By Nicholas Fernando, Head of Content, Filtered

The number of companies intending to hire new staff has risen to the highest level since 1998 according to the latest BDO Employment Index. Driving this expansion is recruitment by service firms, confirming the continued evolution of a predominantly knowledge and service-led economy in the UK. Indeed, recent figures have shown that the services sector, accounting for 80% of total UK GDP, is growing so fast that it is actually the industry responsible for bringing the UK out of the economic slump — contrary to popular belief that skilled trade industries such as manufacturing and construction are the heroes of recovery.

Despite the obvious strengths of a growing services sector for the economy, a recent CBI company survey found that almost half faced weaknesses in basic numeracy, literacy and IT amongst employees. This is a situation that clearly needs to be addressed. As the power house of the UK economy, this sector needs to be invested in and equipped with the right skills to positively impact efficiency, productivity and, ultimately, the bottom line. For us, that is what training represents — investment in people as an organisation’s key assets.

This is especially true at a time in which new technologies and working practices are changing the working environment. From the advent and application of big data for business analysis to constantly changing IT software packages and financial regulations, keeping abreast of it all is no small task. This is all the more pertinent for a workforce that is not only leaving education with a deficit of workplace-relevant skills, but also facing the prospect of having to work long past traditional retirement ages. Keeping up to speed with even the basics of working life will be key to continued employability.

The good news then is that good employers do seem to be recognising the need to invest in their staff and ensure continuous development opportunities. According to a Deloitte report published earlier this year, training budgets rose by an average of 15% in 2013, showing the highest growth rate for seven years. The consultancy Great Place to Work has also demonstrated that the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For invest significantly in training and development programs, offering 66.5 hours of training for salaried employees per year and 53 hours of training for hourly employees.

It’s no secret amongst employers however that training can be costly — not only from a financial perspective but in terms of the drain on time and resources. Finding an approach that is time and cost effective, minimising learning requirements while maximising impact is therefore important — ensuring buy-in and participation from both employer and employee.

eLearning is rapidly gaining traction as one solution to this problem of time and resource drain, offering consistent quality assurance, flexible access and scalable, location-independent delivery all at a low cost. Where eLearning can fall down however is achieving good levels of participation in the form of adoption, engagement and impact (AEI) amongst users. This is crucial. After all, while it’s important to invest in staff training, without their commitment to actively participate, learn and apply the outcome to their work, it is of limited value.

AEI can be hard to achieve however in an online environment without an attentive mentor or teacher to initiate, inspire or chase up activity, and where the training usually isn’t certified. Most employees undertake workplace training to improve their proficiency on the job. It is important that e-learning enables this and that the employee is able to tangibly determine that they are improving and learning precisely what they need.

For us, the path to this ‘holy grail’ of AEI lies in the customisation of the learning experience for each user. Engagement is enhanced by ensuring that course material is 100% relevant, only covering topics that the user doesn’t already know and needs to know. Tailoring content in this way creates smaller, more manageable chunks of learning - also improving adoption rates. Meanwhile the prioritisation of material that enhances performance heightens the impact of training. And by combining this approach with a measurement system that brings meaningful quantification and accreditation of the skills learned, motivation is also improved.

As service sector workers continue to be the unsung heroes of the UK’s economic recovery, investing in the right training and development support will be a cornerstone of ongoing productivity and business advantage. Just as we need a diverse range of people, skill sets and experience to make up any organisational structure, so too do we need training that can cater to those diversities. Only then will we see talent optimised, skills gaps reduced and return on investment start to shine through.