March 11 2020 06:00 AM

Keep quality workers by investing in learning and development.

Have you heard any of these phrases?

“Don’t go swimming right after you eat, or you may drown.”

“It takes seven years to digest a piece of gum.”

“If you cross your eyes for too long, they will get stuck that way.”

Most people know or even have said these statements, but they are, in fact, inaccurate. Swimming after you eat at worst just causes a cramp, gum does get digested and your eyes don’t get stuck when crossed for too long. Here’s another phrase that you might’ve heard:

“If I invest in my employee’s learning and development, I am encouraging them to leave my company.”

This is not only factually incorrect, but the opposite is actually true. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn.

While this may surprise some business leaders, the desire for learning and development has been a recurring theme of job satisfaction and importance among younger workers. LinkedIn’s research found that 27% of young employees say the No. 1 reason they’d leave their job is lack of opportunity to learn and grow, which is opposite of the above misconception.

With the average of cost of hiring a new employee significantly more than the average budget for learning and development, investment in helping employees learn and grow more than justifies itself. Not only does this attract and retain the best talent, it yields a range of other benefits including improved company culture, increased productivity, less supervisory oversight and higher overall work quality.

Here are four suggestions you can use to increase your investment in employee development.

Leverage online and microlearning

Learning no longer requires long hours in the classroom. There is a wealth of alternative learning modalities and approaches that are often more effective than the “butts in seats” training programs of the past.

A quick search of the internet will reveal rich offerings of online training courses from well-known companies and top-tier universities and sought-after certificates that are available virtually. Check out the site for a range of suggestions including some renowned college-
level classes that are free of cost to audit.

Microlearning is another trend worth noting. Research has shown that learning broken down into small bite-size chunks has a higher chance of being used. Technology has made this easier than ever with the vast array of YouTube videos, podcasts and audible books to provide manageable learning opportunities.

Look internally for subject matter experts

Learning doesn’t always have to involve outside resources. Organizations have internal subject matter experts that can be leveraged to great success. Get managers involved in helping develop their employees through informal mentoring programs, job shadowing, rotational assignments and stretch projects.

The green industry is known for its fast pace, especially during the busy season. It is critical to prioritize learning alongside the demands of daily work. An organization that embraces cross-training of employees and carves out time for developing new skills will outperform the competition.

Consider both hard skill and soft skill development

When looking to invest in learning, there are great options to gain new skills that are both beneficial to employees and companies. Hard skills are typically acquired through technical knowledge and are more measurable, such as certifications or qualifications. These skills provide a competitive edge and credibility to organizations. The National Association of Landscape Professionals and the Irrigation Association offer a broad range of certifications and educational courses to consider.

Soft skills are harder to measure and considered more subjective. These are personal habits and traits that shape how you work, whether independently or with others. Examples of these include leadership, communication, creativity and collaboration. In the past, soft skills were not considered as important as hard skills (note even the terminology). However, anyone who has worked with a “brilliant jerk” knows that technical skills alone are not enough to be truly effective. There is compelling research showing that soft skills are now equally, if not more, important to success in the workplace as hard skills. Furthermore, customer service depends upon strong soft skills. This can truly be a game changer for companies looking to lead in a service industry.

Create personal learning plans

In today’s business climate, nothing gets done that isn’t intentionally planned, measured and monitored. Creating personal learning plans for each individual will ensure that learning goals are achieved.

These plans should be employee-driven and manager-supported. Enlisting employees to give input into what areas they would like to develop is an important aspect of any plan. In addition, employees should be empowered and held accountable for achieving their learning goals.

Get managers excited and supportive about learning as well. Make sure that all levels of leadership are aligned in the priority and importance of learning. For managers that are hesitant to get on board, help them understand the compelling business case for learning as a competitive edge in today’s market. If you fuel management’s passion and interest in making learning a priority, that will ripple throughout the organization and be woven into company culture.

In 2019, we hit another milestone in the job market. People left their jobs at a record rate. The “quits rate,” as it is called, reached an all-time high last August topping out at 3% of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The increase has been widely attributed to the hot job market and competition for candidates. These sobering statistics have moved investing in learning and development from a “nice-to-have” to a business imperative. With 94% of employees saying investing in learning would make them stay longer, companies that are uninterested or unwilling to invest in employee development are going to get stuck, and it won’t be from crossing their eyes!

Kate Kjeell is president of TalentWell, a recruiting firm that specializes in helping small and midsized businesses thrive by finding and hiring the right people. The firm’s approach can be described in three words: find, fit, flourish. She can be reached at