A little more than five years ago, a startling study revealed an ugly truth about the state of the American workplace: Only about 20 percent of employees said that they received any company-sponsored skills development training and education within the previous five years. Not only that but only about half of the companies in the study actually offered any type of formal learning program or benefits. In short, most employees were on their own when it comes to building their career skills and getting the education they need to move forward.
Over the last half decade, things have improved somewhat, but not a lot. And companies are feeling the pinch. In a Gallup poll, 87 percent of millennials said that “professional or career growth and development opportunities” are important to them in a job – and a lack of opportunity for growth and development is one of the main reasons that they leave jobs. In fact, Gallup reports that learning opportunities are among the top three factors in keeping millennials engaged in their work and to retaining them as employees.
So why are managers still not providing the opportunities for growth that their employees so desperately want, despite the evidence that such opportunities lead to higher levels of employee engagement? While there is some speculation that such opportunities need to be earned, and younger workers need to “pay their dues” before they can access them, the simple fact is that many managers don’t know how to provide meaningful opportunities to their employees. They don’t know how to empower their teams to take advantage of learning options, or how to provide the formal and informal experiences that will help their employees find meaning in their work and become better team members.
That’s where a Chief Learning Officer comes in.
The CLO Trend
The idea of a Chief Learning Officer, or CLO, is a relatively new one. The first official CLO was Steve Kerr at GE back in 1990, when the idea of educating and developing employees was still a relatively new concept. Today, most of the top companies in the U.S., including most of the Fortune 500, have a CLO in the C-Suite.
At the most basic level, CLOs are responsible for managing a company’s education and training programs. Depending on the company, this could include everything from employee education and training on policies, procedures, technology and other internal issues, to developing and managing training and education programs that help employees advance in their careers and through the company. In some smaller companies, these functions are handled by HR or individual managers, but with a CLO, the focus is entirely on employee education and development.
Why CLOs Matter
The main advantage of having a CLO rather than adding training and education duties to the HR department’s plate is that a CLO is only focused on education, and is able to develop a more strategic plan that meets the needs of the organization in both the short and the long term, while also improving talent management so that employees remain engaged and loyal to the company. A CLO is committed to employee success, and able to develop programs that support education and development at all levels. For instance, a CLO may help promising employees find the right online business management degree program that not only builds that employee’s personal leadership skills, but also fills gaps in the company’s current and future needs.
A CLO is instrumental to creating a culture of learning, which is what most employees are looking for today. Again, employees want opportunities to learn – whether via a formal course, a mentorship program, or just the opportunity to work as part of a team on a new project – and CLOs help identify and create those opportunities. According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report, “Chief learning officers (CLOs) should become part of the entire employee experience, delivering learning solutions that inspire people to reinvent themselves, develop deep skills, and contribute to the learning of others.” In a time when the majority of workers are looking for the chance to learn when their personal development is directly tied to their commitment to an employer, it only makes sense that a CLO needs to be a part of your leadership team.
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