As technology, hybrid practices and competition for talent come to the fore in a changing work environment, many enterprises have embraced lifelong learning as part of building resilience. With roles constantly reshaped by industry demands and technological innovations, leaders must ensure that they, as well as their employees, can adapt and respond to these changes by gaining new skills to thrive.

One path enterprises are taking is to strengthen employability. This could mean transitioning workers to another role within the enterprise either through career advancements or lateral movements to diversify their experience.

To do that, enterprises shell out significant sums for learning and development (L&D). In 2019, the world spent a whopping US$370 billion on L&D, the same amount the United States is spending to tackle climate change.

Unfortunately, current approaches to enterprise learning do not adequately support the enterprise’s strategic outcome. In fact, only 12 per cent of employees apply new skills from L&D programmes at work. This not only indicates that a significant portion of enterprise learning is ineffective, but also reinforces the misconception that L&D is a poor investment.
Enterprise learning is certainly important. What is crucially needed is an end-to-end model that helps enterprises bring out the best in their employees by identifying skill gaps and developing learning solutions that addresses these gaps, to match both the enterprise’s strategic objectives and the individual’s long-term career objectives.

Learning how to learn
Enterprises, including local small- and medium-sized ones, aim to become more adept at helping workers change roles internally. Those that do this well are able to retain employees for more than five years, while those that struggle to do so have an average retention rate of under three years.
One key challenge that many enterprises face is that employees who return from programmes where they are exposed to the latest knowledge are often unable to make full use of this knowledge. They may not have learnt how to apply the newly acquired knowledge to their field, or find the new knowledge simply irrelevant. For instance, applying data analytics to reduce rejection rates in manufacturing can be quite different from applying data analytics to develop new cancer treatments in healthcare.
Simply put, it is the responsibility of the enterprise to figure out how to translate newly acquired knowledge and skills into practical use at the workplace. Many questions still linger: Are these skills even aligned with business outcomes? Have employees mastered them? Has productivity improved? Enterprises reap little benefit when employees attend programmes that are not designed to address specific learning gaps.
Another challenge comes from the lack of learning integration across levels and functions of the enterprise. C-suite executives could be learning the latest thinking and leading-edge strategies for agile transformations, while mid-level managers are learning agile methodologies to manage agile project teams. The respective skills are useful at the different levels, but without a learning integration framework to tie them together, the learning risks remaining valuable only as an end-in-itself, instead of serving the broader vision and strategic objectives of the enterprise.
The learning integration challenge also extends to how learning is delivered. Companies are often concerned about the potential financial trade-off between upskilling their employees and maintaining their bottom line as employees have to take valuable time off work to attend the programmes.
While companies may not be entirely comfortable with in-person programmes that take employees away from work, going fully online is not the solution either – learning new skills requires some face-to-face interactions to be impactful. Here’s where the end-to-end learning model could provide an optimal blend of meeting the dual business goals of enterprise learning and meeting bottom-line objectives.

Elevating the enterprise through learning
End-to-end learning is more than just curating a programme with a holistic learning experience. It involves comprehensive planning between both the enterprise and its learning partner that should begin even before the programme commences. For example, a learning partner could conduct a comprehensive skills analysis by having learners answer a set of surveys to determine the gaps in their skills profile.
Once these gaps have been identified, the learning partner develops a programme that builds skills in a way that aligns with the enterprise’s strategic goals. This includes pairing the right subject matter expert or faculty member to the learners, and designing solutions to directly impact their work.

An end-to-end learning model also ensures that learning is delivered through the right medium and/or platform. Studies have shown that people learn best in bite-sized “chunks”, which can take the form of self-directed e-learning. But this may be less effective for beginners who need to be guided in person than for those with significant prior expertise. For the latter, they can reap more benefits from the flexibility offered by self-directed e-learning, such as being able to pause to reflect deeply or pursue a different line of inquiry.
Linking the programme to each learner’s needs allows them to both acquire new skills for the future and value-add to the enterprise. Singapore has already taken the first steps towards this model.
In April this year, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing shared that the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning has helped about 1,500 local companies implement structured training programmes and develop a stronger learning culture.
When integrated across levels, the variety of learning programmes deployed to different levels complement each other as leaders and employees alike are clearer about their roles and responsibilities. As they gain clarity on how their decisions impact each other, they can see how their newly acquired skills contribute to the enterprise’s strategic objectives.
By implementing an end-to-end learning model, enterprises will be able to meet emerging work demands while building up capabilities across the value chain. The first step is learning how we can learn better.