Integration | Has 2020 shown that L&D is the most important HR function?

Has 2020 shown that L&D is the most important HR function?

Has 2020 shown that L&D is the most important HR function?

The past 12 months have shifted work as we know it beyond recognition, including learning & development and how employees are harnessing...

Words by Jade Burke | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Jade Burke

Design by Matt Bonnar

Dealing with the impacts of a global pandemic is likely something no HR leader expected to experience during their career. However, for today’s professionals, the current crisis has produced some extreme challenges for the function: from remotely managing employee wellbeing to acting as a centre of comms for staff during an uncertain and turbulent time. One could argue that every function within HR has had an important role to play.

So, what about Learning and Development? Over the course of 2020 (L&D) has also started to evolve significantly. In particular L&D has seen a major uptick in virtual and digital learning, with many employers re-thinking their L&D strategies, so much so that 94% of L&D professionals have reported having to change their L&D strategy in response to the pandemic, according to the Fosway Group, who also discovered that just five per cent of respondents beleive their learning strategy, investment and resourcing will go back to what it was before the pandemic begun.

L&D is one of the key tools that can be used to educate employees and managers on the importance of supporting mental health

Integration and investment

It's clear from the investment and integration that L&D is receiving – a core pillar of an HR strategy, alongside resourcing, leadership and benefits – attention that suggests it is considered integral to business success. Fosway Group also reported that 84% of L&D leaders think it’s now more important to integrate digital learning into corporate collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack or Trello. And it seems these leaders are happy to fork out more cash to serve these needs as LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report revealed that almost 6 in 10 of L&D professionals expect to spend more on online learning.


L&D’s purpose

But is L&D the most important aspect of HR? For Adam Hodgkinson, Global Head of People Development, Talent & Communication at HRA Pharma, L&D is right up there – and the pandemic has proved this. He believes that L&D allows leaders to gain the knowledge needed to support staff and their mental health.

He tells HR Grapevine: “The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been a stressful and anxious experience for many employees, so there is a need now more than ever to focus on mental health. L&D is one of the key tools that can be used to educate employees and managers on the importance of supporting mental health and to increase knowledge in this area.”

Using L&D to get a handle on mental health could be crucial. Job board CV-Library recently discovered that four in 10 professionals feel their mental health is worse than it was a year ago. This is also starting to resonate with today’s leaders, as LinkedIn’s The Future of Recruiting report found that 37% are concerned about employees’ mental health and 35% fear employees may be bored or demotivated due to the continued time away from workplaces. However, according to Hodgkinson, if employers focus on L&D and utilise it, they may soon find themselves on the right pathway to providing employees with the support they need.

Boosting business performance

Certainly, the past few months has demonstrated L&D’s evolution, highlighting its importance to the HR function. This has since sparked HR professionals to reflect on how they can build a learning culture, a term that Lynsey Whitmarsh, CxO at learning provider Hemsley Fraser, has pinpointed. She shares that this aspect of L&D would have been thought about very differently 12 months ago, and that organisations are now starting to think about a learning culture as something “which can enhance the performance of the entire business”.

She continues: “They’ve had that ‘lightbulb’ moment, in which they realise the value that comes from using learning as a tool to achieve organisational goals. It’s a more holistic approach, which pulls together communication and learning, utilising technology to drive the enterprise forward.”

Whitmarsh also goes on to say that HR teams must now start to think outside of the box when it comes to learning, suggesting that it should not be thought of as events or training programmes. Instead she believes that L&D should be thought of as part of a larger HR strategy alongside wellbeing, D&I and belonging. “L&D can add more value in these areas than ever before,” she says. “It’s important that we in L&D communicate and demonstrate that ability, and that other areas of the business understand the value we can add.”


59% of L&D leaders have already reskilled as much as 20% of their workers in the last year alone | Udemy for Business

21% of employees are learning to take their minds of the global crisis | Find Courses

74% of L&D professionals believe skill building is the most critical part of rebuilding for the future | LinkedIn

59% of organisations say they provide line managers with training on how they manage and develop people | Learning and skills at work 2020, CIPD

40% of staff members who receive poor work training will leave their role within a year | go2HR

Emerging trends

L&D has also started to embrace new trends, the most notable one being a shift to digital and online learning. While digital learning was an option pre-covid, without physical events and workshops taking place, online learning is now the only option for employees looking to upskill and develop their career. Research by Support Courses echoes this, as 52% of respondents said that they are more likely to look at online courses or virtual classroom courses than they were before, while 27% claimed that greater access to online course material and resources is more important than ever.

While this shift to online is essential to drive L&D forward, Hodgkinson adds that how employers brand this new trend will be critical, telling HR Grapevine that it all boils down to how organisations deliver this digital content. “For the last few years, the biggest trend in the L&D space is the shift to online, which has been exacerbated this year with the pandemic,” he states. “The biggest challenge now is delivering digital content, whilst giving staff opportunities to engage with others digitally. I believe L&D is the solution to this.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, L&D has been imperative in supporting employees through business transitions, helping organisations to pivot and adapt

What does the future hold?

While no one has the exact answer of how L&D and the HR function may change in the future, the changes and new experiences teams and employers have gone through should now be taken advantage of and harnessed, according to some experts. Paul Binks, Group People Director at European Tyre Enterprise Limited, supports this as he believes it can show organisations what they are able to achieve. “I think we should take advantage of experiences which in many cases has been forced upon people. We need to be using these to demonstrate what can be achieved in the future, when we are not facing a pandemic,” he continues.

“We should really examine what we have gone through this year and assess what did and didn’t work and why. But the key learning is one of being as adaptable and as tailored to individual requirements as possible.”

HR leaders should heed this advice as we look towards the next 12 months, which will undoubtedly bring about more uncertainty to businesses. And Hemsley Fraser’s Whitmarsh shares that thanks to the crisis, L&D has proved to be more relevant than ever and will continue to go on to showcase its ability to transform a business. “L&D is certainly much more relevant than ever before. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, L&D has been imperative in supporting employees through business transitions, helping organisations to pivot and adapt. Suddenly, L&D is able to demonstrate its ability to add more value to the entirety of the enterprise,” she concludes.

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