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A long-term learning strategy supports a sustainable enterprise

If organisations fail to take a sustainable approach to the way they do business, there is every chance they will become endangered species.

Sustainability - surely the leitmotif of the 21st century - is invariably associated with environmental responsibility, yet this ignores the important issue of sustainability in business. This means to sustain positive results over the long term while reducing costs and other negative impacts over time. It is an extension of the time-honoured approach of doing more with less.

The economic crisis has served to highlight the folly of short-termism and underscores why it's important to look beyond short-term results and towards the interconnectedness of the global economy, not least, at today's intense global competition. The only way a 21st-century organisation can achieve sustained competitive advantage is to have a long-term strategy for all areas of its business, including staff learning. 

In the recent past, many of the world's leading companies have developed - and are now implementing - their own long-term talent management strategies to ensure their workforce has the right skill mix to support future growth.  In an increasingly competitive global economy, any organisation that wishes to pursue a long-term competitive advantage must constantly innovate; in a world where unpredictable change comes from every direction, innovation can become the differentiator.

Innovation may consist of small improvements that reduce costs or improve processes incrementally, over time, or it may take the form of breakthrough ideas that completely transform a market.  Either way, people are the source of that innovation and people are the key to a sustainable business enterprise.

The result is that learning becomes pivotal to a sustainable strategy, which, of course, is nothing new; the idea of learning as the lynchpin for sustained competitive advantage has been espoused for many years by learning professionals. What is new is the way that the sustainability trend has brought it to the public attention.

There are three principal ways in which learning - and technology enabled learning in particular - can support the sustainable enterprise.

Maximising people value

Learning maximises the value of your staff. People are the ultimate renewable resource and organisations that provide learning to more employees - at all levels - are better positioned to compete in a global economy. Learning fuels creativity that in turn drives innovation.

Learning also drives higher levels of productivity and engagement and the value of that learning is multiplied when its content is strategically aligned with the company's core objectives and embedded into its existing corporate systems. Good learning offerings help companies to attract the best people and retain them for longer.

Preparing for the unexpected

Technology - and the 21st century's quantum shift towards global markets - has resulted in a speedy pace of change. Any organisation with an embedded learning culture will foster the agility and critical thinking skills needed to compete in such a fast-paced world. A robust set of learning resources helps organisations adapt to competitive change, technological developments and new customer demands. Technology-led, on-demand learning can be used to solve unexpected problems as they arise.

Using technology to do more with less

Technology and the internet have liberated learning from the traditional bounds of classroom teaching, making it feasible to train more employees at a time, wherever they are, faster and at a much lower cost. Online learning can be used on its own to ensure basic skills and compliance but it can also be used as part of a more complex fabric of blended learning to address a wide variety of enterprise needs. Technology is also the key to delivering on-demand learning to employees as part of their workflow, allowing them to solve problems quickly and efficiently, as they arise.

E-learning, in all its forms, increases the efficiency and effectiveness of workplace learning and allows learning to be delivered to many more employees, especially pertinent in times of financial restraint.

Although sustainability is a hot new trend, it is also a broad concept that is becoming mainstream in the business world. It is no longer associated solely with environmental issues but also with the wider business environment as many organisations realise that people are the ultimate renewable resource. A firm's investment in its employees pays long-term dividends across the spectrum. Bringing learning into all levels of an organisation and across a wide subject range can truly unlock corporate potential. It fosters the agility and critical thinking skills that are essential to competing in a global marketplace.

And with technology enabled learning tools, more firms can afford to train more employees and at lower costs than ever before.


Kevin Young, VP and general manager, EMEA at SkillSoft