How a learning culture primes your organization for agility

Article11 min read

November 1, 2022

If your organization struggles to keep up with the ever-changing realities of your industry — and of the world of business at large — your organization is not alone. For one, the current and ongoing digital transformation, the emerging skill gaps that follow in its wake, and the pressure to innovate and adapt to continuing change can all make for challenging terrain to navigate for any organization, big or small.

The solution? A higher adaptability and enterprise agility through education. In other words, to keep up with the ever-changing realities and demands of your industry, your organization will need to first and foremost build a culture of learning within its ranks — and become what thought leader Peter Senge dubbed a “learning organization.” 1

Learning organization meets a transformative world head-on. That’s because these organizations help to create agile learners, and agile learners move quickly, adjust skillfully, and drive innovation. It’s no wonder then that the organizations that get this right are 46% more likely to be first to market, 37% to be more productive, and 92% to be more likely to innovate.2

Read on to find out how learning and development (L&D) managers can use Senge’s framework as a guide to develop a learning culture that inspires agility within their business.

What is a learning organization?

To put it simply, a learning organization is one that promotes the learning and professional development of all its members. A learning organization does not fight change — instead, it continuously develops itself to adapt to new needs and demands.3

The characteristics of a learning organization includes systems and processes to support experimentation, new modes of thinking, and a culture of inquiry.

How to create a learning organization

Pause for a moment and look at your colleagues. Note the wide experience and expertise each of them could bring to the table if given the chance and motivation. Is it possible that one of them has the very solution to one of your organization’s problems, but may never have had the opportunity or drive to share it?

When you create a learning culture, you send the following message to everyone: The knowledge and skills you have matter, and your professional development is our priority.

This is where the L&D team comes in. In an evolving business landscape where upskilling and reskilling are more important than ever, L&D managers and their teams must be able to provide impactful learning solutions that meet the individual needs of diverse teams within their organization, and inject key skills that have a direct impact on business success and growth. Combined, the drive to learn and continuous upskilling help organizations to pivot in the face of rampant change.4

Senge’s framework, which he describes in his seminal work The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, uses the following five “disciplines” or areas that together make up a roadmap to creating a learning organization:5

  • Systems thinking
  • Personal mastery 
  • Mental models
  • Shared vision
  • Team learning

These disciplines prepare individuals, teams, and organizations with the skills and practices needed to make a learning organization work. They also help pinpoint areas of improvement that can be targeted by L&D teams. Let’s have a look at each one of them below.

1. Systems thinking

Systems thinking demands that one views their organization as a complex system that’s made up of numerous smaller structures. It’s much like a spider’s web, where it’s the small strands that ultimately make the whole strong — meaning that individual decisions are understood to have a broader impact.

To reach systems thinking — or the ability to see one’s organization as a system of interconnected structures — you will have to understand your organization as a whole, from the bigger-picture structures to the architecture of departments and teams. You then need to identify — and this is key to systems thinking — the small cogs (short-term objectives) that keep the big machine (long-term goals) working.6

For example, take a set of skills a marketing team has. Perhaps their strength as a team are insights into digital marketing essentials. Now identify the processes that help put these skills to use, and the technologies that enable collaboration within and between this team and other teams within the organization.

Such an exercise might look like weekly campaign meetings where contributors can track progress, share data and learnings, and monitor how campaign KPIs link to higher-level business goals like overall sales. Observe how synchronous communications tools like Slack, for instance, and increased autonomy allow the team to optimize campaigns in real time.

By pinpointing how such skills, processes, and technologies affect each other, your organization can now identify barriers and suggest improvements and opportunities to fill emerging skills gaps — both of which are foundational to building enterprise agility and a culture of learning.

In our example, that might be eliminating management sign-off on campaign tweaks, scheduling more regular check-ins, or even evaluating if teams should be training in a new digital marketing specialization to boost campaign ROI further.

2. Personal mastery

The second pillar of a learning organization is an investment in personal mastery — in other words, a commitment to ongoing growth and development through deeper insights into personal beliefs, purpose, and vision. Personal mastery is achieved through a set of repeatable strategies and tools that equip individuals to perform at their best.7

Contrary to what its name suggests, personal mastery is not only concerned with individual opportunities to grow new skills and expertise. It’s also about the way in which an organization supports such opportunities and helps team members link their efforts to the broader mission of the organization.

By doing so, and as Senge puts it, “Learning in this context does not mean acquiring more information, but expanding the ability to produce results.”8 This means that a digital marketer is not just gaining a new accreditation; they’re also acquiring knowledge that’ll enable more targeted campaigns and higher conversion rates in their day-to-day.

And with online learning providing new opportunities for performance-based learning (otherwise known as learning in the flow of work),9 teams will have the chance to put their learning into action directly.

The benefits of putting newly learned skills into practice are twofold. First, when individual team members are given the opportunity to grow their careers, they stay motivated in their roles and remain happy with their current organization. According to Gallup insights, skills development programs increased job satisfaction for 71% of workers in the U.S.10

And when these employees focus on upskilling, and gain new and in-demand skills that are needed to cope with industry shifts, they also become part of increasing organizational agility.

3. Mental models

It is no secret that our assumptions and preconceptions about ourselves, about others, and about the world at large affect our emotions and behavior. What is more, we are often unaware of these thinking patterns and constructs. This, in turn, can affect how we show up at work. If we hold on to an unconscious belief that we’re not capable of doing something, we might not jump at a promising opportunity, either — or underperform.

This could even affect broader business outcomes. For example, if a leadership team is convinced that they’re already using the best technology, they could close themselves off to a new solution that could boost team efficiency and even save on licensing fees.

By working through what Senge coined “mental models”, an organization examines its shared and individual thinking, and its blind spots. This can be done at a high level, through annual and quarterly reviews across the company. Alternatively, this kind of reflection can be built into routine activities, including project review and debriefing sessions or into training initiatives that help teams to interrogate any areas of assumption.

One such assumption, for example, could be that a business thinks that they already understand their product’s user base, and how the organization fits into their clients’ lives. In other words, by interrogating assumptions, organizations shed light on the knowledge they should be questioning and the skills they should focus on building. In our example, L&D teams could lead the practice of reflective thinking, or other development opportunities that help individuals to gain insight into personal, or team-wide mental models.

When they work through this step of self-inquiry, teams learn to identify weak points, and by doing so they make room for new ideas, new and in-demand knowledge, and ultimately more informed decision-making.11

4. Shared vision

Workers who share and support their organization’s vision, and what their organization stands for, perform better and tend to remain longer within their organization.12 Take an employee who works for a company that’s committed to promoting gender equality in real terms — through transparency around pay, equal parental leave, childcare services, and programs that support women’s advancement in the workplace.

If this particular employee supports their organization’s commitment to gender equality, and shares in the organization’s mission of promoting equitable practices, they’ll be intrinsically motivated to make sure the organization meets its vision and mission, and may feel more driven to perform for the good of the company. Case in point: Researchers have established a clear link between employee satisfaction and wellness at work, and individual links to the broader outcomes of their organization.13

Which leads us back to team buy-in: When an organization involves its employees in discussing the company’s mission and goals, and seeks their input on an ongoing basis, it also equips and empowers them to take part in organizational growth and learning. Once originally owned by leadership, the organization’s vision and mission are now owned and shared by all, sparking dialogue and bringing more diverse perspectives to the table.14

And as L&D leaders know, for learning initiatives to really pack a punch, it should have clear links to company-wide strategic goals, as well as individual and team level goals. So it’s essential that L&D teams are involved in this process of engagement on vision and mission.15

5. Team learning

Senge believed that the role of teams within a learning organization is significant. According to him, teams have an “extraordinary capacity for positive change.”16 That’s because people can achieve more together.

A focus on team-level learning — where teams think together, engage in dialogue and cooperative problem-solving, and share collective insights — is a powerful vehicle for innovation and agility. If one developer is struggling to integrate the latest of a string of product updates, they may make better headway when partnered up with a product manager who understands the business need behind a change, and with a software engineer who’s been working with the platform since it was first built.

Such a learning collaboration fosters conversations within and between departments. It also primes teams to work with a shared vision, an understanding of how organizational systems impact each other, and a grasp of how individual and team activities feed into the whole.17 But before team learning can take place, a team and its organization have to address one major barrier to success: silo mentality.

Silo mentality translates into departmental isolation: Departments or groups may be unwilling to share knowledge or information, and may even lack trust in other departments or groups. Organizational silos affect communication, erode trust, restrict innovation, and make it harder to pivot operations.18 Such a situation could be exacerbated even further by existing procedures or organizational cultures that preclude this more open and collaborative approach to learning and working, such as unspoken but real competition between departments, which results in departments safeguarding information and not sharing it with any other group. Fortunately, the work of L&D teams — in educating and fostering collaboration — helps to break down silos and set the stage for team learning to prosper.

Ready to build agility? Turn your organization into one of learning.

With a firm foundation for new skill development, an increased knowledge base, and robust modes of thought, organizations can build the internal resources they need to respond to frequent industry shifts. When enterprises invest in these competencies through L&D initiatives, they can meet change with agility and navigate disruptions more effectively.

For more insights on how you, too, can harness the power of online education to boost learning on the job, take a look at our white paper, ‘Three Key Steps Towards a Transformational Culture of Learning.’

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

Related Resources

Related Topics:

Redefine Recruiting: How To Grow A Pipeline Of Diverse Technical Talent

Article8 min read

September 21, 2022

Struggling to fill your critical roles? You’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation that followed has seen record numbers of employees leave their jobs in order to seek more fulfilling work, or a better work-life balance, all of which in turn shifted the balance of power in favor of employees.1

One sector where employees are in the driving seat is tech. Unsurprisingly, given the widespread impact of digital transformation, tech skills are highly sought-after — a report by ManPower Group indicated that the most in-demand skills for 2022 are, in fact, in IT, technology, telecoms, communications, and media.2 To gain these skills, organizations often resort to poaching top tech talent with lucrative offers, which results in a smaller, less diverse talent pool for others.3 And as only 26% of computing-related jobs are held by women,4 this shrinking pool means a shrinking diversity, too, which is concerning for a field struggling to transform socially.

Rapid digital transformation, combined with the impacts of the pandemic, has also resulted in skills becoming obsolete, and by consequence growing skills gaps. According to a study, the latter are an issue for 43% of companies globally.5

The combination of shrinking talent pools, growing skills gaps, and a lack of diversity is creating a perfect storm for hiring managers, particularly those hiring for tech skills. But in the midst of this lies an opportunity for companies to rethink their hiring initiatives in a way that actually grows the amount of talent available to them. It starts by relooking your recruiting model.

The problem with traditional recruiting

Vacant positions have a financial cost, which varies depending on the industry, position, and business circumstances, as well as a relevance cost. The longer it takes to fill a position, the more likely the skills required for that position will have evolved by the time you find a qualified candidate.

Businesses urgently need to examine and reform their recruitment and selection processes. The traditional talent process or funnel, which starts with a business need and leads to hiring, onboarding, and development, is slow to fill vacancies and bring workers up to operational speed.

The SHRM calculates the average cost per hire to be $4,683 in the U.S.,6 and these costs grow every day the position remains unfulfilled. When you consider that the median time to hire (from application submission to first day on the job) is 44 days for IT and 49 days for an engineering position, for instance, it’s clear that the longer the hiring process is, the more expensive it becomes.7

Thankfully, there is an alternative to the existing talent funnel framework, one that follows the same fundamentals but is more efficient and effective.

A new approach to recruitment

Businesses need to expand their talent pipeline and cut down on the time they take to hire. This can be achieved by building your talent pools, rather than competing with other companies for the same people. Doing so will enable you to train potential candidates according to your specific requirements, so they’ll join your company with job-ready skills.

So, how do you go about creating your own talent pools? We have two solutions for you.

Solution 1: Your next great hire may already work for you

Internal recruitment has the potential to address both the issue of a shrinking talent pipeline and increased employee turnover. Hiring from within the company preserves culture and knowledge, expedites onboarding, and aids in retention — one study shows that if employees understand that there are broader internal mobility opportunities available, they’re more likely to stay.8

The internal-recruitment method requires strategies and programs that enable workforce development and on-the-job skills transfers.9 In order to anticipate the skills required and plan workforce development programs effectively, you should start by developing a succession plan strategy. This involves assessing the skills you need your employees to have, gauging employee engagement, and determining how quickly you can replace key employees should they depart.10 Consider these four tips for succession planning:11

  • Identify internal talent regardless of current vacancies.
  • Create an inclusive, transparent culture of progression throughout the organization.
  • Engage in continuous performance management and career pathing.
  • Move toward a data-driven view of skills by using succession planning software to identify employees who might leave; track high-potential staff to fill vacancies; and improve internal hiring through access to a robust database of available skills.

By partnering with employees and trying to understand their career goals and aspirations more, you can co-create learning paths that align to company goals and employees goals. A coordinated, collaborative approach to ongoing skills development sends a message to employees that if they want to make a career pivot, they don’t need to look outside the organization.

Furthermore, equipping staff with transferable skills that enable them to move into other positions should not be seen as a liability, but rather a future-facing competitive advantage.12 Richard Branson wasn’t wrong when he said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”13

Alongside increasing your staff’s confidence, pride in their work, and earning potential, ongoing training equips employees to respond to shifting organizational and market conditions.14 It also reduces costs: In the U.S., average training expenditure per learner is $1,111,15 less than a quarter of the average $4,683 cost of hiring a new employee.16

Solution 2: Hire for potential, train for skills

Rather than competing for scarce tech talent, the train-to-hire model allows you to focus on creating your own pool of technical talent.

New hire training widens the top of your talent funnel by welcoming a broader swathe of candidates who are screened based on their potential to learn and grow, rather than merely on their experience and skills. It also enables you to tailor employee skills to the exact requirements of your business at that time. This has an immediate and positive effect on employee engagement, because more than simply providing employment, you’re facilitating a growth opportunity for new hires from the get-go.17

It’s also now assumed that every new hire will have basic digital capabilities and literacy, and that job-specific skills can be imparted as part of the hiring process. However, as artificial intelligence and automation become more prevalent, they may furthermore take over some of the tasks previously done by tech staff. This will free these employees up to perform higher-level functions, meaning that critical and analytical thinking, strategy, communication, and leadership will grow in importance.18 These skills can be more difficult to train in employees, and may necessitate a different and more guided approach to recruiting and training.

Because train-to-hire casts a wider recruitment net, it’s a good way to diversify your talent pool, too. Hiring tech talent from other major tech companies will likely bring you candidates from a non-diverse pool, whereas opening your hiring practices to professionals from other backgrounds, such as those from marketing and sales, might attract diverse candidates with the right attitudes and aptitude to learn.19

IT services and consulting company Cognizant, for example, found that it needed to boost its ability to hire local technical talent for clients in particular regions. To achieve this, the company partnered with edX For Business to recruit talent from regionally recognised technical boot camps, such as the UConn Coding Boot Camp in Connecticut. This gave the company access to a broader pool of college graduates, who could be trained in practical, technical, job-relevant skills so they could hit the ground running the moment they joined the organization. It also drew in workers from other sectors for whom the boot camps facilitated a career change; this in turn brought a diversity of industry experience and perspectives to Cognizant. Ultimately, Cognizant was able to deliver contemporary skills in the shortest time to a more diverse pool of candidates.

Beyond traditional hiring initiatives

Many companies have responded to the talent crunch by approaching recruiting as a zero-sum game. But savvy organizations recognize that, whether enabling employee mobility or train-to-hire models, continuous learning is key to growing and maintaining a sustainable talent pipeline.

By taking a step back from the traditional method of recruiting and building instead a culture of development — from before a candidate joins your business to the day they depart — you can position your organization as one that values and nurtures talent. And that, in the long run, turns your organization into one for which people will want to work.

Do you want to improve your company’s hiring initiatives? edX For Business offers a broad skills development portfolio to help you develop and nurture the potential of your current and future staff.

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

Related Resources

Related Topics:

How Cognizant used boot camps to recruit job-ready employees

Case Study4 min read

July 26, 2022

Today’s global work landscape is full of uncharted territory. In an amazingly short time span, employers have been confronted with rapidly evolving technology, the work-from-home movement, the aptly named “Great Resignation,” and myriad other circumstances.

These unique challenges require creative, tech-focused solutions, and many organizations must rely on consulting companies like Cognizant, one of the world’s leading professional service organizations.

Eric Westphal, leader of global workforce strategy and economic development at Cognizant, says that a forward-thinking, proactive strategy is a key component of his company’s success.

“Through the years,” Westphal says, “we’ve transitioned from a company that helps you run your business more efficiently to a company that guides you toward running your business differently.”

An Inside Job

This method applies not only to Cognizant’s network of global clients but also to its own workforce. While new Cognizant prospects and hires may have the education necessary for a particular role, it’s difficult to mirror the specific knowledge that typically comes from on-the-job experience — meaning critical time is often lost while an employee gets up to speed.

To minimize this lag and target specialized hires, Cognizant partnered with 2U, the parent company of edX, to not only recruit talent from boot camps but also to help future employees develop skills before they’re even hired. This step is crucial in helping to close a technology skills gap currently seen in the workforce nationwide.

“College graduates come out of the gate with great knowledge and problem-solving skills,” says Allen Shaheen, executive vice president of digital engineering at Cognizant, “but they don’t yet have the specific targeted capabilities that allow us to place them on projects and be productive straight away. Our relationship with 2U has helped bridge that gap with higher education.”

Streamlined Approach to Recruitment

As a large Fortune 500 company, Cognizant has a robust hiring and recruiting structure, but it can be difficult to recruit locally for clients in certain regions. The company found that recruiting from regionally recognized boot camps is a smart way to find promising candidates.

For example, a Cognizant team that primarily serves insurance clients may focus recruitment efforts on Hartford, Connecticut, for its vast number of insurance companies based in the area. Cognizant’s relationship with the UConn Coding Boot Camp allows for cost-effective, expedient candidate recruitment.

Cognizant’s top job roles also include full stack development and software developers who understand front- and back-end development and employment of applications. To date, Cognizant has hired nearly 100 boot camp students from our partner institutions.

“We’re hearing from our teams that these individuals bring deep industry experience, as many have been working for a few years and are switching careers,” says Westphal. “Somebody with a finance background is incredibly valuable to our financial services practice as they can better understand those clients’ specific needs and core functions.”

An Impactful Hiring Strategy

In a world where the search for qualified employees is competitive and often frustrating, companies are seeking new ways to adjust their recruiting strategies, raising the bar from simply finding the right employees to finding standout employees with proven abilities and a ready-to-train mindset. 

“The need for qualified IT workers is at an unprecedented level, and our partnership with 2U is providing the skills needed to be successful in an IT career,” says Westphal.

With a view to cultivating the talent needed for today’s technological landscape,  2U and Cognizant have been collaborating on creating multiple pathways – including using the edX platform and content.

Create your own success story with edX For Business

Learn more about boot camps and how they can help you close technical skill gaps.

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

Related Resources

Related Topics:

Four tips to improve staff retention

Article7 min read

July 12, 2022

Organizations are being pressed to do more to keep teams together and win the battle against workforce churn. Employee retention is the key.

We’re in the midst of the ‘great resignation’, a period where 3.4% of workers in the U.S. are leaving their jobs each month. Employees are in search of better benefits, a closer connection to corporate values, and corporate commitment to career progression.1With as many as four million Americans expected to resign from their roles during the course of 2022, the need to improve workforce retention isn’t showing signs of slowing down.2

Major economies are witnessing historically low rates of unemployment. The U.S. unemployment rate is 3.9%,3 and the U.K. unemployment rate is 3.7% — the lowest in over 48 years.4 While organizations are competing for an even smaller pool of applicants, digital transformation and emerging technologies have created burgeoning industries and many new jobs that now need to be filled. Calculations from EMSI Burning Glass and Eightfold point to almost 17 million vacant roles in the U.S.: that’s one in nine roles.5 It takes an estimated 36–42 days and now costs $1,633 to fill a vacant role.6 Whichever way you slice it, employees are demanding more, hiring is expensive, and the market is tight.

Since an organization’s most valuable resource is its people, it pays to focus on their retention and development. By creating pathways for team members to develop existing skills, reskill to address emerging gaps and grow their careers, learning and development managers are investing in strategies to retain their current workforce. 

How to meet employee expectations in the current market

In this competitive market, new recruitment can’t stem the tide alone. Organizations need to respond to existing employee concerns. 

They can do this by finding ways to: 

  1. Create a culture of learning. 
  2. Prioritize employee wellness.
  3. Align brand values with employee expectations.
  4. Foster paths for employees to grow internally.

Tip 1: Create a culture of learning

The benefits of a learning culture are well-established. Learning and development opportunities help motivate teams, engage individuals, and provide opportunities to build clear career pathways so employees can grow within organizations instead of needing to move externally. 

But ongoing learning isn’t just a requirement for career growth, it’s now essential for business agility. Driven by emerging tech and business models, skills gaps are widening. Upskilling and reskilling employees is not only important for corporate culture, but it is a necessary method of narrowing the skills gap caused by the evolving world of work.

One way to build learning into your organizational culture is to offer learning as a benefit. Traditionally, this would comprise tuition reimbursement for undergraduate or postgraduate degree programs. But, increasingly, enterprises are extending this to online learning opportunities for traditional degrees and also alternate credentials offered via an Open Courses Marketplace like edX.

edX For Business enables online learning opportunities with elite academic institutions and corporate curriculum partners from across the globe. Employees are able to fit self-paced learning into their schedules and practically apply their learnings in real-time at work. 

This means employees are empowered to plot and pursue steps in their career paths. Or they can reskill and ensure they remain relevant in a market where 85 million jobs are expected to be automated by 2025.7 

Applied Materials is one organization that was able to offer education as an employee benefit, at scale. They partnered with edX to provide targeted training to their team of over 27,000 individuals who work in nearly 115 countries worldwide. Training is designed to help staff advance along their career paths, grow the organization, and benefit the industry more broadly.

Applied Materials selected training opportunities in key areas, including data analysis, critical thinking, communications, and Python. This helps them to remain at the cutting edge of innovation in materials engineering solutions, and equips employees to pivot into new areas and fill emerging skills gaps. Since the program’s inception in 2017, employees have completed: 

  • 1,500+ professional education courses
  • 14,000 learning hours
  • 55 distinct course offerings

Along the way, Applied Materials has built up a culture of learning that makes sure the company is always improving and teams are happy. 

With a transformational culture of learning infused into your organization, your teams will feel valued, motivated to make a positive impact, and excited to grow with the business. Learn how to embed a culture of learning into your organization, here.

Tip 2: Prioritize employee wellness

It’s no secret that many employees are struggling with mental health in the wake of the pandemic. And this impacts how employees feel about their lives, their purpose at work, and their confidence in themselves. 

But there are factors that can turn this around. When employees have strong relationships at work, believe in the value of what they’re doing, and feel they’re meeting their potential, they’re likely to feel good about their work. And in this scenario of employee well-being, staff retention rates could triple.8

Learning and development plays an important role in employee well-being. Great Place to Work®, a leading workplace culture consultancy, advises organizations to create an environment where ongoing learning and development thrives. It’s one of six key mandates for creating a company culture that promotes employee well-being.

Great Place to Work® advises organizations to:9

  1. Track feedback on employee well-being on an ongoing basis.
  2. Walk the talk when it comes to well-being at all levels of leadership, and be honest about tough times.
  3. Give access to personalized and professional care and support.
  4. Enable and encourage all levels of employees to champion well-being.
  5. Create a culture where ongoing learning and development thrives.
  6. Facilitate autonomy at work and clarify links between individual roles and the outcomes of the organization.

Tip 3: Align your brand values to employee expectations

Organizations need to show that they can deliver what employees need to grow and thrive in the workplace. Where there’s alignment between public-facing values and the day-to-day operations of an organization, and the development opportunities on offer, trust grows and employee buy-in improves. Not only will this help attract top talent, but it also supports employee well-being and motivation.

Through a job that’s aligned with their values, employees find greater meaning at work, as well as an intrinsic motivation. This, in turn, leads to improved productivity and staff retention. It’s a win-win and a strong motivator for prioritizing human-centered leadership.

Tip 4: Foster paths for employees to grow internally

With millions of jobs on a path to automation, many employees need to upskill or reskill to maintain employability.10

What happens to the workers whose jobs become obsolete? Around 77% of workers report that they’re willing to upskill or retrain to stay relevant in the job market. This is promising, given that 74% of CEOs report concern with the availability of certain key skills.11

By investing in your teams, and upskilling and reskilling staff, organizations can match talent to fill in skills gaps and retain quality employees. When you do this, many other areas receive a boost too. Data from LinkedIn Learning demonstrates that engaged learners are far more likely to participate in internal mobility programs.12

What happens when organizations have strong internal mobility programs? Employee retention doubles.13

To set up an environment that fosters internal mobility and opportunities for reskilling, organizations can look at Boot Camps, which provide a learning solution where employees can be reskilled on technical topics through high-touch, intensive training. 

Invest in your best asset

In a complex talent market that’s adapting to waves of change, focusing on the needs and development of your team is the best way to improve staff retention. It makes teams happier, more effective, and helps prepare organizations to plug skills gaps. 

With these tips on employee retention you’ll be equipped to create an environment where people can thrive. And with a happier team in place, your employees will find greater meaning in their day-to-day, and are far more likely to stick with your organization in the long run. 

Contact an edX learning and development consultant to begin building learning solutions for your teams today.

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

Related Resources

Related Topics:

Nelnet case study: mapping a path to employee retention

Case Study6 min read

June 22, 2022

Challenge: Build pathways to spur employee growth and retention

“If we don’t know what jobs will exist in the future, how do we educate our people for them?” 

That’s one of the big questions Allison Gemelke was asking herself in 2020. Gemelke is a senior corporate trainer at Nelnet, one of the largest and most respected student loan servicers in the United States. Like many learning and development (L&D) professionals, she’d witnessed the rapid acceleration of career and skill changes during the pandemic — and recognized the risk it posed to businesses. At the same time, she was struggling to find educational programs that would provide real opportunities for advancement while accommodating employees’ full-time schedules and addressing a variety of educational backgrounds.

To get ahead of the problem, Gemelke and the Nelnet L&D team identified two key challenges: closing the skill gap and retaining talent. First, they would help close skill gaps in critical areas such as cybersecurity, information technology, finance, and compliance. Second, they’d create sustained career pathways that could be tailored to different education and experience levels. 

These initiatives would help Nelnet achieve an even more impactful goal: Expand its culture of continuous learning. The company already had a clearly defined talent-acquisition strategy, a robust onboarding process and a strong sense of community, but Gemelke knew those attributes would go to waste without integrated, organization-wide support.

“It’s like building a house without a blueprint,” Gemelke said. “If I don’t know what I’m building, those resources and tools are just going to sit there.” 

Solution: Offer credit-backed microcredentials programs

With edX for Business, Nelnet was able to bring the blueprint into being and expand their award-winning Nelnet University offerings. 

The MicroBachelors® and MicroMasters® programs from edX for Business offered subject-specific content Nelnet employees needed to transition into new roles. It also gave the L&D team time to focus on the implementation of these programs and to move faster overall — a compelling benefit given how quickly many tech skills evolve and become outdated.

“If we had to develop all that content from scratch, it would have taken much longer,” said Gemelke. “It would significantly hamper our ability to get our associates the skills they need in the right amount of time.”

MicroBachelors and MicroMasters programs are tailored to fast-growing, business-critical fields such as cybersecurity and information technology, incorporating skill areas like leadership and innovation. 

Through the programs, Nelnet employees could build those skills while earning credits and powerful credentials. If they wished, they could even put their credits towards a full degree — whether they were returning to school or starting it for the first time. Nelnet was also drawn to the modular and stackable nature of the programs, which gave Nelnet employees a flexible way to upskill quickly, demonstrate proficiency and keep learning as jobs evolved. It would make the whole company more agile and growth-focused in the long run.

“These programs stood out because they offer the opportunity to enroll in college-level courses and gain real credit and a certificate, without the commitment of a full degree,” Gemelke said. “I brought it to the team and we developed a pilot plan.” 

The L&D team started with a small group of pilot edX programs. Of special interest was the Cybersecurity program. “Globally there is a known shortage of people with cyber skills. We wanted to put into place a process for getting our associates the knowledge and skills to fill this gap. edX made this easy to do.”

Impact: Above-target participation and increased retention

Above-target enrollments: Nelnet’s L&D team set a goal of piloting the MicroBachelors or MicroMasters program with 10 associates. In the end, they enrolled over 30. 

Improved retention: In the early days of the Great Resignation, Nelnet saw increased retention among employees who participated in the edX for Business program. Some employees have even moved into new roles.

Executive-level praise: The programs have drawn attention from a wide array of employees. The executive chairman of Nelnet’s board was so excited about the partnership that he requested an enrollment code for a data science course — a critical reflection of Nelnet’s culture of continuous learning. 

Based on the program’s initial results, Gemelke said the Nelnet L&D team is considering other edX for Business offerings like professional certificate programs that allow employees to learn new skills without seeking a degree.

Results: One year later

  • 65% employee pass rate
  • 114 enrollments across 45 courses
  • 600+ collective hours of learning in the program’s first year

Through the pilot program, Nelnet employees:  

  • Developed their foundational knowledge of business-critical skills.
  • Gained the confidence to tackle new career paths and full degrees.
  • Earned college credit based on their course scores.
  • Felt more connected to the organization, which resulted in higher retention rates.
  • Spent more time advancing their careers.

Nelnet employees took a variety of edX for Business programs, including:

Computer Science Fundamentals NYUxCybersecurity RITx
Introduction to Databases NYUxInstructional Design and Technology USMx
Marketing Essentials DoaneXFinance MITx
Introduction to Information Technology WGUxBusiness Leadership UQx


  • Select high-potential employees with targeted learning goals.
  • Measure pre-learning performance and post-learning performance.
  • Develop a plan to communicate impact and scale opportunities.

Looking ahead

What’s next for Nelnet? Given the success and popularity of the pilot program, Gemelke says her team wants to build more directed pathways for associate career development, tie career development to the core competencies of the organization, and create more opportunities for self-directed learning. They will:

  1. Expand educational offerings: The team wants to embrace credentials like certificates, as well as learner-driven programs that will give younger generations of employees the autonomy to map their careers and realize long-term goals.
  2. Emphasize core competencies: Nelnet plans to use Workday to manage their competency framework. That will enable employees to track certifications and facilitate 4×4 development conversations, which will focus on goal-tracking and accomplishments.
  3. Facilitate internal recruiting: Workday has a “gig” function that allows workers to enter skills and knowledge, which means leaders and recruiters will be able to actively seek out current employees with the skills they need for certain roles. 

Gemelke and her team know they have their work cut out for them. In the midst of technological advancement and a global fight for talent, no one can predict the future — but we can find ways to prepare for it. Gemelke says that process starts with people: Giving them structured development opportunities, helping them uncover new strengths, and inspiring them to map their own career paths. And that’s a story we can all get behind.

Create your own success story with edX For Business

Connect with the edX For Business team to learn more about how to use our programs to retain your employees through upskilling and tap into the hidden potential of your workforce.

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

Related Resources

Related Topics:

Financial Services Skill Highlight: Computer Science

Article2 min read

October 13, 2021

The pandemic has only increased businesses’ acceleration towards digital transformation and underscored the power of technology and computer science skills to help overcome economic disruption across industries, including financial services. Under the lens of the pandemic, opportunities sharpen focus specifically in areas that help reduce costs, enable remote work, and sustain operations, which a Deloitte report says will help businesses prepare for and endure whatever comes next.

Read on to learn how fellow financial services L&D professionals use computer science courses to develop relevant, mission-critical skills in their organizations.

Broad Upskilling & Targeted Competency Building

Within computer science, financial services companies offer a variety of opportunities:

  • Building skills in universally useful programming languages such as Python— a gateway to upskilling to roles in priority areas such as data science and productivity enhancer across functions.
  • Nurturing competencies in other business-critical areas, such as cybersecurity and DevOps.

Popular edX Computer Science Courses

From programming basics to cybersecurity and web development, explore a sampling of computer science courses and programs from the world’s top universities used by financial services organizations. 

Learning That Takes You From Keeping Pace to Staying Ahead

Investing in learning platforms and programs designed to build on-the-job capabilities in data science, business, computer science, and more is a critical component of driving company and employee success.

Learn how your organization can take advantage of edX For Business’s expert guidance, flexible online platform with advanced analytics and customization features, and catalog of top courses and programs to take your team from keeping pace to staying ahead.

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

Related Resources

Related Topics:

Financial Services Skill Highlight: Data Science

Article2 min read

October 7, 2021

As one of the industries most affected by pandemic-induced disruptions and acceleration of digital transformation, it’s no surprise that data science is a top skills area that financial services companies are investing in.

Read on to learn how fellow financial services L&D professionals use data science courses to develop relevant, mission-critical skills in their organizations.

Growing Data Science Teams & Cross-Company Capabilities

With data science roles in high demand, competition for talent is fierce. Reskilling your existing workforce into data science roles, with capabilities in machine learning and big data, and arming employees across functions with data analysis skills can:

  • Save resources and costs spent on hiring
  • Improve retention rates
  • Increase productivity
  • Accelerate your organization’s competitive edge


According to a Harvard Business Review article, one global professional services firm found that the billing rates they could charge for consultants who had been through a data analysis upskilling program went up 3%, “more than justifying their investment.”

Popular edX Data Science Courses

From advanced Excel to machine learning and big data, explore a sampling of data science courses and programs from the world’s top universities used by financial services organizations.

“I have finished six courses so far related to data analytics. I transferred the knowledge I got to my team and colleagues and we implemented new tools in Power BI for cell performance analytics both for EGA and for an external client. Now, analysis which took a few hours can be done in minutes.” – Manager, Modelling, Technology Development, & Transfer, EGA

Learning That Takes You From Keeping Pace to Staying Ahead

Investing in learning platforms and programs designed to build on-the-job capabilities in data science, business, computer science, and more is a critical component of driving company and employee success.

Learn how your organization can take advantage of edX For Business’s expert guidance, flexible online platform with advanced analytics and customization features, and catalog of top courses and programs to take your team from keeping pace to staying ahead.

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

Related Resources

Related Topics:

Follow the Data: Make Soft Skills Your L&D Super Power

Article4 min read

November 19, 2019

In a surprising study, Google discovered that its highest performing teams aren’t those stacked with scientists, but interdisciplinary groups heavily benefitting from employees bringing strong soft skills to the collaborative process. Further, additional research found that it’s these soft skills, like good communication and empathetic leadership, not hard skills, that comprise the top predictors of success within the company.

Research from MIT Sloan echoed Google’s findings, showing that soft skills training, even in more hands-on, technical roles in a factory setting, can improve work productivity. Initiated at five Bangalore factories, a controlled, twelve-month trial revealed that training in problem solving, communication, and decision-making yielded a 250 percent ROI in eight months.

Time and time again, industry data, market trends, and insights from top business leaders highlight soft skills as important, and yet they’re still often overlooked.

The Opportunity for Investing in Soft Skills

“Many believe that the term “soft skills” is a misnomer,” said edX founder and CEO Anant Agarwal in an article for Forbes. “Critical thinking, persuasive writing, communications, and teamwork are not fluffy, nice-to-have value-adds. They’re hard-won and rigorously maintained abilities that are better referred to as “power skills.” A term favored (and perhaps pioneered) by Philip J. Hanlon, President of Dartmouth College, who is an avid advocate for use of the word power over soft.”

In a rapidly changing digital economy and labor market where hard skills present the challenge of a moving target, soft skills are a universal, addressable, and impactful area that more and more businesses are building into corporate learning and training programs, and identifying as must-haves for job applicants.

“The next generation of workers, executives, and leadership will need to have a hybrid skill set balancing an understanding of hard skills, like programming and analytics, with power skills,” Agarwal said.

What Are Soft Skills? Shifting Your Perspective to Power Skills

Soft skills are the interpersonal skills or “people skills” that, while often overlooked and under resourced in terms of training and learning, have the potential to be game changers for professional growth and business impact. Google’s study of its employees’ most impactful skills resulted in a list of the seven most important skills the company looks for in prospective employees, all of which are soft skills:

  1. Being a good coach
  2. Communicating and listening well
  3. Possessing insights into others (social awareness)
  4. Empathy and support toward colleagues
  5. Critical thinking
  6. Problem solving
  7. Connecting complex ideas

Essentially, Google’s list of important soft skills translates into the categories of communication skills, collaboration and teamwork skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and leadership skills.

Learn more about key soft skills companies are looking for as they develop and hire their leaders of tomorrow in our article Soft Skills: What Every Manager Needs to Know.

It’s clear soft skills are no longer a “nice to have,” and in fact are power skills that can drive organizations forward.

Teaching and Learning Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills

It can be a challenge for workers to gain soft skills in today’s traditional higher education or corporate learning environments.

Soft skills are not typically taught as a hybrid skill set with hard technical skills. Learners often find themselves on one segmented track or another; e.g., computer science disciplines tend to focus solely on programming and hard skills, while liberal arts curricula fosters critical thinking and creativity, but often leaves graduates with non-linear career-paths.

“There is a misconception that technical studies offer more employment options,” Agarwal said. “Combined with the misconception that employees naturally pick up soft skills, this has led to a general overemphasis on STEM-related concentrations. We are now realizing that this is not necessarily effective, but some people still question: can technical people develop soft skills?”

Soft Skills Can — and Should — be Taught

“It will take two fundamental changes in mindset to help workers at large achieve this hybrid skill set: 1) unified recognition of the value that strong soft skills bring to a team and 2) the will and resources to foster this valuable skill set in employees,” Agarwal said.

Companies, like Google and beyond, are discovering the value of soft skills, and turning that insight into action. In addition to hiring managers looking for these skills in applicants, corporate learning leaders are taking note of Agarwal’s second point: identifying and building resources and pathways for employees at all levels to learn and use these important skills across work environments.

Soft skills present an enormous opportunity for corporate learning and development programs. Learn more about how you can empower your employees to develop these power skills sets: Visit our Professional Skills Corporate eLearning Course Page for more information on critical soft skills courses for employees.

Accelerate the workforce of the future, with edX

Whether you’re a business leader, L&D executive, or other professional, we offer compelling data and insights for why an outcomes-based skills program is key to succeeding in tomorrow’s workplace.

Related Resources

Related Topics: