Learning in the Workplace of Tomorrow
Infosys’ Digital Radar survey looked at nearly two dozen technologies and how they are used by leading companies. However, the tech-focused research report ultimately concluded that the human factor was the key to becoming a corporate visionary.
The pace of technological evolution is a challenge for even the most advanced companies. There is rarely enough talent with the right skills, and the needed skills shift rapidly. Many companies have handled this problem using learning platforms and curated content to train employees — both new hires and veteran workers.
However, a follow-up study of information technology (IT) firms conducted by the Infosys Knowledge Institute and the University of Melbourne found that companies and their employees aren’t devoting enough time to learning. More than 2,000 professionals across all levels shared their insights in an online survey conducted as part of the study in early 2020.
Our study found that employees spend about 5% of their time on learning and about 5% on innovation (Figure 1). That’s a total of four hours in a 40-hour workweek. Industry studies have suggested that workers should spend as much as double that time focused on learning and innovation. For example, LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report concluded that “employees who spend over five hours per week learning are more likely to know where they want to go in their careers, find greater purpose, and feel less stressed.”Figure 1. Weekly productivity in the IT industry Source: Infosys Knowledge Institute
There is a demand for learning from a new generation of workers. “Millennials today value professional development the most. If they are provided the opportunity to upskill with pay that matches the role, they can take up new roles,” says Anant Agarwal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and founder and CEO of edX.
For learning to become a key business driver, companies need to measure the time and effort their employees spend picking up new skills and utilizing them.
For decades, the 3M Corp. has made innovation a part of its culture by allowing employees to spend 15% of their time developing new ideas. 3M calls it the 15% culture. Back in 2004, when it needed to bottom-up ideas, Google set a target of 20% of work time — or one full day a week — for its employees to innovate.
Learning and innovation need not be seen as two separate activities. Innovation is the implementation of learned topics. To encourage both, they need to be integrated with the goals, objectives, and key metrics used for employee performance appraisals. A previous article based on this study focused on lifelong learning as a business tool to create a sustainable workforce.
Learnability in the evolution of IT
The IT industry has seen several stages in its evolution in past decades (Figure 2). There has been a gradual, cyclical shift in focus. It started with corporate applications and moved on to productivity, with the internet connecting people and systems, then to the outsourcing and offshoring of modular software, and most recently, a return to innovation.Figure 2. The evolution of the IT industry Source: Infosys Knowledge Institute
Learnability is expected to become a critical feature that will define the industry in the next five to 10 years. Learning is not limited to classroom sessions about the latest technology; it includes understanding business domains and the appropriate application of technology. More organizations will transform into what Infosys calls a live enterprise — a business that behaves, adjusts, and learns like a living organism.
Investments in learning can be costly but necessary adaptations to the shifting business landscape. However, learning does not need to serve only as a support function. This effort to reskill and upskill workers can become a profit-making unit that stands on its own.
For example, Wingspan was originally just an internal learning platform for Infosys employees. Now it is available as an external offering too, with curated content from multiple sources and ongoing support. Siemens, for example, uses Wingspan as its experiential learning platform for its 385,000 employees across 200 countries.
From our findings, internal learning platforms are the most popular mode of learning used in the technology industry, followed by hands-on learning and massive open online course (MOOC) platforms (Figure 3). Employees have the flexibility to choose the mode they prefer, depending on the quality of both the content and the delivery.Figure 3. The modes of learning and their popularity Source: Infosys Knowledge Institute
“Internal learning platforms, hands-on learning on projects, and MOOCs — all three will have a role to play in the future of work,” Agarwal says. “Employees will be provided a buffet of options to choose from. The shift will be from internal learning to discovery, where they are given choices to select from.”
From digital transformation to a live enterprise
Recently, companies worldwide have focused on digital transformation, a trend that has accelerated during the pandemic. Once those efforts are near completion, businesses will find that learning is crucial to their continued progress and will become a core function. Boards and analysts will assess companies in terms of how much they spend on learning and their organizational commitment to reskilling. Learning will play a key role in filling the skills gap that exists in technology adoption across industries and countries.
This effort spent on learning in the IT industry is equally applicable to the chief information officer’s office or IT departments in other industries. Organizations that develop a culture of lifelong learning will be able to adapt to changes in the dynamic business world and stay competitive.