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Matt Gilbert


Strategy Director

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Build back better: why L&D is key to sustainable economic recovery

For businesses looking to ‘build back better’ in the wake of Covid-19, L&D will play a critical role.

It may be one of the most challenging times in recent history for many businesses, but the UK government’s narrative around ‘building back better’ in the wake of Covid-19 has already started a debate around exactly what ‘better’ means, and how it can be achieved.

As a central function of any business, employee learning and development will play a critical role in helping companies to unify employees around a sustainability goal, vision or values.

This debate has brought sustainability even higher up on businesses’ agenda than before, as it becomes clear that developing and embedding long term sustainability strategies will be essential to many companies’ survival in a post-pandemic world. There is also a strong desire from consumers to seize the opportunity to do things differently as we move past the initial crisis, with just 6% of the UK public wanting to return to a pre-pandemic economy.

The response to the current pandemic has shown us that rapid and radical change within organisations of all sizes is possible. Whether that’s shifting a global workforce of thousands to working remotely in a matter of days, to pivoting the business’ direction to produce new products or adapt to new market demands. So, with this in mind, businesses are now faced with a huge opportunity to reset and create a more sustainable and resilient business model that can stand up to future global disasters like the coronavirus.

Creating change from within

Unfortunately, despite the many pledges that will be signed and goals publicly announced as part of this drive for greater sustainability, most businesses are at risk of ignoring one of the areas in which they could create the greatest change – their employees.

Global businesses that are able to actively inspire and engage their workforce to make positive changes in their own work and home lives in line with the company sustainability goals will have the greatest chance of reaching those goals. For example, companies could incentivise employees to reduce harmful emissions by adopting lifestyle changes such as driving less, or they could educate their workforce on the ‘reuse, reduce and recycle’ message and how they can adopt that in their lives outside of work.

For the growing number of businesses genuinely committed to making themselves more sustainable, whether driven by purpose, profit or both, it’s evident that sustainability is not something that can be achieved purely in the boardroom. Instead, it needs to be built into the business at every level and become an integral part of all employees’ learning and development – key to this is the right L&D programme.

Learning on the job

As a central function of any business, employee learning and development will play a critical role in helping companies to unify employees around a sustainability goal, vision or values, and empower them to be part of creating positive change. This can be achieved through many approaches, depending on how far the needle needs to be moved. So whether a company is already committed to more sustainable ways of working but has struggled to engage employees with this, or if the task at hand is introducing a new sustainability plan or goal that will define the company’s future direction, L&D will be pivotal.

One of the greatest hurdles businesses will face right now with so many of us continuing to work from home, is how to deliver a robust and impactful sustainability training programme to a geographically dispersed workforce. Digital learning is the obvious solution, as the rapid adoption of platforms such as Zoom, Skype and MS Teams during lockdown has shown how businesses are able to switch to remote ways of working if the right technology is in place.

A ‘one size fits all’ approach to L&D is unlikely to prove successful for most businesses, however. Instead they need to take the time to understand the make-up of their workforce, both demographically, attitudinally and behaviourally. What makes them tick? When have they interacted with learning most effectively in the past? Are there different levels of engagement currently when it comes to sustainability? Analysing what has worked previously will allow companies to move forward with a strategic approach to sustainability L&D.

Content will also be key, which is where e-learning offers a huge amount of flexibility to personalise modules and create a bespoke learning experience for staff to help drive engagement. On the other hand, for those without regular, secure access to digital platforms and employees that engage better in a face-to-face setting, e-learning modules can easily be adapted into formats that support traditional classroom training

It may take a forward-thinking business to invest properly in sustainability learning and development programmes for employees, but these are the very businesses that are most likely to reap the rewards of a more engaged workforce, enhanced brand reputation and a healthier bottom line as we move forward from this crisis.  

Interested in this topic? Read Is flexible learning the key to a swift business recovery?

Author Profile Picture
Matt Gilbert

Strategy Director

Read more from Matt Gilbert

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