Why learning and development matters in the workplace
Employees have shown they have an appetite for upskilling and reskilling. So how should employers respond to develop their future workforce?

A recent study conducted by SEEK made one thing clear: that employees relish learning and development opportunities to improve their skills and enhance their prospects.  Not only does this bode well for the future but it also presents an opportunity (and responsibility) for employers to learn more about what their people need when it comes to upskilling and reskilling.

Upskilling vs Reskilling

In simple terms, upskilling is improving skills to help a current job.  It enhances employees’ skills in their current role and amplifies their profile in the workplace.

Reskilling is learning new skills that will help in a new job or career.  This may include learning new technologies.

Either way, according to Michael Morris, Head of Talent at Employsure, “both upskilling and reskilling are vital in any candidate’s toolkit, particularly given that today’s roles are evolving at a rapid rate.”  

What is the data telling us?

SEEK data has revealed that more than 50% of Kiwis have participated in on-the-job training in the last twelve months, indicating that employees are motivated to learn new skills to improve their effectiveness in the workplace.  

Most (79%) people expect employers to pay for their upskilling activities, particularly when it is mandated but also when an employer tells them they have a skills gap that needs addressing.

Surprisingly though, fewer than one in four (23%) had participated in formal training in the last year and 34% were keen for more. While this generally comes at a greater investment to employers it does pose the question: can employers make their on-the-job training more “formal”?

Two leading organisations prove that you can.

Following a growing international trend to provide dedicated training platforms, Australia Post has their own ‘Tech Academy’ where “people are assessed on their interest to grow a career in technology as well as their grit and learning agility. Those who demonstrate these qualities are put through an intensive boot camp which teaches them the core skills to set them up for success in a technology and digital role,” explains Darren Peiris, Manager, Enterprise Emerging Talent.

Likewise, Morris says that Employsure “prefer to promote people rather than hire in laterally,” meaning they have a significant focus on growing and developing capability. This includes taking on over 40 graduates a year and, with a combination of classroom, online, technical and on-the-job learning, they upskill graduates to an equivalent level of Employment Relations Adviser, something that generally takes many years to achieve.  

Interestingly, SEEK data also shows that only half the surveyed are working in the role they studied for.  As Dean Bindless, Group Design Manager at Australia Post suggests, “leaders should be equipped with the tools and skills to have effective career development conversations with their staff” and be able to leverage their skills and tailor professional learning and development accordingly - even more compelling given that over half of the respondents who are ‘happy’ in their jobs are those working in their field of study.  

A continuous learning mindset

Learning as a pathway to meet future needs should be considered a primary benefit of learning and development, not just return on investment.

Bindless details Australia Post’s 70/20/10 approach to development that consists of access to formal learning through workshops and online learning, including professional and leadership development. This enables on-the-job development, and ‘just-in-time’ development opportunities supported by coaching and self-service resources. “We measure the success of our programs through our employee engagement levels, and where possible, we align our development programs to existing business metrics,” he adds.  
Return of performance, monthly pulse surveys, consolidated exit interview data and average tenure levels are some other tools employed by Employsure.

Future proofing

A progressive employer will map skills and capabilities of the current workforce against the capabilities that they will want or need in the future, identify the gaps and then help employees to focus on how they can fill these gaps. Just as Morris says, “when reviewing candidates, we are constantly looking for those that have challenged themselves in previous work environments as it demonstrates great amounts of commitment. If we don't consistently upskill and train our people, we will be left behind as the pace of growth in professional services is relentless.”

Peiris concurs, commenting that Australia Post “is constantly evolving and we need to ensure that our development opportunities continue to equip our people for the future.”  

SEEK data supports this attitude, where three in four people noted that they upskilled in the last year to help in their current role, while half said they upskilled to prepare for the future. Millennials, in particular, are keen on upskilling opportunities (75%). Peiris says that Australia Post “focusses on recruiting internal applicants as they are best placed to understand what our core business is all about and how they can best fill the gaps we currently have”.