When employees enter the organization, there is a need to continuously help them improve their knowledge and skills due to the changing nature of work and technology employed. Learning and development are employed in organizations to improve the knowledge and skills of human resources in an organization. This article looks at the meaning and scope of learning and development and the various approaches used to enhance learning and development in organizations. It also looks at the importance and benefits of learning and development.
Meaning of learning and development
Learning is a process that increases the employees’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes. People can learn from radios, TVs, mass media, books, trainers, teachers, and fellow employees. The managers aim to make their employees know to improve their performance in an organization. It is essential to acknowledge that learning is not restricted to a certain level of employees or age group. It applies and is relevant to all employees in an organization, from the top management to the operative staff, who are the lowest level in an organizational structure. Employees learn in existing and new situations to make sense and be more comfortable. Just as individuals are called upon to learn continuously, organizations should also be learning organizations.
It is all about mastering skills and incorporating them into behaviour to turn them into habits that improve the performance of employees in organizations. Stoner (1992) points out that development emphasizes developing employee skills necessary for future work activities. This means that development looks beyond current performance and productivity, thereby being a futuristic and long-term strategy. Be used as a tool to prepare employees for promotion in case of decision making, especially in the long run. It is concerned with action and not knowledge-based skills that come through learning. In the development process, practice is critical to allow individual employees to incorporate new skills as habits. Thus, development is a process that takes place after learning but requires constant practice and perfection to translate the learned skills into behaviour that improves the performance of employees.
Development is a process that describes the growth in mental conceptions and problem-solving abilities, and decision-making. Learning and development in organizations are integral parts of human resources management. These are concerned with improving the performance and behaviour of employees in organizations by positively changing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of the employees. In short, a change of behaviour resulting from training or experience is called learning. At the same time, development is concerned with making employees incorporate new skills into their behaviour as habits.
Importance of learning and development
According to Robbins (1991), competent employees will not remain competent forever because of the following reasons;
- Skills deteriorate over time.
- Technology makes their skills obsolete at one point in time.
- Organizations may move into new areas that involve new ways of doing jobs and new jobs.
- We live and operate in a dynamic environment, hence the need for learning and development in organizations. This includes changing information technology systems, mergers, acquisitions, company restructuring, and reorganization, which demand changes in employee knowledge, skills, and attitudes. When such developments occur, organizations do not necessarily need to recruit new employees but to train and develop existing staff to deal with emerging changes.
The following are benefits associated with learning and development to employees as well as to the organizations as a whole:
- Learning and development in employees make them better decision-makers and help them solve problems more effectively.
- Job knowledge and skills of employees at all levels are improved, which can influence company performance.
- Motivational variables of recognition, achievements, growth, and responsibility that are internalized and operationalized are achieved through learning and development.
- Increased workforce morale hence good industrial relations.
- Learning to handle stress, tension, and conflict much better.
- Job satisfaction is increased; knowledge, communication, and attitudes are improved.
- Improved efficiency and increased morale.
- Increased production and efficiency will boost the bottom line.
- Enhanced corporate image to attract more business inquiries.
- Relationships between management and subordinates improve and bring sanity to the organization.
- Costs are controlled and reduced.
- Increased market value and earning power of employees.
- Employees are helped to adapt to change.
- A possible climate for growth is created.
- Increased employee value to the employee that is likely to attract rewards and job security
- Chances for promotions to jobs of more responsibilities.
- Succession planning is possible.
- Absenteeism and accidents at work are reduced.
Methods of learning and development
Various learning and development methods can be used in organizations.
Mentoring is one method that can support and encourage people to manage their learning to maximize their potential, develop their skills.
Mentorship is an arrangement between the mentor and the mentee working in a similar field or sharing similar experiences. A mentor acts as a guide, a person to encourage the mentee, a role model who helps the mentee find the right direction and help them develop solutions to career issues.
A mentor helps the employee to have confidence while providing guidance and encouragement. For mentoring to yield positive, intended results, there must be mutual trust and respect between the mentor and employee. The mentor should also be empathetic to the mentee and have more experience and expertise to add value. The mentee needs to be humble, willing to learn, and ready to shoulder more responsibility for the learning process.
Coaching is a training or development process that supports an individual while achieving a specific personal or professional competence result or goal. Coaching can be applied to informal relationships between individuals. One has a more incredible experience and expertise and offers advice and guidance as the other goes through a learning process. Coaching differs from mentoring by focusing upon competence specifics instead of general overall development. Some coaches ask questions and offer opportunities to challenge the coach to find answers from within them. This helps the learner to discover answers and new ways of doing whatever based on their values, preferences, and unique perspectives.
The function of bringing together small groups for recurring meetings, focusing each time on some particular subject like leadership, effective managers, recruitment, and selection techniques, to be discussed. Everyone present is requested to participate in sharing information actively. Typically, participants are not beginners in the field under discussion. The idea behind the seminar system is to familiarise employees more extensively with the methodology of their chosen subject and allow them to interact with examples of the practical problems that always occur in the real world of work. Seminars, usually used by managerial positions, involve discussions, questions, and debates on the subject matter, without expecting written examinations.
Training is the acquisition of skills and qualifications that are functional and required for specific jobs. Training emphasizes monitoring and improving current job performance. It involves identifying training needs that must be filled or satisfied through training. This suggests that training is a short-term strategy to increase productivity through improved employee performance. Training mainly focuses on improving the technical and human skills of employees. Training can be on the job or off the job. Thus, it involves learning through job rotation, hands-on experience with a coach or mentor, or away from the job to a training institution on short- or long-term courses leading to certificates, diplomas, or degree achievements.
Apprenticeship is another method of employee development that is usually used in technical fields. It is a system of training employees in a structured competency in basic skills. Apprentices are given a strict training program to gain a set of skills to prepare them for their desired trade or profession in which they wish to pursue a career. An apprenticeship enables practitioners to obtain licenses to practice in controlled occupations such as mechanics, electricians, instrument technicians, bricklayers, welders, tailors, carpenters, etc. Much of their training is done while working for an employer who helps the apprentice learn their trade in exchange for their continued wages for an agreed period after gaining measurable abilities. This is a standard curriculum of technical colleges where trainees spend a whole year at the workplace under the guidance of experienced technicians after learning theory in a class setting. There is what is called attachment in other programs, and in teacher training, it is teaching practice.
Education is a key in learning and development. According to Cronje et al. (2004), education refers to providing knowledge, skills, moral values, and understanding required in the ordinary course of life. Education sets a platform and opportunity for people to understand how the world around them functions. Thus, education that is not job-specific but is a broader cultural preparation prepares people for various roles in society. Education alters an employee’s mindset to acclimatize to the requirements of a specific job and organization, therefore training and developing the employees accordingly. It provides core skills such as comprehending, critical thinking, synthesizing, analyzing, and evaluating needed in middle and top management positions and in technical and professional fields. Higher education is relevant for top-level strategic positions responsible for policy formulation and strategic visioning and planning.
One of the significant goals why organizations employ people is to ensure that they perform their activities to achieve their goals. Performance is, therefore, a key to organizational success. The process of ascertaining the effectiveness with which employees perform their duties is known as a performance review or performance appraisal. A performance review or appraisal involves measuring the performance of employees to determine their current performance in comparison with planned standards of performance. Performance reviews are done to check the level of performance of employees such that performance gaps can be identified and remedies suggested. If performance is not in line with the work plan, intervention strategies like training, attachments, coaching, mentorship, job rotation, or secondment can improve the employees’ performance.
Case study: Senga Training Institute
Senga Training Institute is a government institution under the Ministry of Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare. It is made up of 35 employees who are divided into sections, namely; Administration, Training, Hostel, Kitchen, and Grounds Sections. The management cadre comprises the Principal who heads the Institute, four training officers, and three Administration, Human Resources and Accounting Assistants. The rests are section heads and their operative staff. It is a relatively small organization in terms of staff compliment.
The mandate of the Senga Training Institute is to train civil servants of various departments and employees from parastatals and local authorities. Training involves Induction courses, Administration courses, Personnel Procedure courses, ZIMASSET and Results-based Management systems, Customer Care courses, Community Development and Project Planning.
Senga Training Institute is a learning organization that seeks to empower its employees using many learning and development methods. The Institutes strives to develop all employees regardless of their level in the organization, from the operatives to management, using some of the following methods:
All employees are encouraged to further their studies. Training Officers and Training Assistants usually further their education at Midlands State University (MSU), located just opposite the Institute. All Training Officers have either finished Master’s programs or are engaged in Masters’s Programmes at MSU. Those with certificates and Diplomas among the Assistants are pursuing degrees with the same university. Other employees among the operative staff who just had ordinary levels study for certificates and Diplomas in courses like CIS, ACCA, IPMZ, and IMM.
To further capacitate Training Officers, the Ministry has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with governments like India, Korea, China, and Japan for exchange programs. Training Officers have in the past years gone for exchange programs in India where courses like Research Methods in Labour Studies have been attended at undergraduate and postgraduate studies in these countries.
The dynamic environment currently existing in social, technological, economic, and political spheres has led to a demand for specific skills, especially among the management. The government initiative of e-government and ICTs – Information and Communication Technology has changed the training environment, especially training aids. Uses of flip charts and markers have been done away with; The Institute has acquired laptops and projectors to revamp training and embrace it. The Institute has sent all the Training Officers to Harare to be trained in International Computer Driver’s Licence (ICDL) to capacitate them with computer skills necessary in training.
The Administration Assistants have been sent to other training Institutes to be trained in Office Procedures course which runs for four weeks. The Human Resources Assistants have also been trained in the Personnel Procedures course, which takes two weeks to complete. Similarly, the Accounting Assistants had also been trained in Public Finance Management System for a month as this is the new financial management system as stipulated by the government.
Training Officers have also been developed through trainers’ conventions arranged by the government. There are thirteen training institutes in the country, with Senga being one of them. The Trainer’sTrainer’s convention has been organized for trainers from all the institutes in the country. They are usually done annually, once or twice a year. It is another effort by the Institute and government to capacitate Training Officers in their field of work. The conventions involve discussions, questions, and debates on various issues in training.
Training of Trainer’sTrainer’s (TOT) courses are Capacity Building Programmes held regularly to improve training skills and knowledge of the trainers continuously. The course involves presentations from facilitators and group work and presentations from the trainers as participants.
The Institute has used attachments to foster the learning and development of operative staff, especially those from the kitchen section. They are frequently attached to other government institutions like Mkoba Teachers’ College and Gweru Polytechnical College whenever they host national events like Independence and Heroes Day Celebrations. Senga Training Institute staff has been attached there to assist with catering. These are yearly events that ensure that the attachments are frequent.
Secondment is a temporary transfer from one’s usual job to another job or position with different duties and responsibilities. Management at the Institute has been seconded to other training institutes and other government ministries and departments. This is usually done for not more than two months. Some have been seconded to head office in Harare.
The Institute has occasionally used job rotation as a learning and development method. This is when employees are moved from their department or section to work in other sections for a given period. Job rotation has mainly been confined to operative staff who are not specialists in their work areas. They have been assigned to work in all sections in the Institute for a certain period.
Drivers employed by the training institute have not been left out in learning and development initiatives in the organizations. They have been sent for driving courses that improve their driving skills, like Defensive Driving courses, which the Road Traffic Authority of Zimbabwe offers. They have obtained certificates that expire after five years, and they are required to attend refresher courses to obtain new certificates in Defensive Driving.
For any organization to achieve its planned results, it should strategically use its critical human resources and financial and other material resources to perform various activities. Human capital is one of the most critical factors of production in an organization. People are assets whose value can be enhanced through investment in learning and development methods in organizations. Organizations should seriously invest in the learning and development of their employees because of the ever-changing and highly competitive environment that organizations are operating. Skills deteriorate over time, and technological advancement makes skills obsolete and restructures organizations. Learning and development in organizations benefit both the employees and their organizations. Organizations need to invest in learning and development to build the competencies needed in employees. An organization’s culture, vision, mission, and shared values should be conducive to encouraging the learning and development of employees at all levels in an organization.