Education in the workplace can boost employee engagement and business results, according to Hanny Alshazly, Regional Director, MEA, D2L.
The quest for knowledge in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region has remained strong despite the economic and political challenges facing the region.
Data collected online for recruitment firm Bayt’s Learning in the Workplace in the Middle East and North Africa poll in 2015, which featured responses from 6,639 professionals from countries in the MENA region including UAE, KSA, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, showed that 98 per cent of professionals based in MENA say working in an organisation that provides learning and training opportunities is a top priority.
Employee engagement, defined as commitment to the organisation and willingness to put in extra effort, strengthens the bottom line. Companies in the Middle East are now realising how much more cost-effective it is to retain a talented employee by keeping them engaged; research shows replacement can cost upwards of one-and-a-half-times the salary of existing talent, and nothing drives employee engagement as effectively as learning opportunities.
In a region coping with tumultuous change stemming from low oil prices and political instability, knowledge is often the best form of security. This might explain why the research report from MicroMarketMonitor on the MEA region’s market for learning management systems (LMS) projects that the market is set to grow to $425.2 million by 2019, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.6 per cent, outpacing the forecasted global CAGR of 23.76 per cent.
Employee engagement through learning gives companies operating throughout the region at least one point of leverage in countries where many factors are beyond their control.
The spread is wide between companies taking employee engagement seriously and those that aren’t. Aon Hewitt’s Best Employer Middle East study in 2016 which benchmarks organisations against the firm’s regional database of more than 375 organisations and 130,000 employees found that while employee engagement for best employers in the region is pegged at 85 per cent, the market average for employee engagement in the region stands at a significantly lower 61 per cent.
How do companies in the Middle East go about bridging the gap between the reality of employee engagement in the region and the standards they are looking to achieve?
Provide a learning environment that is easy to use and accessible on all devices. Employees in the region are keenly aware of the need to upgrade knowledge and skills to remain viable in a rapidly changing job market. This drives their desire to be associated with an organisation that provides them with the means to develop and sharpen their skills. By helping employees grow and develop leadership skills, a company can ensure it has in-house leadership resources available for the future.
An LMS can prove beneficial when making provisions for continuing education in the workplace. An LMS provides a destination for materials and resources, and therefore makes it easier for employees to delve into learning and have easy access to their learning portfolio. From the management perspective, an LMS allows the company to more easily track and record an employee’s progress. It allows the company to know how much time their employees are spending on learning and what kind of content is most engaging.
Employee engagement is also a key theme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which by virtue of employing a large percentage of the workforce in the MENA region form the backbone of its economy. SMEs struggle to attract and maintain talent in the highly competitive employment market and stand to benefit heavily from facilitating a learning environment. So far, the up-front investments for an LMS were perceived as relatively high for SMEs. But affordable, intuitive cloud-based LMS geared towards SMEs who need a quick-to-setup, affordable platform to deliver online learning to their staff are now emerging.
LMS choices vary, and the ones that allow interaction through video, social, and gamification engage modern learners more effectively because they expect this kind of functionality. Most importantly for a region like MENA, enterprises need an LMS that supports competency-based education (CBE). CBE lets learners move on once they’ve mastered a concept as opposed to holding them to a period of time spent on the material, and provides personalised guidance until required learning milestones are reached.
The promise of competency-based education is that it allows people already in the workforce to train for in-demand skills faster than traditional models of education. It also allows policy-makers to shift priorities quickly as needs for new skills arise. As long as there are workers willing to respond to the market for skills, CBE can support that market better than time-based teaching models.
Work-linked learning, where curricula closely track the demands of the job market, can help raise skill levels–a key ingredient in the recipe for economic prosperity.
The Middle East’s economy is growing and simultaneously diversifying. According to a 2016 economic outlook from World Bank, regional growth is expected to improve slightly to 3.2 and 3.6 per cent over the next two years, as governments across the region are consolidating their fiscal stance, undertaking reforms and trying to diversify their economies away from oil.
Companies operating in the midst of these changes need to deepen their corporate learning effort to nurture employees in line with these significant changes.