As companies struggled with competing priorities, and many adapted to remote working, so they struggled as well to maintain pre-pandemic levels of innovation, performance, and productivity. Of course, no sector fared particularly well as COVID took hold, but the impact across the public sector has proved especially severe, as it lacked both the culture and the tools conducive to strong remote working that the private sector already had in place.
Was COVID the pivot point the public sector needed?
Despite the sector’s lack of preparedness, COVID seems to have galvanised remarkable levels of vigour and determination across public sector L&D. For whilst its organisations initially floundered, substantial investments in L&D over the course of the pandemic have spawned marvellous results in those companies that took the leap of faith with brand-new and unknown technologies. We explored this recently, diving more deeply into the findings from our 2021 Learning Health Check.
Historically, the sector has been reliant on face-to-face learning that its infrastructure required a top-down reimagining if it was to even survive the pandemic, let alone thrive despite it. The result: public sector organisations investing a greater proportion of their budget on learning technologies (from 21% pre-COVID to 32% during). What’s more, per-employee spending on L&D increased from £660 before the pandemic to £827 during. And it’s those public sector organisations that have invested in learning during COVID that have flourished most during the global crisis.
But as our research has shown, L&D professionals have rightly begun to ask themselves: what good is such investment in the long run, if its benefits can’t be demonstrated to executives and leaders?
The sector’s now discovering learning technologies—but measuring their impact is another matter
According to insights from our Learning Health Check the public sector focused its efforts during the pandemic primarily on adopting collaborative technologies. Communication and screen-sharing tools and webinar platforms have taken centre stage.
But when it comes to quantifying the impact of new learning technologies, the LHC shows that the public sector is suffering the most. Going into the pandemic, public organisations had few or no measures in place to assure leaders that the L&D technologies they’d invested in were affording the company any tangible benefits. This issue has been compounded by the sector’s long-standing conservative attitude towards widespread implementation of new technologies. Before COVID, 37% of the L&D professionals surveyed regarded their leaders’ traditional and sometimes impenetrable expectations of L&D as Extremely challenging. But when the crisis began to take its toll, this rose to 45%.
In other words, progress in L&D has been stymied at almost half of public sector organisations during the pandemic because of the disconnect with the views of those at the top. This highlights the importance of being able to demonstrate the business value afforded by learning technologies.
Managers lower down are feeling more onboard than their leaders
There’s been a more fervent desire for change in the lower echelons, however. In comparison to the respondents’ views on leaders, only 30% described their direct line managers’ approach to L&D as Extremely challenging. This was down substantially from 41% pre-pandemic. The proportion of budget spent on developing learning content in-house has risen from 43% to 45%, and the proportion spent on implementing learning technologies has increased from 21% to 32%.
All of this is good news for L&D professionals—but at the same time, 38% of those surveyed cite the lack of viable, attractive, high-quality digital learning content as Extremely challenging. This represents a big jump from the 24% harbouring this concern pre-COVID.
Businesses are already witnessing the benefits of learning technologies
The findings of the LHC paint a very different picture to that in the heads of many leaders. Those public sector organisations that have adopted and embraced at least some new learning technologies during the pandemic have been paid great dividends for their faith:
40% have saved money after investing in L&D technologies, compared to 17% before the pandemic
45% are now actually delivering more learning, in contrast with 36% pre-COVID
40% are saving time in their delivery of learning materials and training, compared to 35% before.
And as Figure 𝑥 shows, the positive impact of investment in L&D has been far more dramatic than in the private sector. This is probably because the dire situation of the pandemic necessitated this radical turnaround. But whatever the reason, it’s clear from our research that many public sector organisations are now enjoying the fruits of their L&D practices far more than they ever were before COVID.
There’s a long way to go—but investing in learning technologies is a good place to start
If public sector organisations are going to strategise effectively around their new learning technologies, they need the capability of representing their strategies’ value in simple terms—and with hard data—for their leaders. This way, they clearly demonstrate the connection between investment in learning and subsequent increases in performance. And with the numbers on your side, you’re far better positioned to build a strong business case to fund your L&D endeavours in the future.
Lack of readiness, in conjunction with an overreliance on face-to-face learning and a low cultural starting point, has meant that public sector organisations have faced a daunting uphill struggle during the pandemic. The long-term lack of investment in future-proofing their L&D infrastructure has meant they’ve sometimes been unable to take advantage of high-quality digital content even when they have adopted it. And along with the problems that arise when leaders maintain traditional expectations about the role of the L&D department, the importance of measuring the impact of your learning materials and practices becomes crystal-clear. And throughout the pandemic, that’s been a key priority for us, too.
Public sector organisations have witnessed astonishing turnarounds of fortune during COVID when they’ve adopted Mind Tools for Business. Our best-in-class learning content gives access to on-demand, practical workplace performance tools and resources for your people. So get in touch today, and one of our friendly experts will lay out a roadmap to transform your organisation with our dynamic, personalised, award-winning solutions.
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