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Deskless Workers Often Overlooked in Training and Development

A nurse is talking to an older woman on a bed.

This is the second in a five-part series of articles about training and developing employees. This story examines the challenges for employers in developing deskless workers such as retail workers, warehouse staff, truck drivers and home-health care staff.

Remember Lucy and Ethel frantically stuffing chocolates down their uniforms and into their mouths and hats, unable to keep up with a conveyor belt of bon bons they were supposed to wrap?

They were "deskless workers," people that Google has estimated today make up 80 percent of the global workforce—3 billion people. And if the two chums had had some training, they might have kept up with the production cycle instead of being fired.

Deskless workers pose a training and development challenge for employers. Even today, retail workers, warehouse staff, truck drivers and others typically are not issued a laptop or corporate e-mail address. Some, such as home health care employees, may not report to a bricks-and-mortar facility. Deskless employees who work night shifts might have to miss a day's work or come in on their day off if an employer requires daytime training.

"The deskless workers have been left behind," said Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, which is based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and provides corporate e-learning platforms.

When deskless workers don't have access to information about company procedures, scheduling, and policies, they can feel disconnected from their organization's leadership, resulting in turnover, according to Axonify.

Supporting these workers, Leaman wrote in a January 2017 column for Training Industry Magazine, "requires a complete rethink around how training is delivered" because traditional approaches such as classroom sessions, manuals, posters, and learning management systems don't address their needs.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Employees]

Deliver Content in Short Bursts 

Learning is more meaningful when it is available "at the point of need," SHRM Online reported May 15.

"When you take somebody out of their work context and put them in a classroom [with] an instructor in front of them ... you've taken them completely out of the context" of addressing a challenge they want or need to learn how to handle, said Heide Abelli, vice president of leadership and business skills at Skillsoft, in that SHRM article. Skillsoft is an e-learning provider with U.S. headquarters in Nashua, N.H. Abelli also serves as an adjunct professor at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.

Enter microlearning— a way of teaching and delivering content 24/7 in small, specific bursts by interacting with workers in a variety of ways, such as on mobile devices. Interactivity may involve playing a short game or answering a few questions.

Microlearning is "the most effective way to convey information and have it stick," said Leaman, whose organization offers such solutions. "It's also very appropriate for those types of [deskless] jobs."

Measuring what the employee learned also is important, she added, and can be gauged with real-time dashboards for managers.

Millennials' preferences are having an impact on the way organizations train employees as well.

"Today's workers—many of whom are now tech-savvy Millennials—demand access to critical business information within a moment's notice, whether they are in the office or not," pointed out GP Bullhound, a London-based advisory firm that provides advice on mergers and acquisitions and private placements, in its 2016 technology research report. And many of these workers, it added, carry mobile devices.

They expect to get the training through their mobile devices, Leaman noted, adding "That's just the way they live."

Read the first installment of this series here.

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