Analysis: Are employers underestimating the importance of training?

New study shows more than two thirds of employees are tempted by jobs with greater opportunities for learning

A shocking 85 per cent of professionals across MENA would leave their jobs if a new position offered more training and development, according to a new survey published by Bayt.com.

On-The-Job Training in the Middle East and North Africa found that more than 90 per cent of respondents intentionally searched for companies with obvious training and development programmes during their job hunt, suggesting this could be the key to retaining or attracting employees.

“The study is another example of the general dissatisfaction with how the typical organisation works nowadays. It is a global phenomenon,” said Nicolai Tillisch, co-founder of the Deliberate Development software platform and representative of The Leadership Circle in the Middle East, North Africa, and India. “Most businesses operate based on a 150-year-old model, created for European manufacturing plants,” said Tillisch. Now, technology is part of every industry and people can connect anywhere in the world at any time.

Tillisch said he almost feels sorry for many organisations in the GCC. “They have played a tremendous catch-up game, in terms of learning and development, over the last decade. There are several organisations that have reached international standards at a time where a new paradigm is knocking on the door. This does not only have to do with the level of investment in, and the approach to, learning and development – ultimately, it is a question about how to organise businesses and lead people differently in the future,” he said.

Employees’ desire for better learning and development might, unfortunately, be a symptom of something quite serious, added Tillisch. “Recent research concludes that poor professional development is a more significant cause of burnout than work overload,” he said. “People will naturally put extra effort in when the economy turns more uncertain and their jobs are less secure. The loud cry for more and better development could be an indication that many are exhausted.”

The survey results certainly point to a lack of investment by GCC businesses in the training and development of staff. Stacey Reynolds, freelance HR and learning consultant at SAR Consulting, said that in her experience, more could be invested in learning. “From what I have seen there is insufficient formal training,” said Reynolds. “For example, when I taught CIPD qualifications in the UK, approximately 90 per cent of the students were sponsored by their organisation. The same course delivered in the UAE was almost the exact opposite, with at least 90 per cent of students self-funded – paying for the course to improve their job opportunities.”

Hazel Jackson, chief executive at Dubai-based training company Biz Group, said that companies should no longer be viewing training as a one-off investment. “Instead, they should be building career paths that integrate learning and development into their very fabric, and connecting them to measurable business objectives.”

In fact, Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report, released earlier this year, found that “the ability to learn and progress is now the principal driver of a company's employment brand”, she said. “Companies who make learning and development a priority will attract and retain the best talent, giving them the edge on their competition.”

Neha Mohunta, head of learning and development at Commercial Bank of Dubai, agrees that no business can afford to overlook training. “Sustainable businesses invest enough in training,” she said. “However, the investment is not unidimensional. Investing financial resources to offer blended solutions that help employees upskill is only the tip of the iceberg.

“Today many successful businesses, across industries, contribute time and effort to develop technical and behavioural skills through what is commonly known as the ‘subject matter expert’ model,” she said.

“Through this model, business experts partner with L&D to facilitate training. This can be done in the form of conducting classroom training sessions or validating content that needs to be enabled on a mobile or learning management system (LMS) platform. Having regular ‘brown bag’ sessions where the team gets together to discuss ongoing operational challenges and how to handle them, is all extremely useful.”

Tillisch believes the picture is highly nuanced, as the GCC has a dynamic and diverse business environment. “A couple of organisations are investing; the most sophisticated ones in their sectors. And most large organisations in the country have started taking learning and development seriously,” said Tillisch.

“That said, some do still hire expats for a specific job to utilise their skills without building their knowhow further. This mindset is not unique to the GCC and has been common in emerging markets. A mismatch of expectations happens, when an expat considers such a job to have a long-term nature, or when the employer plans for expats, in that situation, to selflessly develop Emirati colleagues to replace them,” said Tillisch.

In the GCC, the typical approach to professional development is still mostly transactional, he added. Companies buy classroom training, and maybe a bit of coaching, from external providers. Few organisations have fostered their own learning culture, where managers engage in personally developing their employees.

Marita Harrold, corporate wellness training consultant and speaker, said she believed it was important that companies offer wellness training designed to help with stress relief and work-life balance, in addition to actual career development training. “I see enormous benefit in blending wellness training into traditional career development programmes, to build skill sets that enable people to reach their full potential,” she said. “Any corporate training programme should be considering the whole person – their physical health and wellbeing, as well as performance – and understanding that what happens in one part of a person’s life affects every other part.”

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