The CIPD Learning at work 2023 survey explores how learning professionals are responding to the changing world of work. With a focus on external factors, including: geopolitical concerns, inflation, rising cost-of-living, and digital innovation, the survey study reviews the impact of what the CIPD describe as a ‘tumultuous year’ for employers and employees.
The survey – conducted in January and February 2023 – assessed the feedback from 1,108 UK-based learning practitioners and aimed to understand how those responsible for learning in their organisation are operating in the current work climate. A key focus of the study is on how L&D can increase the value that they bring to their respective organisations with regards to their learning programmes and training interventions.
The research methodology was based upon six key questions:
- How has workplace context and culture changed?
- What resources, priorities and challenges are shaping workplace learning?
- What methods and media are in our L&D kitbag
- How can we deliver more impact to our organisation?
- How can we work with others to co-create value?
- How equipped are L&D professionals to contribute value?
In the first part of this six-part series, we unpack the findings and evaluate how learning practitioners are responding to the changing work environment, alongside how they are using our employee-centric Artificial Intelligence – Clever Nelly – to overcome common challenges.
The CIPD survey report cites that, over the last 24 months, global challenges have created an uncertain and changing environment for workplaces, employers and employees.
Digital innovation, in particular, has risen at an unprecedented rate, with generative AI tools – such as ChatGPT – becoming the ‘fastest growing consumer application in history’. Reports suggest that it reached 100 million active users globally in just two months following its launch.
New research suggests that HR executives are becoming increasingly concerned about the use of generative AI tools within the workplace. It’s been reported that the Society for Human Resource Management is currently receiving ‘between 30 and 50 calls per week’ from HR executives who are anxious about how they can gain greater control and oversight with regards to how their colleagues are using generative AI chatbots on the job.
AI applications are also expected to further disrupt and enhance the workplace landscape in the immediate future. The World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2023 notes that ‘technology adoption will be a key driver of business transformation in the next five years’, with 86% of companies now reporting they expect to adopt and incorporate AI into their operations within this period.
However, the use of AI in the workplace isn’t entirely backed by everyone – particularly some cohorts of employees. Almost 60% of people want regulation of AI in UK workplaces and believe that the UK Government should be setting rules around the use of certain technologies – such as ChatGPT – to protect workers’ jobs.
To compound matters, more than half of 18 to 24-year-olds are concerned about the impact of AI on their future job prospects. In March 2023, Goldman Sachs published a report showing that AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs. Last year, PwC’s annual global workforce survey showed that almost a third of respondents said they were worried about the prospect of their role being replaced by technology in three years.
Ben Scales, Head of Sales at Elephants Don’t Forget, commented:
“There is an understandable degree of anxiety around AI. Employees are rightly concerned about their future employability and career prospects – and these reports illustrate that employees are genuinely hoping that their employers will remain cognisant of the value of authentic human productivity over the price and convenience of deploying certain technologies that entirely displace them from their roles.
The BBC recently looked at the ‘fear of the unknown’ in relation to employees and their feelings around AI deployment in the workplace, and it makes for very interesting reading. It was aptly summarised by Stefanie Coleman, from EY’s people advisory services business, who said:
“We shouldn’t expect the workforce of the future to be “binary”. In other words, a combination of both humans and robots will always need to exist. Humans will always have a role to play in business by performing the important work that robots cannot. This kind of work typically requires innate human qualities, such as relationship building, creativity and emotional intelligence. Recognising the unique value of humans in the workforce, when compared to machines, is an important step in navigating the fears that surround this topic.”
The common anxiety that is often shared by employees is a fear of displacement. Organisations are obviously constantly looking at new ways to reduce their operational costs whilst maximising productivity. Therefore, these new generative AI tools, for example, seem – in principle – to tick a lot of these boxes.
The increasing level of anxiety amongst the workforce – especially in relation to customer service roles – is not surprising though, especially when we read recent reports with headlines such as: AI is doing the work of 250 people at an energy company and satisfying customers better than trained workers. Yet, in the instances where generative AI is being used within customer-centric roles, the human element often remains, as employees are ‘still required to manage and check all the AI’s outputs’.
And, if employers genuinely believe that generative AI is able to do a ‘better job of satisfying customers than trained workers’, we also have to ask pertinent questions: how can technology providers better support L&D to evidence the impact of their learning programmes and interventions? How can AI be used to upskill human capital? What impact is the ‘fear of the unknown’ in relation to AI having on organisational culture?
Customer-centric organisations – as EY’s Stefanie Coleman states – will always require a level of human interaction, competence and emotional capacity to aptly service complex customer needs. We demonstrably see this more than ever in 2023, especially in regulated sectors, such as Financial Services, Energy and Utilities, where regulators are constantly applying more urgency on firms to look at critical areas including vulnerable customer management, fixing inconsistencies and weaknesses in their employee training programmes, and ensuring that their frontline staff are competent and confident in handling increasing levels of complex customer cases.
I think the sentiment – especially in world where generative AI is seen as a key business enabler – has been captured well by Neil Lawrence, Director of Retail at Ofgem. In a February 2023 customer service standards review in the energy market, Mr Lawrence outlined that firms need to focus on improving customer care standards and trust, asserting:
“From being on hold for too long, to not being given clear information, or sometimes not getting through to suppliers at all, this review has highlighted that customer service is just not good enough. In a world where customers need to be confident in consistently great care and support, it is clear that improvements need to be made. We also know from talking to suppliers that the calls they are getting are more and more complex. But we expect suppliers to respond dynamically to this, updating processes, call handling scripts and having enough people to deal with the current issues and complexities.”
In short: employers cannot underestimate the importance of their people in delivering exceptional customer service and outcomes. And, before we think that generative AI is the key to fixing critical issues or harvesting quick wins, AI providers also need to do more to educate organisations on the benefits and use case deployments.
Not all AI is the same. For example, our AI solution – Clever Nelly – does not displace the employee in any way; it is entirely focused on improving the in-role competence of individual employees to support them to learn and retain their workplace training to be the very best they can be in their role.
I think the best possible starting point for employers who are exploring AI technologies and potential adoption, would be to look critically at models like ours to better understand how continual assessment of their employees’ skills, knowledge and competence can be sustainably improved to maximise the value from their learning and development programmes, improve ESAT, and reduce employee attrition – all whilst making a genuine difference to the culture and bottom line performance of the organisation.”
In parallel, the most important ‘non-financial’ metric was cited as employee retention, with business leaders acknowledging that the biggest opportunity for improving organisational performance is through recruiting and retaining people with the right skills.
In a 2023 YouGov report, 557 business leaders were surveyed about their perceptions of learning and development in their respective organisations. Sentiment illustrated that:
→ Business leaders believe L&D should be focusing on the people-centric goals of the organisation.
→ “L&D lacking a long-term vision” was stated by business leaders as the number one reason their organisations are being “held back” from achieving what they want to.
In fact, it was cited that leaders believe that L&D now have a ‘significant contribution to make in improving customer satisfaction and reducing operational costs’. This was reflected in how learning practitioners are now aligning learning priorities with business leaders’ organisational goals – with growth, cost reductions, increasing productivity, addressing skills gaps, and improving employee culture/behaviours being cited as the top priorities for organisations.
The top priorities for organisations:
- Achieve growth targets 30% 30%
- Reduce costs 24% 24%
- Increase productivity 23% 23%
- Address skills shortages and skills gaps 21% 21%
- Improve products/processes/services 19% 19%
- Improve organisational culture and/ or employee behaviour 19% 19%
The top people priorities for organisations:
- Improve staff retention 25% 25%
- Wellbeing 21% 21%
- Succession planning 18% 18%
- Develop leadership capability of senior leaders/management team 16% 16%
- Improve employee motivation/behaviour 16% 16%
In terms of creating a ‘culture for learning’, the survey report found that the majority of learning practitioners do not feel that their organisation fosters a climate of genuine psychology safety, where teams are encouraged to take risks, raise issues, learn from mistakes and embrace unique skills.
- We develop and maintain an organisational ‘climate of trust’ 41% 41%
- Our organisations encourage enquiry and curiosity from all individuals 36% 36%
- Our organisation embraces mistakes as an opportunity to learn 33% 33%
- As an organisation, we adapt processes and behaviours based on organisational learning 26% 26%
“Building skill, shifting behaviours, developing leaders and creating successors require more than a course; they require an environment where people feel comfortable to practise, learn and fail. Our findings clearly show that this is not an option available to all.”
When compared to 2021, the findings also suggest that learning professionals feel their learning and development strategies have declined when related to key organisation goals, including: people priorities, recognition of L&D impact and a clear understanding of the value L&D are contributing to the organisation.
If you are looking to improve the performance of your workforce, reduce operational risk, and get quantifiable, independent ROI from your training interventions, watch our series of testimonial videos from well-known brands to learn more.