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Q&A with CGS: Training technology for the deskless worker

(Image credit: Image Credit: Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock )

Google estimates that 80 percent of the global workforce is made up of employees without a desk or dedicated computer, also known as deskless workers. These employees are crucial to today’s economy, yet many organizations struggle with retaining these individuals. Regardless of age or industry, today’s workforce is looking to their employers for learning and development opportunities, and deskless workers are no exception.   

I spoke with Doug Stephen, SVP, Learning division at CGS, about training and development programs for the deskless workforce and ideas on how to retain employees through learning and development programs in 2018. 

1. Let’s talk about generational learning styles (baby boomers, Generation X, millennials). How are the generational differences affecting learning and development programs? 

The important first step is for organizations and leaders to recognize their own biases toward different generations, and challenge those stereotypes. There are natural differences among learners— such as their preferences, capabilities, experiences, backgrounds, and how extroverted or introverted they are. As such, organizations must ensure that the needs of all learners, regardless of age, are addressed. 

When there are generational learning and development disparities, coming together in a collaborative learning environment is one of the best ways to iron out differences. One main distinction between older and younger generations is the reliance on technology for everyday situations. However, the concepts of storytelling, team exercises and games are universal. Training generations together is key, focus on the commonalities and use technology as a channel for delivery.   

2. Thanks for that background. I’d like to talk about another group: “the deskless worker.” With 80 percent of the workforce not working in offices, how can organizations develop a strategy to address their deskless worker population?   

We’ve seen many enterprises across the globe put an emphasis on learning and development programs over the past year. However, these programs are typically targeted at individuals working in office jobs and it’s time to bring learning and development solutions to the masses –the deskless workers. Individuals who work in industries such as retail, hospitality and manufacturing might not spend their entire day in a location where they can easily log into a computer, but most likely they do have access to mobile technology. Deskless workers can still benefit from training and growth programs. Mobile, video and AR/VR technologies are becoming so ingrained in our everyday lives that all industries and professions can benefit from virtual training and remote coaching.   

Organizations with deskless employees need to determine the types of training that would be beneficial to their staff and then work with a solutions provider to customize a training and development program for them. For example, industries with seasonal workers might benefit from an onboarding training program to help temporary staff quickly ramp up during their busy seasons. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for L&D programs; each industry and organization has a unique set of needs and skills. 

3. What are the challenges that organizations have for training deskless workers? What types of learning services are most effective for deskless workers? 

In certain fields (e.g., retail, hospitality), it can be difficult to find, retain and maintain employees in the U.S. that are interested in the fields that require deskless workers. Engineers, nurses and field technicians are often deskless, but there is high demand and higher pay in these professions.   

The challenge? There is a higher rate of churn because they are not as well-supported with an infrastructure of learning, and they require real-time assistance and quick answers to critical questions. Even more so, they risk being disconnected from the company culture and the benefits that come with learning programs that can help advance their careers. With a lack of consistent access to information and a need for collaboration with others, these workers may feel like they do not have a clear vision of company goals, and how they fit into them.   

However, the key to retention is empowerment and growth, which can be achieved through technology training. Many deskless workers thrive on interactive and collaborative training, where there are ample opportunities to learn and grow in their respective fields.   

4. How frequently should employers be giving their workers feedback? Is the annual review still the best format? 

In recent years, the annual review format has become increasingly less popular. Today’s workforce wants to feel as though they are continuously working toward goals and challenging themselves; this can be hard to achieve solely through annual feedback. And while it can be difficult for managers to meet with their staff regularly, recognition-based engines can provide continuous feedback and acknowledgement.   

A recognition-based strategy allows peers and managers to also acknowledge and encourage skills-building and share goals on a continual basis. These solutions offer achievement badges, giving employees company-wide recognition of their accomplishments, similar to receiving a trophy or an award. Comparing these interactive approaches to the annual review, it’s understandable that more organizations are turning to technology to supplement their feedback structure.    

5. Gamification: What is it and why has it become so popular in the last few years? 

The need for innovative learning technology has been apparent for a while: In 2016, 67 percent of business leaders (opens in new tab) identified developing soft skills, such as leadership, coaching and onboarding, as a top priority for spending. We saw companies tackle this head on in 2017 through an innovative, new type of technology called gamification, which uses the traditional elements of game-like situations and applies them to business scenarios. 

By creating a competitive, game-like scenario, employees are engaging with peers and managers to accomplish tasks and grow their current skillset. Many gamification solutions offer real-time feedback, allowing individuals to course-correct and enhance their current capabilities. With these types of solutions, businesses can encourage competition and reward hard workers, while also revealing important employee behavior patterns that will provide valuable data for future programs. 

6. What is next for L&D? What do you think will take center stage in 2018

As we head into 2018, there will an increased focus on upskilling and retraining current workers to fill the growing skills gap, and a continued focus on retraining current employees to ensure they’re equipped with skills for the latest industry trends. Additionally, as more companies increase their flexible workplace options in 2018, there needs to be an emphasis on training for remote workers. A disparate workforce can be detrimental to an organization, so ensuring employees are trained and set up for success, no matter the location, is essential. This will also mean organizations should prioritize creating new types of distance learning and connectivity programs for employers to utilize.   

Video learning is also set to take center stage in the new year. In 2017, video was the most used channel for learning initiatives, and newer technologies such as mobile and microlearning now make up half of all learning delivery. As organizations look to meet the L&D needs of an increasingly diverse workforce, video is a cost-effective and engaging way to achieve that. And, thanks to innovations in mobile and newer technologies like AR and VR, video won’t just be limited to the workplace.   

Doug Stephen, SVP, Learning division, CGS (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock 

Doug Stephen, who joined CGS in 1998 and leads the enterprise Learning and Channel divisions, has more than 20 years’ of industry experience. He and his team created one of the first software as a service (SaaS) platforms dedicated to providing hosted learning systems to Fortune 500 companies.