April 2011
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TD Magazine

Social Networks Enhance Employee Learning

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

T+D APRIL 11 // Intelligence //


Social Networks Enhance Employee Learning

By Phaedra Brotherton

Employers are embracing informal learning as a valuable training tool and social networks as a way to support learning efforts.

Despite doubts about security and information quality, many companies now view social media as a good way to enhance valuable informal learning efforts, according to a
new survey by the CARA Group, which specializes in custom learning for Fortune 500 organizations.

The survey, “How Informal Learning Is Transforming the Workplace,” explored the acceptance of informal learning—defined as learning that takes place independently from structured instructor-led classes or course-
specific work—and social media’s role in supporting it.

“We have our own challenges between early adopters and self-acclaimed ‘luddites’ when it comes to Facebook and Twitter, in particular,” says Jane Ehrenstrom, CARA senior vice president. “We wanted to see if these attitudes extended to our clients and how we might be able to help educate, clarify, and navigate this new landscape in workforce learning.”

More than 80 percent of the survey sample, from CARA’s database of nearly 2,000 learning leaders, felt that social media offered valuable learning opportunities for employees; 91 percent acknowledged informal learning’s value in employee training. Nearly all respondents believed that informal learning supplements formal learning either very much (64 percent) or somewhat (35 percent). And most believe it should happen on company time or on demand (96 percent).

But employers also were concerned about security issues, whether or not employees were wasting time, and the legitimacy of the experts that employees are reaching out to for information.

“The survey findings reveal a tension between social media’s perception as a valuable learning tool and a company’s ability to govern its impact on productivity, security, and information verification,” says Ehrenstrom.

To counter this, the report notes that some companies are developing their own internal social networks: 60 percent of respondents noted that their business has created internal online communities.

Although respondents acknowledged the value of social networking, they ranked “traditional” social learning efforts as the most useful:

  • employee or team initiated sharing sessions, such as brown bags (75 percent)
  • mentoring and coaching (61 percent)
  • performance support materials and systems (53 percent)
  • social or business networking communities (47 percent).

Ironically, the survey showed that social media and networking, which requires interacting through a computer, can be somewhat “antisocial” and isolating, says Ehrenstrom. Still despite its limitations, social media is the way today’s employees are communicating, she says.

“If our industry continually strives for improved performance, it is incumbent on us all to learn how to integrate evolving technology into our learning strategies; not just for technology’s sake, but for the added value that these tools already familiar to learners provide.”



Boom Time for Human Capital

By Eileen McKeown

Innovation and creativity join the list of top human capital concerns in 2011.

Most organizations are aware that good people management can give them a significant advantage when it comes to market competiveness and organizational stability. Bolstering human capital initiatives can help to maximize employee retention and increase company profits, but these issues are considered the hardest to manage within an organization.

According to a recently released Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) report, “The Critical Human Capital Issues of 2011,” the top 10 human capital issues identified by organizations as the most critical in 2011 are leadership development, succession planning, strategy execution/alignment, managing/coping with change, talent management, innovation and creativity, performance management, knowledge retention, engagement, and coaching.

The criticality of an issue is born of the discrepancy between what organizations consider the most important human capital issues and what they say they are able to manage well. According to the report, these critical issues should be a prime area of focus that, if addressed in the right way, could result in the greatest boost to organizational performance.

This study has been conducted by i4cp for the last 30 years. According to Jay Jamrog, senior vice president of research with i4cp, there seems to be a lot of “continuity in the ranking of the top 10 items over time.”

A few items have moved on and off the list this year. Measuring or rewarding results and workforce planning disappeared from the top 10 while innovation and creativity and coaching became part of the top 10 this year.

The most interesting and significant jump has been with innovation and creativity. “Most organizations are finally waking up to the fact that they must focus on this issue because [market] competition can come from anywhere quickly,” says Jamrog. For organizations to become more effective at managing this issue, Jamrog cites that they need to better define what innovation and creativity means to them and how well it will fit into their organizational culture.

Jamrog also stresses that it’s important to study the relationship between what high-performing organizations and low-performing organizations find as critical issues within their organizations. Seeing what issues high-performing organizations identify as being in need of strengthening for effectiveness is where a true competitive advantage can be found.

As the economy improves, all organizations have to be wary of the anticipated exodus of high-level employee talent.



Employees Are Moving on in 2011

By Stephanie Castellano

Despite popular disapproval of current government policies in place to improve today’s job market, the number of Americans looking for a new job in 2011 is on the rise.

According to “Adecco’s 2011 Workplace Outlook Study,” 98 percent of Americans feel that current federal policies in effect to encourage businesses to hire are not working; yet 28 percent of Americans are starting a new job in 2011, compared with 14 percent who started a new job in 2010. The survey, which quizzed Americans on issues affecting their workplace outlook in 2011, also found that training or educational opportunities are an increasingly attractive option for job-seekers.

“Over the past few years, Americans were more apt to weather the economy at their current job,” says David Adams, vice president of learning and development at Adecco Group North America. “Now that the economy is improving, more and more people are starting to look at both their educational and professional options to determine what their next career step will be. At Adecco, it’s becoming apparent that the war for talent and quality candidates has returned. More Americans are seeking to gain as many competitive advantages as they can by continuing their education. Having a strong knowledge and skill base makes someone more marketable to companies, which provides more security and control over their future.”

The largest fraction of Americans looking for a new job in 2011 consists of 18- to 34-year-olds. Half of the 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed said that they plan to look for a new job this year, compared to 26 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds. Respondents in the younger age group were also more likely to seek additional career-related training. Surprisingly, the survey found that respondents with children were also more likely to take advantage of training opportunities than those without children.

The percentage of American workers who plan to ask for a raise, a bonus, or a promotion this year is up from 9 percent in 2010 to 20 percent in 2011. “From an employee perspective, there is a greater sense of job security, and there are a number of people who feel that they dedicated themselves to their organization during tougher times and they’re hoping to see recognition for that—something that’s evident in the number of people seeking raises and promotions,” says Adams.

Yet, in Adecco’s survey, 21 percent of respondents still ranked job security as being most important to them, with health benefits coming in a close second (20 percent listed it as number one). Vacation days, company culture, and company perks ranked among the least important aspects of a job, suggesting that Americans are still mostly concerned with having their basic needs met.



Searching for Innovation Overseas

By Ann Pace

For U.S. companies, a shortage of domestic talent trumps cost cutting as the primary reason to launch operations offshore.

Fifty-four percent of global companies engaged in offshoring expect to expand their offshoring initiatives during the next three years, according to a study on corporations' offshoring trends by the Offshoring Research Network (ORN) at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, in conjunction with research firm The Conference Board. The report, “Taking Offshoring to the Next Level,” suggests that companies are shifting from a cost-driven to a multidimensional value proposition—such as service quality and employee retention—for their offshore operations.


“Labor arbitrage is only a short-term benefit of offshoring; after three years it is no longer a viable driver,” notes Arie Lewin, lead principal investigator at ORN.

Both providers and suppliers expect growth to be concentrated in information technology, software development, and innovation services (product design, research and development, and engineering services). The report suggests that the emphasis on talent of those companies offshoring innovation services may reflect the growing shortage of science and engineering workers in the United States. Before 2003, the United States had a 44 percent domestic shortage of qualified personnel, compared to 31 percent after 2003.

Lewin cites two major causes for American companies’ lack of technically trained talent: Beginning in 1995 there has been a gradual decline in the number of young Americans who are earning graduate-level degrees in science and engineering careers. Then in 2003 the U.S. Congress reduced the quota for the H1B visa—reserved for workers engaged in “specialty occupations” that require expertise or an advanced degree—from 195,000 to 65,000, resulting in an immediate shortage of talent in these professions.

In 2009, with unemployment at a historical high, American companies continued to search overseas to fill their critical technical talent needs. “American companies have always been less willing to invest in human capital [than other countries],” Lewin says. “They are worried that employees will not stay loyal to the company, will shop around, and so forth. The result is that employers want state-of-the-art talent, but haven’t put the effort into developing their employees to get them to that level. So they outsource the work.”

In contrast, training employees in countries such as China, India, and Japan is central to maintaining employee loyalty, Lewin explains. Employers in these countries take responsibility to place their employees in jobs where they can be successful.

Despite a greater commitment to employee development, turnover in China is high, and a mere 50 percent of graduates who earn bachelor degrees are placed in jobs. American employers are finding it difficult to find overseas talent that meets their standards.

As a result, companies are becoming creative with their recruiting and training approaches. Some employers partner with local technical schools to fund specific skills training programs and then hire students postgraduation. Open innovation firms such as Innocentive cull the globe for innovative talent by posting puzzle contests online, and employers can learn where pockets of innovative talent are located.

Lewin predicts these trends will only continue to grow in the immediate future. “During the next five to 10 years, there will be a great deal of scrambling and competing globally for talent.”



Websites Help Reskill the Workforce

The U.S. unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent. Yet, all indications point to more companies ramping up their hiring efforts. So why can’t the unemployed find work?

The U.S. unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent. Yet, all indications point to more companies ramping up their hiring efforts. So why can’t the unemployed find work?

Many lack the skills needed to succeed in this demanding job market. A gap exists between the number of jobs requiring more education and the number of people qualified to take them. In a 2009 ASTD skills gap poll of 1,179 organizations, 79 percent reported a skills gap in their organization.

In addition to local One Stop Career Centers, workers looking to upgrade their skills can peruse several websites:

  • Education-Portal.com, which was founded nine years ago by students as a textbook exchange, is full of videos and articles on degree fields and universities in every state. It also provides free courses on accounting,
    business, computer networking, and adult literacy.
  • Hubpages.com offers free online job training and resources in Microsoft Office, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Visio, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Flash, and HTML.
  • Jobmonkey.com/careertraining has useful information about online computer training courses, foreign languages, personal finance, and management.
  • Freeskills.com has more than 650 free tutorials on myriad technology and IT programming.
  • GCFLearnFree.org, supported by the Goodwill Community Foundation, provides quality, innovative online learning opportunities to anyone who wants to improve his technology, literacy, and math skills.


Social Media for Recruiting

As the economy begins to recover, companies looking to make new hires are seeking the most cost-effective, efficient ways to find new talent. And with innovative social recruiting technology, companies can achieve a far greater return-on-investment—this channel is cheaper to implement, simpler to use, easier to track, and better at finding great talent.

About the Author

Phaedra Brotherton is a trained career development facilitator and certified professional resume writer. She is former manager of ATD’s Career Development Community of Practice, and was previously senior writer/editor for ATD.

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