Monday, February 20, 2017

A Learning Strategy: Changing Workforce Demographics

Organizations tend to plan short term based on cyclical budget demands, year to year strategic plans, and the response to changes in governing regulations and the economic landscape. Typically, its learning strategies are not synchronized with the demographic profile of its learner groups.  This near-sighted approach in developing learning plans does not benefit an organization effectively or its need to have its employees, special interest groups and contractors understand its goals and objectives. Yes…you read correctly, each of these groups is the target of a well-planned learning strategy. Each group of learners within a learning strategy's audience may have unique learning styles, age differences, gender biases and ethnic makeup. The demographic makeup of our workforce is changing and we need to change our learning models to accommodate the changing face of workers.

As a result of the broad impact a learning strategy can have on an organization, learning strategies are and will be increasingly important for organizations as the pace of change and updates in knowledge and technology quicken. Ensuring that an organization can filter down knowledge to each of these groups will have an ever increasing bearing on its fortunes. Organizations, need to consider long term learning planning demands by developing a multi-faceted strategy that responds to different cultural, ethnic, gender and task specific requirements of each unique learning group.  Check out the labour force demographic makeup trend charts below to follow the changing workforce in the United States between 1976 and 2006.  One can only assume that the pace of change has picked up in recent years and is more pronounced in Canada.

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 In Canada, as in most regions around the world today we are experiencing shifts in labour population age, ethnicity and gender. This inevitable shift in cultural norms among our workforce means that knowledge transfer, to be effective, has to consider this in the delivery of knowledge. The United States Department of Labor for example, in its report “Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century” show steady change in workforce makeup. Seniors, women and ethnic workers make up an increasingly larger portion of the workforce. This study has based on trend data captured between 1976 and 2006.

 How does this change long term planning strategies? I think that eLearning strategies must see the bigger picture. eLearning must be integrated into a process that considers different kinds of learning styles unique to each group based on their demographic makeup. I think it’s reasonably obvious that when you are planning learning, you must consider reflecting the nature of the group in the images and voices that are portrayed, but more than that the very nature of learning can sometimes be impacted by the medium.

Some examples of this might include indigenous subject matter. Traditionally, Inuit and First Nations have a history of oral storytelling with a strong influence of imagery. Planning unique learning programs that respects and consider these issues in developing subject matter can be the difference between a successful program and failure. Another example might include delivering knowledge to a work population that is more ethnically oriented. Using images, offering language versions, reflecting the ethnic makeup in your imagery and offering scheduled live support and feedback may make the learning program much more effective.

 It is understandable that this kind of development cycle and the support it demands will affect budgets, but this is why a long term strategy works in an organizations benefit, as costs and planning can be amortized over a longer period as the programs are rolled out. Tracking the effectiveness of these programs and how they can impact the fortunes and bottom line of an organization can help build a case for the additional costs and resources required to develop and implement a long term learning strategy.

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