Start Before Day One: How Learning Can Inform Talent Acquisition

Attracting Agile Learners

As business leaders embrace the critical importance of learning across the extended enterprise, investment is on the rise in learning content and technologies like a modern learning experience platform. To reap the full value, companies must understand that the learning journey spans the employee lifecycle—which begins even before the employee is hired.
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From line staff to CEOs, very few jobs are the same as they were a few years ago. The digital transformation of work spans industries and geographies, touching organizations at all levels and driving demand for workplace L&D.

In its recent report on Workforce Trends and Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the World Economic Forum examined what it would take to equip the global workforce by 2020 with skills to manage the digital transformation of business. By its estimate, over the next four years every worker will need an extra 101 days of learning. That’s roughly 25 more training days each year.

To keep pace (or just catch up), companies are accelerating their investment in L&D. According to Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends Study, 42% of companies in 21 industries are focused on upskilling digital competence and 38% are planning to deploy rapid internal skills training.

Certainly, it’s an excellent time for businesses to embrace the fact that employees need to learn—and learn quickly. And investment in learning content and technologies is a smart move. But to make that investment count for its full value, companies must optimize the learning journey across the employee lifecycle—which begins even before the employee is hired.

This creates an exciting opportunity for L&D and HR teams to collaborate.

L&D professionals are uniquely positioned to help talent acquisition teams attract and hire strong learners. We know their characteristics and how to assess them. We know what strong learners want. And we have the expertise to help our HR colleagues apply a learning mindset to recruitment strategies.

In so doing, we can build a skilled and nimble workforce and we can deliver on the promise of L&D to drive business success as markets evolve.

A Quick Study Defined: Learning Agility and Unlearning

The first step to finding what you want is knowing what you’re looking for.

In its list of highest demand skills, the World Economic Forum report names “active learning and learning strategies.” But perhaps the best, most holistic term for what makes a good learner—or a quick study, as the savvy candidate’s resume claims—is agility.

Learning agility has been defined variously as being able to digest information quickly “and figure out what is most important” or to “change frameworks” and “understand how different things are related.”

Or my favorite so far, from May Knight and Natalie Wong at Korn Ferry Hay Group in Hong Kong: “Knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.”

But the crux of learning agility—particularly in the context of digital transformation—may be a person’s willingness to abandon old ways of doing things. That is, to unlearn.

As noted in recent research by Amalgam Insights, unlearning a habit demands attention, a precious commodity in the modern workplace. It taxes the working memory, and it’s often frustrating.

What the modern digital enterprise needs are people who are energized by this challenge and, when faced with a new process, aren’t inclined to revert to what they were used to doing.

Attracting Agile Learners: Creating a Learning Relationship with Job Seekers

Much like customer experience drives sales, candidate experience drives talent acquisition.

Smart companies empower recruiters and hiring managers to deliver a winning candidate experience—a streamlined process with a personal touch. To win over the tech-savvy learner, the recruitment process must become an educational experience unto itself.

Or, to put it a bit bluntly: To attract job seekers who crave learning, give it to them straight away.

This approach takes its cue from customer education—a marketing strategy we’ve seen succeed for clients who sell everything from motor oil to beauty products. It’s an excellent example of how to strengthen relationships by engaging learners.

Done right, candidate education extends beyond the usual presentation of information about your company, brand, and culture. These are important things, of course, but by now they’re table stakes features on a careers site and within your applicant portal.

To elevate the candidate experience from job shopping and branding, companies should consider more innovative approaches. For example:

Learning opportunities (or requirements) like these establish a learning relationship between your company and prospective employees—a relationship grounded in mutual respect that fosters trust. Even if the candidate isn’t hired this go round, he or she will better understand your company and its products and services. Assuming the candidate experience is positive, their impression may deliver value in other ways, especially for consumer brands.

Through a candidate education experience, your company also overtly and implicitly conveys its commitment to employee learning and growth. Job seekers can and will self-select for fit with your culture, raising the quality of applicants and attracting the agile and willing learners you need most.

Hiring Agile Learners: Training for Recruiters and Managers

If learning agility is—or should be—one of the top criteria by which employers screen candidates, how does one go about it, particularly when so many candidates claim learning among their soft skills?

Here again, L&D can assist.

For example, a toolkit or training course can equip recruiters and hiring managers to structure interviews to determine whether and how much a candidate learned from the content on your career portal.

Ideally, this sort of training will be delivered “in the flow of work,” to invoke Bersin’s New Paradigm for Corporate Training. This can mean delivering training directly within the recruiting software, as is possible with best-of-breed enterprise solutions. With relevant training available on demand, interviewers can learn (and refresh) their assessment skills as they process candidates through selection.

From there, companies would benefit from integrating their learning and talent acquisition platforms more fully. This means tracking consumption of training by candidates within the learning management system and establishing a learning profile that follows the candidate if he or she is hired.

Optimizing Learning Across the Total Workforce

It’s important to extend the learning mindset beyond full-time recruiting to total talent acquisition. That is, to include contingent labor.

The rapid growth of the nonemployee workforce is well-documented—up by 36% in the last five years and on pace to make up 40-50% of the workforce by 2020. Given how much companies rely on contingent labor for everything from seasonal retail to cybersecurity, it’s clear that screening, onboarding, and developing these workers is of commensurate importance.

L&D leaders are well aware of the unique learning needs of contingent workers and the challenges associated with providing training.

Here again, these challenges can be offset by effective integration of HR technologies into a total talent ecosystem.

Ultimately, this may be as robust as providing a training portal for contingent workers, along with other learners in the extended enterprise.

Galvanizing Collaboration between HR and L&D

For all this to happen, Human Resources and Learning & Development teams must embrace the notion of their shared objective. Only with alignment across the two functions will companies be able to attract, hire, and grow an agile workforce.

Across LTG, our teams are excited to explore these and other emerging questions as we partner with clients to optimize and integrate their learning and talent strategies.


Find the original article, authored by Piers Lea, Learning Technologies Group plc’s (LTG) Chief Strategy Officer, in the February 2019 issue of Inside Learning Technologies e-Magazine.

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