· Comment

How HR professionals can build a culture of lifelong learning

"Learning is everyone’s responsibility"

Could a culture of continuous learning tackle the biggest obstacle to workplace learning and development (L&D)?

Employers are all well aware of the UK’s gaping skills gap. Research shows that half the UK workforce will need to be reskilled by 2025.

The reality is that, while many employees want to gain new skills, a lack of time is the biggest obstacle to workplace L&D. One way to address this is to build a culture of continuous learning that all employees can benefit from, no matter what stage they’re at in their careers.

The truth is that L&D has shifted from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have’. It’s no longer enough for employers to run the odd lunch-and-learn session every few weeks. What’s needed is a detailed L&D strategy that promotes learning as part of the organisation’s culture.

Read more: How to create a culture of lifelong learning

There are many ways L&D professionals can build this culture, but they can only do so with leadership support. Even the most successful CEOs still have things to learn.

Being open and transparent about the fact that a learning journey doesn’t end when you reach the top of an organisation plays a significant role in shifting people’s mindsets when it comes to learning.

In today’s world, when businesses are trying to understand the workplace changes needed to reach net zero, and how artificial intelligence is going to transform the way businesses operate, upskilling employees has never been more important. Yet many businesses struggle to make L&D a priority.

How can learning become central to an organisation’s culture?

Not all learning models will suit all employees. L&D professionals should promote different learning models, such as the 70:20:10 model, integrating formal interventions into learning through experience and collaboration. Businesses that have clear L&D plans for employees are five times more likely to attract new talent and three times more likely to see improvements in staff motivation. So prioritising this is a win/win.

Line managers also play a vital role in the roll out of L&D plans, and are important stakeholders for any HR teams trying to make workplace learning part of daily life. Equipping line managers with the confidence, skills and frameworks needed to encourage their teams to upskill is essential. On-the-job learning can never be underestimated, but for it to work effectively, employees must be given the right opportunities to learn. 

Read more: We should want to keep learning and growing

Clear communication is critical to transforming any culture. L&D professionals should consider how, when, and what they communicate when sharing the support on offer to upskill employees. Communicating effectively is essential to building a learning culture that everyone can get behind. If employees don’t know what L&D support is available to them, then the culture of learning simply won’t exist.  

Budget also plays a vital role in being able to offer courses and opportunities to employees. Research shows that during economic downturns, L&D budgets are usually the first to be cut. Investment in training has fallen by 28% since 2005. 

Having a start-stop approach to learning programmes due to budgets constantly changing won’t help build a culture where learning is part of day-to-day life. If employers want to truly address the skills gap and build a workforce for the future, then they have got to put their money where their mouth is and keep it there.

Employers should take advantage of schemes such as Lifelong Learning Entitlement and the apprenticeship levy, to promote a culture of continuous learning.

Learning is everyone’s responsibility, from the chief executive to individual employees. While L&D professionals play a vital role in building a culture where learning is seen as the norm, it’s up to everyone in an organisation to understand their role in making that culture a reality.

By Ola Kolade, employment and skills director for Business in the Community