training industry. Teaching employees new things and improving performance are outcomes that benefit our organizations in the here-and-now. However, preparing employees for the future is something that we should be working toward for the ongoing success of our organization.
The top graph below summarizes the differences between the public responses and the responses of control group employees. When the survey was launched, we did not expect to see this much of a difference between the perceptions of the control group (BizLibrary client employees) and employees at non-client organizations. The differences are real and rather dramatic — the product of substantive distinctions between the ways employees access learning resources. We believe this because we asked some details about the training programs of the survey participants.
Doubtless, much more research is needed. In fact, you can learn more about this research at http://goo.gl/crrCo5. But we need data on actual performance.
Data from this survey tells us an important story about what employees think — and they don’t think traditional training programs work very well. Employees tell us to give them more choices, more video and to minimize the use of classroom delivery. Does this data prove the effectiveness of the methods employees prefer? Not conclusively, but when employees are engaged in the training methods, there is a far greater likelihood of success than when they are checked out and not engaged in boring, out-of-date training methods.
Think carefully about critical jobs and professions that most organizations need. They rely on professionals with expertise in Web design, user interface, social media recruiting, and inbound marketing. More jobs or critical job skills (depending upon your specific industry) are likely “hard to find.” Some of these jobs and skills simply did not exist as recently as five years ago. The reality of today will certainly not be the reality of tomorrow. That’s why it’s so important we help employees — and, by extension, our organizations — prepare for the future. We can get ahead of some of this by shifting our training efforts to develop skills and competencies around things like adaptability, learning agility and change leadership. If we can make that strategic shift in our development focus, we might see the next round of answers to this question be more favorable.
—The author is vice president of Marketing for BizLibrary