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Learning management software helps companies grow talent

Not only can learning software instill skills and increase employee retention, one HR manager intends to use it for succession planning.

Many HR managers are nervously watching their workforces shrink at one end and languish at the other, as boomers with years of experience prepare to retire and Generation Y workers enter the job market with insufficient skills. It's a difficult predicament, but one that experts say could be mitigated with learning management software.

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"The gap in readiness for some jobs is getting bigger instead of smaller -- people are less prepared as they go into jobs, and at the same time the jobs have become more technically refined," said Katherine Jones, director and principal analyst for HCM Technology at Oakland, Calif.-based consultancy Bersin & Associates. "Skill levels are going down and the need for the skills is going up, and that's where corporations are revisiting this kind of technology in a big way."

But learning might have a hard time grabbing HR's attention away from other, more trendy initiatives. In Gabriel Gheorghiu's opinion, many companies are neglecting learning and opting instead to focus on recruitment, which he thinks is a less effective approach to addressing the skills gap.

"What's happening right now with social recruiting and all these great tools is that there is a big focus on acquiring talent and then finding ways to keep them by [offering] incentives," said Gheorghiu, principal analyst at Nucleus Research, which is located in Boston. "I find this to be a bit of a reactive approach to talent management."

So what are the benefits of a proactive, learning-based approach -- "growing" talent versus "buying" it? Experts say that in addition to instilling crucial skills, learning management software can bolster employee retention and strengthen succession planning programs.

Learning management software can help shrink the skills gap

Companies are scrambling for skills, especially in the fields of engineering, manufacturing and IT. While learning management software cannot replace a college education, Gheorghiu said the technology can help employees keep their skill sets up to date.

"In manufacturing, or if you're an engineer and you need to design a product, [learning software] will help you constantly keep up to date with what's going on," he said. "In certain fields of IT, if you don't keep up to date, you end up not being relevant."

He also pointed out that learning management software could keep employees working when they might otherwise opt to go back to school. "That's a great opportunity to keep your employees, because why would I go to college when I have a learning module at work that I can train myself [with] on marketing, or dealing with customers, or pretty much anything."

Both Gheorghiu and Jones said learning management systems can also make employees feel valued, thus making them more likely to stay with the company.

"We're seeing people becoming much more interested in [learning] again because they can't afford to lose the talent they have," Jones said. "The investment in learning is something that says to an employee, 'My employer cares about me and they're investing in my future.'"

However, Gheorghiu said retention might actually be a reason why some HR managers are dissuaded from implementing a learning system.

"Usually employers do not want to invest a lot on training or educating people, and the reason is they think, 'I'm going to invest in you and then you're going to leave,'" he explained. "I don't think that's a valid reason because if you show that you care about me and not only about my role in the company, I'm more likely to stay."

Learning management software can also corroborate succession planning initiatives. Yvonne Ruiz, senior HRIS analyst at Berkeley College, headquartered in Woodland Park, N.J., is hoping to implement Certpoint in 2013 partly for this reason. "We're doing more of a succession planning [program] next year, and implementing the learning management system (LMS) will help with that because it will help us to see where the gaps are in terms of training," she explained.

Ruiz added that she thinks the LMS will increase automation of Berkeley's learning program, which will free up the training specialists' time to develop new courses. "They are looking at customer service training [courses] -- that's a big thing that they want to start incorporating," Ruiz said, "And more focus on certain manager training."

Supervision and social learning functionality

Learning modules are one of the "four pillars" in talent management software, but companies can also purchase a specialty LMS or learning content management system, or even take advantage of free online learning content -- an approach that Gheorghiu recommended for smaller businesses that may not need a full HCM suite.

As for unique traits in offerings from specific vendors, Gheorghiu said talent management vendors Saba and Lumesse are particularly strong in social learning. "Lumesse and Saba focus a lot on informal learning -- you don't need to go to a class; you can learn by interacting with other people. It's like social media," he said. "With the new generation, it's a new form of learning that companies are going to have to invest in."

For training that requires supervision, such as learning how to operate machinery, Jones said some vendors offer features that allow managers to watch videos of employees completing hands-on tasks. "For example, Cornerstone OnDemand has a supervision module [that can be accessed] with a smartphone, so a manager [can] watch an employee [drive] a forklift," she said. She also mentioned Halogen as another vendor that offers supervision capabilities.

No matter what learning management software product a company chooses, Jones stressed the importance of making the system as accessible as possible. "The first thing to really look at is the concept of accessibility, and by that I mean how to make it the most easily accessible thing," she said. "I think to a large extent, with proper instruction, almost anybody can learn anything."

Emma Snider is the associate site editor for Follow her on Twitter: @emmajs24.

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