Neeti Sharma, Senior Vice President, Teamlease Services

Neeti has been heading the learning services at TeamLease, which includes Public–Private Partnerships with various State & Central Government in the areas of Employability across the country as well as managing a network of Learning Centers pan India. In addition to Teamlease, she is also a Member Secretary of the Skills Task Force under the Karnataka Knowledge Commission, Government of Karnataka and has been the pioneer of PPP Employment Exchanges in India as well as instrumental in starting India’s 1st Vocational Skills University – the Teamlease Skills University. Neeti has over 27 years of diverse experience and her current focus is to set up a self-sustaining Employability and Employment models with various networks of centres that profile, assess, train and certify job seekers across all profiles and cities/towns linking various stakeholders like Government, Educational Institutes, NGOs and Training Centers to cater to the manpower requirements (entry and middle level) of the organized and unorganized corporate sectors.

Traditionally, companies in India have viewed their L&D teams as nothing more than a function that provides short term program – may / may not result in outcomes. This mindset had translated into a minimum net spend on L&D over the past decade or so. However, over the past few months, many companies have recognized the importance of not just having robust L&D teams, but also the opportunity cost of not having a high functioning digitized L&D team.

The Pandemic as a Catalyst for Digitization of L&D

Taking into account the many technological & demographical changes over the last decade, L&D has had its work cut out supporting business with even tighter budgets. And while most organizations realized that digital transformation in learning is a critical factor for success, the last 6 months have pushed the digital adoption for learning ahead by more than two decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a catalyst for the digital learning revolution. And this transformation has a direct impact on L&D through the use of technology. The COVID-19 era has also contributed to reimagining the purpose and need for L&D in this new era.  L&D professional say that they have never been this busy in the past.

In India, the pandemic has highlighted the lack of skill planning or upskilling which has led to the loss of millions of jobs. As of April 2020, the unemployment rate in India was an unprecedented 23.5 percent. Government initiatives such as the Aatmanirbhar Bharat have stressed the importance of being self-reliant and upskilling candidates and employees for the future.

Organizations also have had to adopt technology quickly and embrace the changes that were brought about by the conditions laid out by pandemic. The L&D function had to be quick, smart, practical and cost conscious. Learning has gone through a trend of sorts during this pandemic.

In the initial few weeks of COVID-19, the first task that the L&D teams faced was – How do we continue the engagement of employees?

All organizations are not at the same stage of maturity and that posted multiple challenges (some had less of them, while some had to make a lot of adjustments).  However, everyone was trying to solve the challenge of keeping employees engaged and “learning” became the most effective and sure way of achieving that.

From organizations providing e-learning licenses to Learning Management System (LMS) subscriptions to providing multiple learning opportunities by creating a MOOC (Massive open online courses) to conducting virtual learning sessions on video conferencing tools.  This was the first wave of actions across most organizations and it did the job.  If you see data on take-up and completion rates during this period, they have been like never before. This came as no surprise as this drive and rigor came from the entire leadership cadre in the organization and not just L&D team.

One of the best things that could have happened was people took this opportunity and “real learning” happened and L&D teams started building a habit of learning for all employees.

The next phase of L&D evolution was focused on a phase that can be called as a “How to” phase

This attracted a barrage of initiatives from the L&D teams as business leaders expected this from HR. Virtual meeting etiquette training to effective WFH hacks to being focused on stress management to manager training on empathy and emotional intelligence, remote work efficiency  & even virtual R&R programs. All these formed a part of the second wave of activities.

While the world was moving into the “new normal” and the COVID-19 fear was reducing, it brought us to the current stage of consolidation – The “New Normal” now is about re-looking at organizational structure, focusing on efficiency, creating the right team & taking calls keeping long term health of the organization in mind. L&D teams have to take up a new challenge of helping the organization to achieve their goals, be resilient and productive now and for the near future. Cross skilling of people with overlapping roles, new skills to people moving across roles, new employee training to suit new expectations.  It is now all about, one, keeping the pot boiling and, two, ensuring organizations become future-ready to operate with the restrictions.

Learning & Development Re-imagined

Skilling for the Future: A significant change in mindset has taken place in organizations In India, and the focus has now shifted toward employability in the future. Across several sectors, automation of jobs is becoming increasingly prevalent. In such a scenario, it is estimated that by 2030, approximately 9-13 percent of jobs will be lost to automation. Cross-skilling and up-skilling with the help of digitized learning is the only way to ensure that employees stay abreast of these changes. The need to introduce technology-oriented learning has never been greater.

The Millennial Fallacy: Over the next few years, the Baby Boomers and Gen X will be replaced by the millennials and Gen Z. The fallacy that millennials are “lazy” and “entitled” is often used to explain the dearth of employable candidates. However, if anything, the digital transformation has highlighted that millennials are likely to adapt far quicker to changes in technology and learning.

Moreover, millennials and Gen Z workers are likely to be motivated by on-the-job training programs and upskilling courses rather than instant gratification. In the work-from-home era, the digitization of Learning & Development is being embraced by this section of the workforce and these dividends will be paid in the near future.

Another significant change in digitized learning and skilling is the interactive nature of training. Millennials and GenZ have grown up around the technology and adapting to an immersive, digital learning environment is not likely to be a challenge. Moreover, this has forced L&D teams to do away with traditional learning methods and upskill themselves in the process. Digitized courses also facilitate self-paced learning. This enables employees to focus on challenging aspects of the course while reducing time spent on aspects, they are familiar with. This creates greater efficiencies and minimizes time wastage.

There is no doubt that digital learning has made huge inroads into our learning systems. Building a right mix of microlearning, virtual sessions and simulations is a good way to leverage technology to give learners an “in-person” feel. Build-in polls and chats increase the engagement of learners during the sessions.  Providing the right tools for remote learning, the right content and learner experience will be required to be made possible by the L&D teams of organizations.

The pandemic has created widespread disruption for organizations, employees, and prospective employees alike. However, L&D teams who have embraced digitization have benefited greatly and in turn, have also provided great long-term value for organizations and their workforce.

The disruption caused due to this pandemic has helped organizations discover themselves better.  Learning and development teams have been the biggest beneficiaries of this process.

Upskilling and reskilling are the need of the hour. Not only do they skill workforce for current & future job roles, but it also helps in the overall development and retention of employees. Learning to learn and continuous learning will be the way of life and L&D professionals’ ultimate goal.

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