Is your L&D training going to waste?

Employees are completing course after course, yet failing to implement the learning in their day-to-day jobs. Claire Muir investigates the perceptions and disconnects around learning and development, and shares some tactics HR can harness to make learning stick.

As the UK’s skills shortage continues and the use of AI grows, upskilling is top of mind for many. 

Employers realise that failing to provide necessary training makes them vulnerable and, according to PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2023, 53% of employees think their job needs specialist training they don’t have

Add to this the fact that the country’s ageing population demands more learning and development (L&D) support to sustain longer, evolving careers.

All this comes, though, as training initiatives are often met with eyerolls from individuals and managers alike, and teams are increasingly reporting a significant disconnect between the lessons learned and their implementation.

Providing the tools to learn is one thing but it is another entirely to determine whether real business value is being delivered.


Combatting the eyerolls

Before we can ask why, after expertly researched, prepared and presented training sessions, many employees revert to the way it has always been done, it is important to determine the position of L&D in your organisation – and break down any barriers.

“It’s all about aligning L&D to business strategy and changing its perception from being a course provider to a strategic enabler,” says Olivia Machell, senior learning and development consultant at Spencer Ogden.

“By partnering with line managers to uncover training needs which align with business strategy, L&D becomes a strategic partner rather than ‘training for training's sake.’”

Read more: Degrees may no longer be a requirement as skills-based hiring surges

As well as recommending L&D leads hold regular meetings with line managers to analyse training needs and understand their challenges, Machell says they need to be part of high-level conversations about business goals too. 

Training can then be tailored, distinguishing whether an L&D-led session or support for a line manager to address the challenges themselves is needed.

“Line managers know ‘what’ they need,” adds Nathan Clements, a former chief people officer and now partner at The Alexander Partnership.

“The role of HR is to help sharpen this then deliver the ‘how.’”

That said, line managers can take some convincing, often viewing training as ‘dead time’ or ‘time off-desk’ – the result of a lack of alignment between them and L&D, according to Machell.

As such, L&D needs to foster these relationships; demonstrate the what, why and benefits of the training, and collaborate with managers at design stage – or at least share the content before roll-out so they know it's worth: “This way line managers will change their attitude towards training, seeing it as necessary to enable them to meet objectives. 

“This will influence their teams to view training the same way, making it more self-directed and meaning they attend not to ‘have training done to them’ but because they know the value it will add to their performance.”


Getting staff on-side

CIPD head of learning Andy Lancaster says worth is underpinned when the purpose of training and development is clearly communicated to managers – and learners: “Too often busy staff aren’t clear why they’re engaging in development activities. 

“There must be a compelling narrative about the value which will be added for the investment of time and resource.”

To do this, HR must go beyond mere attendance, completion statistics, and organisational metrics, urges Lancaster. Instead, use the power of storytelling with feedback-based case studies – share what worked, why and how it made a difference. 

He says: “While numbers matter, personal stories of how training transformed the knowledge, skills and behaviours of individuals are truly persuasive for stakeholders.”

Read more: Use psychology to influence employee behaviour

And with most employees keen to make sure they have hit their targets for the day before looking at anything surplus, persuasion is key. 

At Go Up, head of HR and growth manager Amber Wells recommends engaging employees with a bespoke element; getting them involved in the design of their training.

She says: “This could mean they pick the e-courses or other resources that the organisation purchases or select a particular area of business they’d like to learn more about through shadowing or coaching.” 

Of course, HR due diligence is essential here to ensure genuine business value and a healthy ROI.

Ultimately, Wells says this can pivot training from being just another ‘work-related burden’ to an opportunity for genuine professional development – plus it can help individuals commit to learning and see its worth.


Assisting with accountability

Gaps between training intervention and the day-to- day life of the staff member are inevitable but line managers can fill them, especially if they go beyond the basics.

Susan Wade, people and change expert at PA Consulting, says: “Good line managers lead by example, prioritising learning and protecting time away from work to build important skills.

“In this way, they start to create a culture of learning in their teams.”

She also recommends managers encourage individuals to apply new skills on the job and share what they have absorbed, something Sarah Gilchriest, chief people officer at Workforce Learning, supports. 

“This could be through presentations, mentoring or writing blog posts. It can be a good opportunity for wider staff members to learn something new,” she says. At Spencer Ogden, knowledge transfer links learners to line managers. 

“Very few businesses (7%) actually measure their knowledge transfer rate,” says Machell. The global recruitment company immediately notifies line managers when an employee signs up to L&D-led training. 

“The manager can consider the expectations they will have post-learning and discuss them at the employee’s weekly one-to-one meeting. These expectations are shared with L&D too, so the facilitator can ensure the session is relevant and focused. 

“During the training, L&D explains why it is happening, how it ties in with the business strategy and creates a transfer plan that involves delegates setting an objective for implementing their learning.

“Afterwards, employees have a debrief with their line manager and share their objective, which will be used for accountability. They will be checked in on during one-to-ones and have KPIs created to track performance improvement,” says Machell. 

“Meanwhile, L&D carry out wider measurement, tracking how learning is applied through summative assessments, call coaching and feedback from the wider team.”


Reconnecting learning - the experts’ view

We asked a number of experts about the tried-and-tested techniques HR can use before, during and after training to ensure employees apply new knowledge.


“Spaced practice is a powerful technique in employees embedding training. Breaking learning into manageable chunks, which are then practised in context and reviewed over time, increases transfer to the workplace” – Andy Lancaster, head of learning, CIPD

“Creating small cohorts that learn together over time provides a built-in community of support, reflection and feedback that they will naturally take back to the job together, creating new habits within the team. 

“This works especially well to establish new behaviours in leaders and for embedding new ways of working” – Susan Wade, people and change expert, PA Consulting


“One of the ways we keep our teams accountable is monthly bonuses. If the training is being implemented that would result in personal and professional growth, and financial compensation” – Rikshita Khela, chief people officer, Vorboss


“One simple way to gauge whether an employee’s newfound knowledge is being applied is by measuring whether their efficiency in completing an established set of tasks increases. Are they fulfilling their duties faster? Have they addressed previous knowledge gaps? Increased efficiency means staff are free to take on more responsibility and gain further opportunities to develop their skills

“On the other hand, you can observe where knowledge isn’t being applied, for example if tasks are taking the usual amount of time to be completed or workflow hiccups are persisting. 

“If this is the case, then there should be a process put in place to identify why new learnings aren’t being implemented – it could be the case that the training itself isn’t fulfilling its purpose” – Amber Wells, head of HR and growth manager, Go Up


“Microlearning – bite-sized modules on specific topics or skills that take just minutes to complete – is a just-in-time approach that ensures employees can immediately apply what they have learned, enhancing knowledge retention and driving real-world impact. 

“A field technician working on an oil pipe, for example, can immediately access a targeted module on his mobile device that focuses on how two parts of a pipe should be joined or managers in a conundrum can get direct access to a module on how to make a particularly difficult decision” – Matteo Penzo, CEO, Zick Learn


This article was first published in the November/December 2023 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.