The 2020 guide to effective learning and development strategies for modern businesses.

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Chapter 1

The new world of skills

A McKinsey report on the future of work suggests that automation could displace 800 million jobs by 2030. It’s enough to cause anxiety to many! At the same time, the continual adoption of new technology is forcing everyone to upgrade their skills. McKinsey notes that 32% of workers aged 16-54 may need to retrain in the next 12 years, regardless of their position. 

Our working lives are changing at such a searing pace that many of us are having a hard time keeping up. Where once there were jobs for life, today many employees are only guaranteed work for the life of a project.  

In uncertain times, professional ability translates into job security. The more current your skillset, the more employable you are. It’s no wonder Gallup found that learning and development (L&D) is the top factor in retaining millennials

And this is not just about technology. Over the next decade, hours spent on manual and basic, repetitive or process-driven skills will decline, while hours spent on higher cognitive skills and social and emotional skills will increase, alongside technology skills. The social and analytics skills required to cope with a changing work environment will be prized by employers and employees alike.

For businesses, upgrading employee skills has clear benefits. Your staff become better at their jobs, even as those jobs change. But in the new world of skills, L&D takes on a more strategic role. Your L&D strategy says something fundamental about you as an employer, and you can be sure that your current and potential talent is listening.

This guide will outline the new world of L&D, and why businesses that get it right can reap the benefits of increased productivity, easier recruitment and better retention. 

The L&D case for business

The biggest expense for most businesses is labour, which can typically account for 70% of total costs. But today’s talent is fickle and can easily move on – in which case the costs ramp up again. According to one study, the average employee costs SMEs £11,000 to replace

It’s therefore better to retain the talent that you have, right? Most of the time, yes. But stagnation is a curse to business too. Growth requires drive. Progressive companies need agile employees prepared to exploit the opportunity to learn and develop, and businesses need to provide those opportunities. If the half life of a skill is five years, much of what an employee learned five years ago is already irrelevant. 

A modern L&D strategy that embeds continual learning in company culture is the answer. It helps to retain your best talent while ensuring their skills are never obsolete. 

The L&D case for talent

There are few jobs for life anymore. As far as your best employees are concerned, you might downsize, or automate their role. Or they might just get a better offer.

Gallup research finds that 21% of millennials switched jobs in the last year. Plus, many don’t hop from company to company: they leap off the corporate ladder altogether, into freelancing, the gig economy, and selling their services on a project by project basis. 

They want more control over their careers, and see L&D as an investment in their futures. Three quarters are ready to learn new skills or retrain in order to remain employable. The knowledge they obtain, rather than the company they serve, is their guarantee of security. Companies that provide opportunities for development will get more of their time and more of their focus.

What L&D should achieve

With all that in mind, a modern L&D strategy must aim to:

Chapter 2

A learning and development strategy for the ages

So you need an L&D strategy, but what might it look like? Here’s a typical approach… 

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Mind the gaps

The starting point of any L&D strategy is knowing what you want to achieve. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), this might include – but go well beyond – clear bottom line benefits:

Is L&D worth it?

In a word, absolutely.

You might want to compare the costs of an L&D strategy with the costs of not having one. Can your organisation hope to thrive without up-to-date skills and an engaged workforce?

Having said that, L&D activities need to be properly costed so their impact can be accurately measured. Costs will depend on a huge range of variables. This CIPD document (free login) has much more on costing an L&D strategy.

In practice

Putting an L&D strategy into practice demands the same project skills (planning, execution, metrics) as any other corporate objective:

Chapter 3

Going beyond the traditional L&D strategy

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An L&D strategy is necessary to keep your business and its employees skilled and engaged. But progressive companies are moving beyond traditional L&D, and making continuous learning part of their company culture. 
That’s increasingly necessary. According to the Deloitte 2019 Global Human Trends report, 86% of respondents said the need to improve learning and development was either important or very important to their business.

Organisations must work to instil an end-to-end cultural focus on learning, from the top of the organisation to its bottom, if they want to meet the talent challenges that lie ahead.

Deloitte 2019 Global Human Trends

To do this, company leaders need to encourage an atmosphere of innovation and experimentation, where identifying, acquiring and implementing new skills is seen as routine, expected and supported from the top. This is less top-down learning, where businesses identify skills gaps and act to fill them, and more bottom-up innovation, where employees identify and obtain skills that will help them in their roles and careers. 

Enabling self-led learning

This self-directed learning (SDL) is a fundamental shift away from its traditional mandated equivalent. The Deloitte report encourages businesses to make “learning more personal so that it is targeted to the individual and delivered at convenient times and modes so that people can learn on their own time.”

SDL empowers employees to choose the learning they need, the pathway they want, and the schedule that suits their work and life. This, of course, is good news for the company too: learners who self-define are happy to learn in their own time. Empowered employees are motivated to learn and emboldened to apply that learning in their work. They feel valued and trusted by employers. 

SDL requires:

Our single biggest insight into success is that we believe people learn better together.

Avado Learning at the Pace of Change report.

What can HR do?
SDL doesn’t take HR out of the picture. Quite the opposite. As SDL becomes embedded in company culture, it becomes a natural part of the HR process. HR identifies and either recommends or approves new training resources and methods. Given that people now rate the “opportunity to learn” as among their top reasons for taking a job, SDL becomes an integral part of recruitment literature, induction sessions and employee reviews. HR helps to set individual development goals that employees can work towards in their own way.

Chapter 4

Who makes it happen – and how?

Who makes continual learning happen? Employees do, but business leaders and HR have to give them the freedom and encouragement to act, as well as ensuring the overall L&D strategy aligns to business goals.

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The C-suite


Line managers

The process: a mix of old and new

To deploy a modern, employee-focused L&D strategy:

  1. Identify your goals. As before, what do you want your L&D strategy to achieve? What are its short- and long-term aims?
  2. Assess needs. Find the gaps in your company’s skillset. What training will help achieve your goals?
  3. Assess staff. What kinds of learning would suit learning styles, seniority, competencies and personal goals?
  4. Grant freedom. Within the parameters set out by your goals, give staff control over their learning journeys. 
  5. Allocate funds. Think about giving employees controlled access to funds to implement their own learning journeys, fostering trust and a sense of control. Soldo can help with business prepaid cards.
  6. Measure impact. Use short and long-term metrics – staff satisfaction, training take-up, retention, performance – to measure the success of your L&D strategy. Refine accordingly.
  7. Create a learning culture. Senior figures must encourage this process at every point. Turn ad-hoc training into a culture of continual learning and future-proof your business.  

Chapter 5

Learning and Development cheatsheet: the trends that matter

A well honed L&D strategy is a must-have for modern businesses. A revolution in the workplace is under way, making non-knowledge skills more valuable than anything we can look up on Google. At the same time, talented staff want lifelong opportunities to learn, and retaining them has never been more crucial.

With that in mind, here’s a summary of the five trends that really matter.

Employee-centric L&D

Within an overall strategy, your training must be engaging, flexible and – to some extent – controlled by your employees. Emphasise its career benefits, and give staff the freedom and funds to identify the training they need and the delivery that best suits their learning styles and schedules. Encourage collaboration and the sharing of skills.

Invest in technology (but don’t worship it)

E-learning is great. Virtual classrooms are cheaper than real ones. Self-paced, bitesize learning can succeed where long, classroom-based courses fail. Employees like good e-learning, which is why companies are spending more on online training. But giving employees access to a library of online courses and telling them to “get on with it” isn’t enough. Simple e-learning can be generic, passive and – worse – isolating. 

The answer? Learning that is relevant, focused and supported. Interestingly, LinkedIn finds that, while 75% of talent developers use externally created training content, 85% use internally created content. Mix the best external resources with bespoke material created in-house. Use blended learning – a combination of the best e-learning courses and short, instructor-led refreshers. Keep an eye on developments in AI and VR that will give e-learning a new human touch.

Don’t forget soft skills

When everyone is obsessed with digital transformation, it can be easy to forget soft skills. Surveys often rank soft skills over hard when companies consider the skills they think employees need most. the top four often cited are leadership, communication, collaboration and time management. Employees want them too, as many of us will ride the technological wave by exploiting the human skills which AI is a very long way from mastering. 

ROI and metrics

According to the LinkedIn survey, budgets are no longer a major constraint for L&D. The speed of technological change has convinced managers to part with their cash – but only if they can expect to see results. Align your L&D strategy with wider business goals and measure its impact on your employees and business performance. Showing ROI will help justify the creation of a learning culture in your company. Without ROI, training will continue as a top-down imposition of ad-hoc courses.

Soldo helps create a company-wide culture of development

Soldo is a sophisticated business expenses solution that empowers staff with controlled access to company money, while making expense capture and reporting easier than ever. Give staff control over their learning journeys and boost engagement and retention. Learn more at