LinkedIn on how companies can overcome the ‘development dip’ caused by Covid

As research indicates that young workers have suffered a pandemic-induced ‘development dip’, Becky Schnauffer, senior director at LinkedIn Talent Solutions, urges employers to invest more in online education

Do you think digital learning isn’t for you or your business? How do you fancy becoming a work-from-home facilitator? What about a data detective or maybe an extended-reality immersion counsellor? If those jobs don’t float your boat, could tidewater architect, cyber-calamity forecaster or even algorithm bias auditor be more suitable, perhaps? 

If you don’t think you’re qualified for any of the above roles, you’ll be far from alone. But don’t feel complacent about that, because they are among the top 10 professions emerging in the wake of the Covid crisis, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). And, given that the WEF estimates that technology will replace 85 million human jobs while 97 million new ones will be created in the next four years, you may well need to reassess your attitude to digital learning – and quickly. From both individual and organisational perspectives, it’s crucial to invest in online education now.

The pandemic has completely disrupted the workplace. With many businesses concentrating on ensuring their immediate survival, training and development activities have stalled. People just embarking on their careers have been especially badly affected by this.

Indeed, 87% of UK business leaders surveyed by LinkedIn in September admitted that young employees had suffered a “development dip” during the Covid crisis. The networking platform also polled 1,000 people aged between 16 and 34 about their learning experiences. Well over two-thirds (69%) of these respondents agreed that the pandemic was harming their professional development. 

Becky Schnauffer, senior director of LinkedIn Talent Solutions in the UK and Ireland

For all those struggling to get to grips with digital learning, Becky Schnauffer, senior director of LinkedIn Talent Solutions in the UK and Ireland, can offer some valuable guidance. Her role, which she started in July after joining in 2018 as director of LinkedIn Sales Solutions, covers the company’s recruitment and learning activities. In essence, Schnauffer helps businesses to “attract, engage, develop and retain employees”. 

With the skills gap widening and the war for talent raging during the so-called Great Resignation – the trend in which hordes of dissatisfied workers are quitting their jobs – her views are well worth heeding.

“While digital learning has been around for a lot longer than the pandemic, now is the time for companies to prioritise it and build it into their strategy,” she says. “An awful lot of people, not only those just now entering the workforce, have been digitally savvy from a young age. You’d therefore expect part – if not all – of their learning to be digital. They are very comfortable with this medium.”

Schnauffer, who gained a degree in business management from Swansea University before joining IBM’s graduate scheme in the late 1990s, recalls that “even at a technology giant, every piece of learning at that time was one-size-fits-all, delivered in a classroom and lumped together in intensive, week-long chunks. Now, though, digital learning is personalised, interactive, community-based, snackable and stackable. Customisation of learning on the digital pathway is becoming so much more important and effective.”

Given that she has two children who are both at secondary school, she has a vested interest in promoting digital learning. Schnauffer is confident that, by the time they enter the job market, employee engagement and career development will be on a higher plane. “Everyone must embrace digital learning – it’s the new normal. And it’s going to continue evolving,” she says.

Businesses that are already investing heavily in employee development stand to gain a competitive edge in attracting and retaining the best talent, Schnauffer argues. This in turn should improve their chances of achieving the holy trinity of innovation, agility and resilience. 

Digital learning is personalised, interactive, community-based, snackable and stackable

“You want highly skilled people on your team who are always learning,” she says. “Business leaders have to allow their employees the time and space to develop themselves. Moreover, leaders must look ahead to where they want their business to be in two to three or more years, and plan how to narrow the skills gaps that are likely to emerge.” 

Her point is that it’s hugely more cost-effective to build a learning culture and invest in employees’ skills than it is to scour the market for new talent, where the competition will be fierce. LinkedIn’s new skills-building platform, the Learning Hub, has been designed to help employers do the former.

When asked how damaging it could be to organisations that don’t encourage digital learning, Schnauffer quotes an aphorism that’s widely attributed to Henry Ford: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

More encouragingly, the LinkedIn survey of business leaders indicated that more than three-quarters (78%) are planning to establish training courses to help employees – particularly younger ones – adapt to new ways of working. But Schnauffer stresses that members of the C-suite must also schedule in digital learning for themselves. Progressive leaders are doing just that on the LinkedIn Learning platform, which offers almost 17,000 courses across a wide range of categories. 

The most popular course over the past year has been one about detecting and avoiding unconscious bias, followed by one on strategic thinking. Other subjects in the top 10 include inclusivity, public speaking and the agile approach to project management.

“You only grow and improve by building your knowledge,” Schnauffer says. “And digital learning makes the experience convenient. It’s always available, relevant, personalised, and enjoyable.”

Business leaders, take note and act accordingly – or watch your organisations wither on the vine.

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Digital Learning report in October 2021

Silver surfers ride the digital learning wave

Record numbers of baby boomers and older retirees are enjoying the manifold benefits of taking online courses

The proverb “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is barking up the wrong tree in 2021. Record numbers of baby boomers, aged between 57 and 75, and older retirees, including care home residents, are taking advantage of digital technologies to acquire novel skills and develop hobbies. In droves, they are turning on, logging in and not dropping out. 

The enforced lockdowns of the last year have accelerated this trend. Silver web surfers, unable to hug friends and family, have had the time, confidence and access to technology to embrace digital learning. Indeed, 41 per cent of people in the UK over 55 said they were comfortable learning a new digital skill during lockdown, according to BT research. 

Moreover, older generations are expressing a greater thirst for knowledge when compared to younger cohorts. The 2020 LinkedIn Opportunity Index suggested that not only are baby boomers more willing to welcome change (84 per cent) than millennials (74 per cent) and members of Generation Z (72 per cent), they are also more likely to invest time in learning transferable skills (78 per cent) than the two other groups (72 and 74 per cent, respectively).

Rocketing interest in online groups provided by the University of the Third Age (u3a), whose network has expanded to almost 500,000 older adults no longer working full time, supports this data. A year ago, with members forced to stay at home in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus, the UK-wide charity, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2022, pivoted online, establishing Trust u3a. 

“We’ve been excited to see huge numbers of members embracing digital learning and turning to online and social media, sometimes for the first time, to keep their interest groups going,” says Sam Mauger, chief executive of u3a.

Online learning opens minds and virtual doors

Trust u3a’s online offering has attracted hundreds of new members and spawned more than 80 online groups and courses, ranging from Japanese to birds of prey, from cooking to painting. “Digital technology has empowered us to keep learning and active, and allowed us to remain connected with one other,” says Mauger. 

“Instead of meeting face to face, photography groups can share images on WhatsApp, ukulele players have turned to Twitch to make music together and ballroom dancers are using Zoom to show off their moves.”

She plans to adopt a blended learning model when lockdown restrictions lift, as going digital has opened minds and virtual doors. “It has removed geographical barriers and enabled members to expand their learning and forge new relationships across the movement, from Scotland to Cornwall,” she says.

Discovering new interests and friends is one of the biggest pluses of digital learning for retirees, according to Amanda Rosewarne, business psychologist and co-founder of the Professional Development Consortium, which accredits online courses. “By learning via live online classes, you can interact with others who may also be feeling isolated and lonely,” she says. 

Elderly students enjoy several other benefits. “Studies show that learning new things triggers serotonin release in the brain, which is akin to the effect of antidepressants,” says Rosewarne. 

Further, a 2017 study for Age UK, Europe’s largest charity supporting older people, found that keeping the mind active can prevent age-related conditions, such as dementia. Committed learning, rather than crosswords or sudoku puzzles, is most effective, though.

Thanks to a variety of user-friendly devices and online courses, picking up a language, for instance, has never been easier or more convenient for retirees willing to enter the digital classroom. 

Trust issues: beware scammers

Birmingham-based septuagenarian John Bishop has attended a Greek class for years. Soon after his course went online in the autumn, with lessons conducted on Zoom, he “took the plunge” and bought a smartphone. Technology is not all Greek to Bishop now; all that is required to join his group is the click of a hotlink. “The ease of access and ease of use are key for my generation when it comes to online learning,” he says. “My advice is keep it simple and provide non-bot help.”

While Bishop is delighted that his lessons can continue online, he is looking forward to returning to in-person sessions. “Zoom is not superior to live lessons,” he says. “Video conferencing requires more concentrated eye focus, because all you are seeing is the screen rather than a room, and student interaction is less fluid. It also lacks the ancillary benefits, like the exercise of walking to and from the class.”

Sarah-Jane McQueen, general manager of, argues the convenience of online learning is hugely appealing to elderly students. “Rather than having to get up early and travel a sizeable distance to learn,” she says, “users can now get the same experience from the comfort of their own home and at a time that suits them, allowing them to easily balance learning around their daily schedules.”

However, McQueen notes the surging popularity of online courses for retirees has not gone unnoticed by those seeking to make quick money. “Particularly since lockdown, there has been a rise in the number of fraudulent courses being offered by scammers who are looking to profit from people’s willingness to learn,” she warns. 

“To help address these concerns, providers should make a concerted effort to highlight the feedback and reviews they’ve obtained from previous users that can work as testimonials which assure new users they are legitimate.”

Building trust so older people feel comfortable online, and don’t get left in the wake of technology, is vital. Pleasingly, there is now a vast number of online resources and initiatives designed to boost digital literacy among the elderly. For example, Barclays’ Digital Eagles scheme, launched in 2013, has delivered digital skills training to staff and residents in more than 500 UK care homes.

“There are many retirees who have achieved great things thanks to digital learning, often in fields that were perhaps far removed from what their previous careers encompassed,” McQueen adds. 

Clearly, a more apposite idiom for 2021 is “you are never too old to learn” and, with easy-to-use digital technology, there is no obstacle to becoming a very mature student.

This article first appeared in Raconteur’s Digital Learning report, published as a supplement in The Times in March 2021

Tech-enabled finance could save your company

When crises hit, organisations always lean heavily on their internal finance specialists to reduce costs, streamline operations and plot a roadmap to recovery, in that order. While lessons should have been learnt after the global economic crash a dozen years ago, and more robust business continuity plans established, it was impossible to predict the speed, scale and severity of the coronavirus pandemic.

Once again, business leaders are looking, desperately, to their finance teams for rapid solutions to colossal challenges. It’s a mighty responsibility, given the amount of uncertainty and an impending global recession.

“During the current crisis, C-suite executives rely on financiers to identify the most cost-effective sources of financing, not only for the survival of the firm in the short run, but also for the growth that follows economic stagnation,” says Dr Nikolaos Antypas, finance lecturer at Henley Business School.

“For most companies, the top-down directive is: survive first, grow later. Since the pandemic started, the role of internal finance has shifted towards turning down or postponing indefinitely any project or cost item with non-existential importance.”

However, unlike in 2008, access to digital technologies, cloud storage and data analysis are enabling faster results, greater agility and collaboration, and better forecasting. If COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation, the financial function is in the driving seat of that change.

Finance Tech

Tech-savvy organisations have major advantage

Laggard organisations that decline to embrace technology will fail. And even industries that have rallied well since lockdown, such as ecommerce and healthcare, should be anticipating more obstacles on the road to recovery.

“The threat of decreasing revenue looms ominously,” warns Antypas, nodding to the tapering of the furlough scheme, which could trigger a sharp rise in unemployment. “No company should be complacent with their current success; their customer base is about to lose its revenue stream and that loss can have devastating ripple effects. Even the most profitable company can suffer if cash flows are not managed efficiently.”

Red Flag Alert, a credit risk management company, has amassed financial data of UK businesses for the last 16 years. The analysis is bleak. “UK industry is facing a mountain of unsustainable debt; it could be as much as £107 billion,” says Mark Halstead, a partner at the Oldham-based firm.

“Technology and data will be critical to companies bouncing back from the pandemic. It will also enable businesses to protect themselves and strive for growth in an economy saddled with record levels of debt.”

Technology and data will enable businesses to protect themselves and strive for growth in an economy saddled with record levels of debt

Organisations that invested in digital technologies and evolved the financial function before the pandemic have an early-adopter advantage. Kaziu Gill, who co-founded London-headquartered LimeGreen Accountancy in 2009, has long promoted accountancy software and other digital tools to his clients, who are mostly small and medium-sized businesses in the creative industries.

“COVID-19 has forced many businesses to change and become leaner and more mobile, but we have managed to continue without any disruption,” he says. “In some cases, we have been more productive.

“We are seeing more businesses exploring how they can grow digitally and the suite of tools that we use complements any organisation’s approach to budget and forecasting.”

Finance functions arm themselves with digital tools

LimeGreen enjoys a partnership with cloud-based accounting software platform Xero. “We offer plug-ins to Xero, like Spotlight, which is a great forecasting tool, and Receipt Bank,” says Gill. “And there are other project management tools that help link the financial function with human resources, such as CakeHR. We have always strived to utilise tech and now financial functions simply have to make that transition to digital. Pieces of paper are no good when you can’t send or receive physical mail during lockdown and with remote working.”

He argues that the recent open banking directive – a government-enforced programme designed to open up banking data, launched in 2018 – strengthens the case for finance departments to embrace digital tools. “It’s the perfect time because every bank in the UK is obligated to open up their application programming interfaces so third-party software companies can use them.”

Xero, for instance, recently launched a short-term cash-flow tool that projects bank balances 30 days into the future, showing the impact of existing bills and invoices, if paid on time. “This capability helps the financial function to scenario plan accurately and make changes to business plans instantly,” explains Donna Torres, Xero’s general manager of global direct sales and operations.

“It’s more important than ever for organisations to have an up-to-date view of their cash flow so they can plan, forecast and make the right decisions about their future. Cloud accounting technology provides a real-time snapshot.”

Empowering finance teams to change business plans

Financial functions that push to arm their organisations with other digital tools, including artificial intelligence-powered document scanning and e-signature, are discovering they can achieve company-wide efficiencies almost overnight.

Mike Plimsoll, industry head of financial services at Adobe, offers a banking example. “Facing increased demand with reduced branch capacity to maintain social distancing, TSB acted quickly to transform a significant amount of offline forms into digital-only interactions, creating an end-to-end journey for its personal and business banking customers,” he says.

“After implementing Adobe Sign, TSB managed over 80,000 customer interactions in the first eight weeks, saving the need for up to 15,000 potential branch visits.”

Plimsoll posits that by switching their processes and establishing digital technologies, finance teams have been able to “keep the business moving and react quickly to the shifting landscape and help steer a course through the uncertainty”.

Adopting a shorter planning window is paramount for business continuity and recovery, says Thomas Sutter of Oracle NetSuite’s Global Solutions Centre of Excellence. “Most businesses operate on a 12-month budget cycle and manage strategictra plans with longer timeframes, but at this time the focus must shift to immediate priorities,” he says.

“Now more than ever, establishing a clear framework of visibility and control will streamline and protect cash flow in the short term, keep customers happy, and reveal new and innovative options business leaders have available to drive the business forward in the future. Finance leaders and their teams will be at the heart of these strategic moves.”

Finance departments may have had more responsibility thrust upon them when COVID-19 hit, but it seems their role will only grow in importance in the coming months and years. Technology is both empowering and enabling their new lofty status.

This article was originally published in Raconteur’s Business Continuity and Growth report in August 2020