Why Companies Should Invest in Revamping Corporate Learning

Too bad they generally don’t consider training and development to be essential components of the calculation. That attitude needs to change. Research reveals that employees want more than a paycheck and sincere gratitude.1 They want to learn. And not just the usual training stuff, though that’s still important. Many also want the kind of education […]

These days, business leaders seem to really mean it when they call employees their most important asset. That’s progress.

Too bad they generally don’t consider training and development to be essential components of the calculation. That attitude needs to change.

Research reveals that employees want more than a paycheck and sincere gratitude.1 They want to learn. And not just the usual training stuff, though that’s still important. Many also want the kind of education you can only get through experience, such as being coached and mentored and getting diverse – even challenging – work assignments that will help advance their careers.

In fact, many are likely to walk if they don’t get it.2

We gathered a panel of experts to talk about how companies should rethink their approaches to learning.

  • Markus Schwarz, senior vice president and global head, SAP Education
  • Dan Pontefract, chief envisioner, TELUS Communications Co.
  • Karie Willyerd, vice president for learning and social adoption, SuccessFactors, an SAP company

Do employers have an obligation to train and develop their employees?

Markus Schwarz: A company that creates something for a customer needs to take full accountability for the value chain, whether it’s served by the company’s own employees or by partner companies or freelancers. So you had better make sure that people who work for you are adequately equipped with the skills they need.

Furthermore, knowledge is advancing so quickly these days that we can no longer expect universities, or high schools or vocational schools, to graduate people who have skills that exactly fit the jobs we need to find. Companies have to provide the last mile of skills – or even the last five miles – not just when people join the company but throughout their careers.

Karie Willyerd: We have to make way for more learning and development to even attract people, much less keep them. If you look at millennials who because of their life stage have less work experience, the number one thing they ask about as job candidates is the learning plan that will be implemented when they get to work.

Dan Pontefract: We consider it a responsibility of TELUS team members to participate in learning. There are a lot of tools we make available. But we’re really trying to take care of our people. It’s not the case that they have to go figure everything out for themselves. The model is for leaders to assist.

Willyerd: And mentor, too. We did studies asking people about the different ways they like to learn. Every generation except millennials preferred classroom training. But for millennials, mentoring came first. They want a boss who can advise them.

Yet companies still seem to be very invested in classroom-style learning (both online and offline) rather than in facilitating collaboration. How do they need to change?

Pontefract: They are encumbered by the command-and-control way that a learning management system works: You have course listings and employees go to training. I’m not saying companies should stop doing classroom-style training altogether; there are times when learning should be formal.

But if you provide the right tools and frameworks, learning can also happen organically. Recently, for example, one of our business unit VPs started up an online community to share information and discuss our retail experience because we’re spread out in so many different places.

Willyerd: We have that type of experience outside of work, and we’re bringing our expectations about that experience into work. We want to use those social tools for productivity, which includes learning, not just entertainment.

Pontefract: But companies need to blend that learning model into the corporate culture. Often, marketing or IT is in charge of deciding what collaboration tools employees will use and showing people how to use them. Meanwhile, the learning function within HR is playing catch-up. But the learning function should be leading, or at least working in parallel with other functions.


How much should universities and colleges be involved?

Schwarz: Universities will continue to collaborate with companies, as they have for years, on curricula that relate to general job functions such as marketing or finance. But companies and skills are simply changing too rapidly for companies to expect to have graduates come out of university and be ready for a specific job.

However, there needs to be more quality assurance in education. We need a certification or, from the university, a degree that ensures the person is able to perform the job he or she is supposed to perform.

What do you think about expanding the role of corporate learning to include the whole ecosystem of business partners, freelancers, and contractors?

Pontefract: You have to make a judgment call as to what type of relationship you have with a particular contractor when you decide who should have access to your training programs and whatever informal or social learning opportunities people have internally. But in general, hiring fewer full-time employees and relying more on contractors or freelancers – which many companies are doing today – means that fewer people inside your company are learning the skills they need to accomplish the work.

Schwarz: That’s why we’re seeing companies that depend on many partners make training available to those partners. For example, if you’re an oil company and you hire partners to run your rigs, you’re going to want to make sure those partners know the relevant security and safety regulations and procedures. Your success depends on making sure everyone who is involved with your company has the skills they need.



There’s More.


The SAP Center for Business Insight program supports the discovery and development of new research-based thinking to address the challenges of business and technology executives.

  1. Alice Kwan, Neil Neveras, Jeff Schwartz, Bill Pelster, Robin Erickson,
    and Sarah Szpaichler, Talent 2020: Surveying the Talent Paradox from
    the Employee Perspective (Deloitte University Press, January 23, 2013),
  1. “Millennials Survey,” PwC, accessed March 13, 2014, http://www.pwc.

About the author:

Markus Schwarz is senior vice president and global head of SAP Education.

Dan Pontefract is chief envisioner with TELUS Communications Co.

Karie Willyerd is vice president for learning and social adoption with SuccessFactors, an SAP company.

Elana Varon is an independent writer and editor specializing in technology, leadership, and business innovation.


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