According to LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report, organizations have an important advantage for learning and employee engagement that’s hidden in plain sight. “Managers,” the report says, are a “secret skill-building weapon.”

Managers hold important keys to stay ahead of economic change. They’re uniquely positioned to influence the learning that organizations, teams, and individuals need to stay competitive. And learning fuels all-important employee engagement, which drives key outcomes like productivity and innovation

Want to know more about the Workplace Learning Report’s new data points? Here are three insights that illuminate the larger context and opportunities related to learning and managers.

1. Forward-thinking organizations are investing heavily to prepare for the future of work.

“Sit down for this one,” the report advises. “According to the World Economic Forum…the rapid acceleration of automation and economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic will shift the division of labor between humans and machines, leading to 85 million jobs being displaced and 97 million new ones created by 2025.”

Many large organizations spotted this trend well in advance of the pandemic and began investing in upskilling their employees. In 2019, JPMorgan Chase announced a $350 million, five-year upskilling plan to “forecast emerging skill sets for JPMorgan Chase employees and proactively develop new training programs.” Amazon upped the ante with $700 million for upskilling, and, PwC plans to spend $3 billion on an initiative called “New world, new skills.”

Fast forward to 2021, over half (59%) of Learning and Development pros said the #1 priority for their programs is upskilling and reskilling.

2. Internal mobility brings new power to an organization’s people.

Let’s pause for a moment to define our terms. In case it’s not already clear, upskilling is training that delivers more advanced skills. Reskilling is training that helps people do a different job or perform new tasks. Internal mobility—or internal recruiting—works in parallel to help employees move from one job to another at the same organization.

“In helping employees find rewarding new roles inside your company, you boost morale and entice good people to stick around,” wrote Mark Lobosco in a blog that covered LinkedIn’s 2020 Global Talent Trends Report. The financial benefits can be significant. A 2018 Gartner study determined that employee turnover due to lack of career opportunities costs an average-size company $49 million per year.

More than half (51%) of Learning and Development (L&D) pros surveyed for the Workplace Learning Report say internal mobility is even more of a priority since the pandemic struck. Indeed, LinkedIn data shows that from April through August 2020 the internal hiring rate was nearly 20% higher than during the same time in 2019.

3. Managers magnify skill-building efforts—that’s why they’re L&D’s secret weapon.

Nearly half (49%) of L&D pros are working with people managers to drive learner engagement and skill-building. 

The trend comes at a good time. Employees across industries and geographies have embraced learning as never before. From 2019 to 2020, the number of learners using LinkedIn Learning more than doubled, and the time they spent learning grew by 45%. 

Because managers are responsible for their teams’ performance and growth, they can play an outsized role in inspiring employees to embrace new knowledge, new skills, and career advancement. According to the report, 84% of managers agree that learning can help close skills gaps on their teams, and 91% are supportive of helping their direct reports find new opportunities at their organizations. 

Not surprisingly, learning begets more learning. Some organizations are focusing on helping managers master skills such as how to have high-quality career-development conversations. That way, managers’ learning supports team learning. 

What are managers themselves most interested in learning? In a sign of the pandemic-driven times, 80% say they want to develop skills to lead through change, and 66% want to get better at managing a team virtually.

More about managers, learning, and employee engagement

The Workplace Learning Report will soon have a companion analysis from Glint. Launching in mid-March, the 2021 State of the Manager Report, shines more light on the power of managers and names  “fostering learning and growth” as one of four top priorities for managers in today’s fast-changing world of work. 

A few key data points: 91% of employees say it’s very or extremely important for their manager to encourage learning and experimentation. And employees who saw good opportunities to learn and grow in 2020 were 2.9x more likely to be engaged compared to those who didn’t see those same opportunities.

Perhaps even more significant, managers who themselves feel they have room to learn and grow in their role are:

  • 3.4x more likely to be engaged.
  • 3.2x more likely to say they will probably be with their organization in two year’s time.

Alyson DeMaso, CEO of Raising Beauty, sums up these powerful stats well, saying, “Spend as much time understanding the needs of your learners as you do understanding the needs of the business, and you’re going to have a breakthrough program where everyone is engaged.” 

Final thoughts: how employee engagement powers success

A December 2020 analysis published in the Harvard Business Review looked at how the pandemic was widening a corporate productivity gap. One finding: An engaged employee is 45% more productive than a merely satisfied worker.

The upcoming State of the Manager report ties this stat together with insights about the impact of managers. “In the best-case scenario, managers and employees don’t simply respond to what’s happening in their organization,” the report says. “Instead they co-create an environment that brings out the best in employees.”

Want more about learning and development in 2021? Download the full 2021 Workplace Learning Report.