Giving people the training they need to progress their careers and keep up with the changing needs of the business is critical in today’s competitive, fast-moving climate. In its recent Labour Market Outlook, the CIPD warns that the next war for talent is fast emerging and urges employers to put more emphasis on developing the people they already have under their roof.

The need for a shift towards internal talent is echoed by HR professor Dave Collings, who in a recent HR Magazine article points out that external hires are not always the answer. Star performers, he says, often fail to maintain that high performance when they move to a new organisation and can take as long as five years to return to their peak.

The challenge facing HR of course is that at a time when budgets are tight, it often isn’t possible to meet the training needs that emerge during appraisals or informal performance conversations. There simply isn’t the budget – or the time – to send people on lengthy and expensive, face-to-face courses.

The good news, however, is that thinking about the way learning is delivered is shifting significantly, with new trends and techniques emerging to help organisations equip people with the knowledge and skills they need at the time they need it. So how can you deliver learning that keeps employees motivated and engaged and ensures they are geared up to help the business meet its future challenges?

1. Resources not courses

At the recent L&D show, the CIPD’s Andy Lancaster urged delegates to think more in terms of resources rather than courses. Thanks to the explosion of on-line content, there’s now a wealth of information on pretty much any subject you can think of out there for the taking. HR practitioners, he suggested, need to develop their ‘curation’ skills so that they can seek out the content that is most relevant to their business and find ways to share it among their employees. The beauty of this approach is that it puts development on a level playing field. Opportunities to develop skills or expertise don’t have to be based on hierarchy or limited to the chosen few – thanks to technology, it can easily be made available to all.

2. Social learning

Research suggests that people learn well when they do it together. Forward thinking organisations are starting to adopt the idea of ‘communities of practice’ – gathering employees together around a specialist area so that they can learn from each other, develop new insights and experiment with alternative approaches. There is also a move towards employees developing learning content themselves, in the form of blogs, podcasts or video clips that allow them to share their knowledge with their peers. This approach isn’t just limited to large organisations – it’s cost-effective, within the reach of any business and is a great way to build employee engagement and enthusiasm.

3. Make the most of mentoring

Mentoring is probably one of the most under-utilised methods of building capability within a business. This is often because organisations feel they have to set up formal mentoring programmes which will be time consuming and complicated to run. The reality, however, is that if approached the right way, mentoring can be a really cost-effective way to help people develop knowledge and share expertise. The beauty of mentoring is that although formal programmes do have their place, it can also work well on an informal, voluntary and non-hierarchical basis. It gives employees the opportunity to learn from each other as well as find a ‘critical friend’, who they can talk to confidentially about their career plans, next steps or issues they may be struggling with, such as a difficult relationship with a colleague or trouble juggling workload.

4. On demand learning

In a recent CIPD survey, 84 per cent of respondents felt they could learn more effectively if they could choose the time and place themselves. In practice, what this means is people want to learn at the point of need, rather than having to wait for the next scheduled training course to come around (by which time they may need to be learning something different anyway). Employers need to get more fleet of foot with the way they deliver development – and to find ways of integrating learning into the flow of daily work. It’s partly about more emphasis on coaching – and equipping managers with the skills they need to do that – but also about blending that expertise with the wealth of e-learning content that can easily be made available via mobile devices and internal social portals.

5. Encourage lifelong learning

Letting people follow their passions and learn about the things that light their eyes up can pay dividends in many ways. There is an emerging trend for organisations to give employees a small personal learning budget, which they can spend on training which doesn’t have to be work-related. Not only can this ignite a general thirst for learning, it can also result in new insights and help to drive innovation. It is surprising how much of seemingly irrelevant learning is transferable and can actually highlight principles that could be applied to people’s daily work. If the training budget won’t stretch to this, giving people time out of their working life to volunteer (in community projects or as charity board members or trustees) is another great way to build engagement and broaden the skill set available across the business.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.