HKIHRM Training and Development Needs Survey findings show that digital training is the future, while reskilling and upskilling remain central to developing and retaining talents.
As organisations seek to close skills gaps, training and development content needs to be relevant and engaging for learners.
As organisations continue to grapple with the challenge to retain employees, close talent gaps and respond to emerging business demands, investment in employee training and development has become an increasingly important strategy, according to the findings of the 2021 Training and Development Needs Survey undertaken by the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM).
The 2021 survey revealed that the average actual spending on training and development against employee total annual base salaries increased from 1.3% in 2020 to 1.9% in 2021. At the same time, the average training budget against employee total annual base salaries also adjusted upwards from 2.5% to 2.8% from 2020 to 2021. Furthermore, the average annual training hours per employee in Hong Kong rose to 14.1 in 2021 from 12.9 in 2020.
By business sector, the business services/professional services sector ranked the highest with the actual spending on training against employee total annual base salaries standing at 2.9%, which exceeded the 1.9% average of all sectors by a margin of one percentage point. Meanwhile, the construction, real estate and property development sectors jointly took second place at 1.9%.
Designed to provide insights and perspectives underpinning training and development (T&D) areas throughout the past year, the 2021 survey was conducted between February and April 2022 with 116 organisations across 20 business and industry sectors participating. They employed some 74,400 full-time staff in total.
Commenting on the survey findings, Dr Barry Ip, Vice President of the HKIHRM and Co-chairperson of the Learning and Development Committee and Dr Chester Tsang, Executive Council Member of the HKIHRM and Co-chairperson of the Learning and Development Committee noted that, in a talent-squeezed environment, well-planned T&D programmes not only enable organisations to build a stronger workforce, but also help attract and retain talents, boost employee engagement and support strategies for driving business growth.
Of the 102 organisations that provided 2021 data, almost half stated that it was very important to reskill and upskill employees. Furthermore, 44% acknowledged that it was "quite important" to do so. The top three benefits of reskilling and upskilling which those organisations considered most important were: “prepare for organisational growth” (82%), “promote talent retention” (65%) and “reduce skill gaps” (55%).
As the local talent pool shrinks from factors such as emigration and an aging population, Ip reckoned that reskilling and upskilling to enable talent retention and succession planning are at the forefront of employers’ minds. “From an execution point of view, in the current environment it is often easier to reskill and upskill than to recruit fresh talents,” Ip said. When designing T&D programmes it is important to build a close partnership between the business and employees to identify skills-gaps and map out the skills training needed to take the organisation forward. “The T&D team has to be crystal clear about the direction that business strategies are heading in implementing training programmes that align with current and future business objectives,” Ip said. Hence, it may be necessary to strike a balance between offering the T&D programmes employees would like to receive to support their career aspirations and the T&D programmes necessary to meet the organisation’s business objectives.
Shift to digital training and development
One of the survey’s most revealing findings was the uptick in the proportion of organisations utilising digital learning technologies, with 94% of the 109 companies that provided the data adopting various digital learning platforms. It is also worth noting that 45% of the companies that responded increased their spending on digital learning in 2021 compared with 2020. Among the surveyed organisations that provided digital learning programmes, the top three types of preferred digital learning platforms were: webinars/virtual classrooms (74%), training videos (59%) and digital learning portal/e-library (48%). However, as digital technologies continue to reshape the T&D landscape, the deployment of digital tools has created new challenges. The top three challenges identified by the responding companies were: “less interaction between trainer and staff” (57%), “distractions” (53%) and “a lack of networking interaction for participants” (48%).
As remote and work-from-home employment models have increasingly become a permanent policy for organisations across business sectors, Tsang expected the popularity of using virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), simulation, gamification and the metaverse to continue to grow. “There is no going back,” he said. Drawing parallels with popular on-demand content services, he emphasised the goal is to motivate and engage learners using similar elements that make video game environments challenging and enjoyable. For example, gamification elements can highlight the social aspect of training through motivating learners to share and compare their progress. “The aim is to excite and inspire learners,” Tsang noted, adding that breaking training programmes into bite-sized pieces is a good way of retaining the learner's attention. With employees no longer tied to in-person classroom or scheduled T&D formats, Tsang pointed out that many employees are opting for immersive personalised and self-learning options. With this in mind, he added, the role and functions of T&D practitioners have pivoted from being trainers to become content creators.
Recognising that remote and flexible work environments come with their own set of opportunities and challenges, the co-chairpersons pointed out the importance of providing a choice of programmes and delivery modes to suit the different needs of multigenerational workforce. “Different generations prefer different learning experiences,” Ip said. Successful delivery of programmes depends on the right mix of virtual and in-person learning, with the right tools and technologies to match. “It’s not a case of one type of learning format or another, but rather finding a blended approach that works for employees and the organisation.”
Digital skills requirement
As the world of work continues to evolve, creating new opportunities and job positions within the work environment, Ip stressed it has become increasingly important for organisations to fill these roles with candidates who possess the relevant knowhow and skill sets. Unlike the past, when there was a tendency to “hire first and train later”, Ip said T&D teams can no longer be expected to provide the “magic touch”. “It is too time consuming to train skills from scratch,” Ip explained, adding that hiring managers need to focus on setting the candidate bar high by ensuring they are equipped with the sought-after skills that are necessary in today’s hybrid work economy. Echoing similar sentiments, Tsang said, under the COVID-19 pandemic, many of today’s jobs require candidates to have digital skills. “The recruitment landscape has changed. Employers are looking for candidates with data analytics and digital skills, which take a long time to train,” Tsang said.
Impact of COVID-19 on the workplace
With the COVID-19 pandemic now into the third year, 81% of the 109 organisations which provided the data admitted that the delivery of employee training was at least somewhat disrupted by the pandemic. In response, 64% of the companies introduced new learning content, with the top three types being: “health and safety” (64%), “supporting employees’ mental health” (55%) and “organising virtual class training” (42%). Ip said despite causing considerable disruption to employee training, the pandemic had led to the creation of new learning content, equipping staff with useful tools to navigate the disease. While there is still a high level of uncertainty about what the future holds, the Co-chairpersons highlighted the importance of focusing on development of soft skills that improve communication, empathy and emotional control, so that every employee, no matter whether they work in the office or remotely, can adjust and thrive in the new world of work.