If a learning culture doesn’t feature somewhere in your EVP, there’s likely to be a lesson to be learned...

Today is the 18th birthday of my youngest.

He’s in his final year of school with all sorts of options and possibilities opening up. Hard not to envy him. Having watched, nurtured, cajoled, coerced, taxied and encouraged now three children through the school system, with one at university and one just through it, I can speak with a smidgeon of context about the subject of learning. Theirs, rather than my own.

It would be difficult to over-estimate the contrast between the levels of monitoring, assessment and, let’s be honest, learning that today’s students undergo, compared to those of their parents. Certainly, my children’s parents. Testing starts at a very early age and rarely lets up. Even those once gentle, hazy first years of university are now measured and appraised relentlessly. No surprise, then, news this week from the BMC and University College London that the proportion of 16-24 year olds who drink no alcohol has increased from 18% to 29% over the last decade.

We see an interesting parallel within football academies. For perhaps 30 years, English football has languished far behind continental counterparts in terms of technical ability. We have scraped by on the back of endeavour, commitment and work rate. The last two or three years, however, have seen real changes. The coaching and training of the game in this country has become far more structured, professional and skills-based. The English age group sides from u17 to u21 have met with unprecedented successes, winning their equivalent world cups. Pleasingly, the significant investment in learning means we are now starting to produce exceptional footballers.

Just as these young footballers join the professional ranks, so too do our university students. They have spent the last 18 or so years experiencing levels of training and assessment their previous generations would simply not recognise. And just like their expectations of the technology they come across in the workplace, they expect, at the very least, to continue learning and developing.

And why not? For such people, learning has long had a clear and direct correlation with progression. Studying and learning made the journey from GCSEs, through to A-levels and then either university, work or apprenticeships both smoother and richer with choice. Why, then, when they join the workforce should they stop equating learning with progression?

Some very topical research earlier this month from Bridge/Alder and Dineen emphasises this point. Their survey of both employees and senior HR practitioners suggests that 70% of employees consider the opportunity to learn as an essential criteria when they are considering a new potential employer. And a staggering 98% feel that it is a decisive consideration when contemplating whether to stay with an employer.

If it’s not clear to both candidates and employees alike that you foster a learning culture, then this is unlikely to play well with talent audiences.

And it’s hard to recall a more challenging recruitment landscape than the one unfolding in front of us. The most recent survey from the British Chamber of Commerce suggested that the number of service-based organisations seeking to hire had fallen from 60% to just 47% over the course of the last three months. Of those still trying to recruit, no fewer than 72% were reporting difficulties.

No massive surprise, given the challenges of the UK labour market. However, the BCC went further, suggesting that a large number of firms within the services sector had ‘given up’ trying to recruit. Giving up sounds like a massive indictment of the recruitment landscape.

(The fall in the percentage of organisations seeking to recruit – down to 47% - is the lowest reading for 25 years, yes, lower than the dark days of 2008).

Neil Carberry, the REC CEO’s views on such figures?

‘UK firms are struggling to find the people they need to drive growth and opportunity. Higher skills investment…will also be needed’.

The view that recruitment is a more challenging activity than it has perhaps ever been was supported by a recent piece of research by Monster. Surveying the recruitment industry, they concluded that 62% of recruiters felt that their job was harder today than 12 months previously, and that 67% felt recruitment was more demanding now than five years ago.

It feels unwise not to consider the view that our impending exit from the EU and all that might or might not come with this, is likely to see organisations wary about taking people on and candidates adopting a ‘better the devil you know’ approach to job hunting.

Is Brexit going to result in recruitment grinding to a halt?

Interestingly, it’s hard to conceive of a more real and tangible learning experience than Brexit itself. We’re all of a relative sudden having to enhance our trade deal skills, we’re having to work on our ability to negotiate with multiple conflicting stakeholders (not with conspicuous success to date) and, from a resourcing perspective, we’re having to learn how to fill talent acquisition holes without being able to tap into EU candidate pools.

In many ways, AI and Brexit have much in common. We might have a firm idea – either positive or negative – as to what both might bring in their wake, but deep down this is largely conjecture. Equally, they tend to polarise attitudes – people tend to be fervently for or against both, rarely do we sit on the fence.

And the prospect of AI is only likely to encourage greater employee – regardless of age – demand for more learning and more training. Sticking stubbornly with the same skill sets feels ill-advised faced by the changes that machine learning is likely to inflict on the workplace. Learning is likely to have a key relationship with those jobs that AI will eradicate and those that will remain.

But if the desire for employees of all ages and stages for more access to training feels nearly obvious, then there are some clear obstacles that organisations are likely to be confronted by. Interestingly, many of the potential blockers in establishing a learning culture are similar to those I touched on last time around which can often create isolation and loneliness in the workplace.

Working long and demanding hours means both our opportunity and capacity to embrace training opportunities can be impacted. Ironically, too, the fact that the workforce is increasingly working from home and working more and more flexible hours means there is less opportunity to learn from others at the coal face. And whilst technology has created more means of accessing training and learning, my exposure to more employee focus groups than is strictly healthy, suggests the response to e-learning can be muted at best.

Brexit, too, is likely to be influencing this space. Are finance directors likely to be comfortable about investing in the creation/enhancement of a learning culture given the ambiguity and doubt that March 2019’s departure from the EU is likely to create?

Finally, too the fact that Baby Boomers are now starting to leave the workforce will also have an impact on learning. Ageism too means that many employees aged 50 and over are likely to feel more and more marginalised from an employment perspective. (It’s worth reiterating figures from a previous blog earlier this summer – PWC estimate that the UK could raise GDP by an annualised £180bn through increasing the proportion of over 55s in work). The fact that this generation feels less and less welcome at work is only likely to reduce learning opportunities further for their younger counterparts.

Learning is likely to become an increasingly polarising factor within workplaces. Does an employer provide and empower a learning culture or not? If candidates and employees – faced with both the shadow of AI and a lifetime of learning-based progression – sense the latter, then an organisation’s Employee Value Proposition is likely to be severely impacted. 

Neil Harrison believes employer brands should be informed by authenticity. It's awfully hard to arrive at such authenticity without having a topical understanding of what your employer brand is challenged with, what it has to offer, how it's perceived and what it's up against.

Neil has been lucky enough to work alongside exceptional brands such as Sainsbury's, Transport for London, Pizza Hut, HS2, The AA, BA, Heathrow, Virgin Media, the University of Sheffield, Telefonica, Santander, Unilever, Prosafe and Subsea7.

Today, he works with both clients direct and via agencies and RPOs. Such work is increasingly used to drive both diversity and internal engagement initiatives. The ability of an organisation not only to retain but to get the most out of its people has never been so important. We are also doing some interesting work in the exit journey of potentially departing employees.

Neil is a key member of the DANGERFIELD team.