Leadership   //   November 9, 2023

Why everyone is lacking confidence in L&D programs

Effective learning and development programs are a powerful tool companies can use to keep employees engaged and motivated as burnout and return-to-office resentment persist.

But about half of executives think their companies’ L&D programs are a waste of time, a survey by edX and Workplace Intelligence, including responses from over 800 knowledge workers and 800 C-Suite executives, found. What’s more, those executives think a majority of their staff are very satisfied with opportunities to learn and grow at their organizations, while only a third of employees agree.

And when economic downturns arise, L&D programs are typically some of the first cost-cuts implemented, said Trena Minudri, vp and chief learning officer of online learning platform Coursera. “Executives need to see that L&D programs are aligned with their business goals and that employees are prioritizing skill development in domain areas that are really needed in the organization,” she said. 

Two key factors are likely driving this lack of confidence on the employee side, said Dave Lee, product director, talent management, for Deltek, an enterprise resource planning software provider. First, they feel they have limited opportunities to practically apply the skills they’ve actually learned.

Employees become frustrated if “they feel like they’re putting any type of effort into learning things, but then they can’t do anything with it,” Lee said. They’ll also lose faith when they feel their organization doesn’t actually have any room for growth and development by failing to promote those who do advance and master new skills, he said. 

"People actually want experiential learning where they actually get to learn and apply it on the job."
Dave Lee, product director, talent management, Deltek.

Learning and development programs can take many forms, though typically are done through online or in-person courses of varying lengths and content where one receives a certification for a new skill. 

Ultimately though, “people actually want experiential learning where they actually get to learn and apply it on the job,” Lee said. 

That can look like putting someone on a different cross-functional team to work on collaborative projects to increase and expand their skill set. It can also look like attending conferences and other industry events, and having real-time experience deepening one’s knowledge in their field and on their employer’s operations. 

Employers stand to lose quality staff if they aren’t more proactive. Poor L&D programs can drive employee disengagement, making them less productive and more likely to leave their jobs. About 40% of workers in the survey said they’ll likely leave their company in the next year for a role with better L&D opportunities, and that number rises to 50% for Gen Z and Millennial workers. 

And workers think growth and development opportunities should be a given. Some 84% of employees said they expect their employer to offer the training and education they need to keep their skillset up-to-date. 

“One of the most important success factors for L&D programs is providing recognition and rewards that incentivize learning."
Trena Minudri, chief learning officer, Coursera.

Keeping track of learning and development opportunities and outcomes often falls on managers who are primarily responsible for fostering the growth of their staff. Yet over 40% of managers are not actively seeking ways to develop their teams, another recent survey from learning management platform imc Learning found, which included responses from over 2,000 U.K.-based workers conducted this March. And 28% of managers do not measure training outcomes.

“One of the most important success factors for L&D programs is providing recognition and rewards that incentivize learning,” said Minudri.

Whether its credentials, skill development checkpoints, or salary raises and promotions, employees must feel those will be made available to them before fully committing to taking L&D programs seriously, she said. 

“If incentives aren’t aligned, employees will end up feeling like their L&D programs are disconnected from the actual skills needed to progress in the organization and unlock career development opportunities,” she said.