Planting the scaleup seed: why startups should adopt an L&D culture

UJJI, a Learning & Development platform, is disrupting how corporate training is done by launching a gamified approach that actively engages employees.

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Regardless of the industry an employee enters or their job position, it’s inevitable they will have to complete some form of corporate training. Whether that’s understanding how to use the company’s CRM platform or how to spot phishing scams, it’s become a workplace rite of passage.

The problem? The content learnt during corporate training tends to fade into a distant memory in the mental hardware of employees, as opposed to being used actively in their day to day.

Over 22 million UK workers confessed they don’t feel they are equipped with all the skills they will need to unlock new opportunities in the next five years, according to research by City and Guilds Group.

On the employer’s side, 69% of global recruiters say they are struggling to find skilled workers, especially within high demand areas like Operations and Logistics, Manufacturing and Production, IT, and Sales and Marketing.

These statistics have a seemingly simple solution: upskilling. The underlying issue is that corporate training is stuck in its old ways, dismissing the importance of active, rather than passive, learning.

Seasoned HR and business veterans Ludmila Milla and Rafael Guper want to change that. UJJI is a training app for scale-up teams, which, with the help of AI, offers a gamified active learning approach for those looking to upskill.

The bad rep of corporate training

According to survey results, only 34% of employees are very satisfied with their job-specific training. A further 76% say that a company would be more appealing if it offered additional skills training to its staff.

Despite this demand for high-quality training and the dissatisfaction of employees who do get job development of some sort, the model of corporate upskilling has largely remained the same. This ends up in low content retention, engagement and implementation levels.

“The whole corporate learning is an industry that is very old school,” explains Milla, co-founder and CEO of UJJI. “They were trying to bring this idea of putting people together as a university or a corporate university, so they tried to mimic the learning process but for corporations.”

“You are not going to get a degree if you do corporate learning. Getting a certificate doesn’t really mean much because you’re not going to get promoted based on that, it’s much more about how you transform your interactions,” emphasises Milla.

Reformulating how professionals understand corporate training already is having significant results. UJJI’s adoption rates for their gamified learning pathways are around 65% after 90 days. This is miles ahead of the industry average of 2.5%

“You can have the best [learning and development] content in the world but if people don’t engage with it and they don’t know how to put it into practice, it won’t matter,” warns Milla.

Learning from the start line

Besides learning and development being perceived as a one-off chore to tick off the HR checklist, corporate training tends to be associated only with large enterprises. In other words, it’s not a luxury that startups can afford as they try to grow.

Starting early, as Milla points out, doesn’t have to be costly or seen as an operational setback. Quite the opposite.

Upon discussing the challenges that startups face when they try to evolve into scaleups, Milla details, “These sorts of businesses, they change quite quickly and you need to get your workforce to change with it.”

“It’s not only training in the new technologies that are arising or being able to understand the whole market and competition – it’s also about internal change and it’s really hard to keep everyone on the same page,” she explains.

Prioritising learning and development from the start can make startups more agile. Narrating her own struggles with scaling up previous businesses, Milla described how some people in her team had to switch departments and manage a new set of tasks overnight because it was necessary to achieve the company’s next stages of growth.

“Startups and scaleups are not a niche of small and medium businesses anymore, it’s a whole vertical,” stresses Milla. “It’s a whole industry with their own needs, so we need to focus on helping those companies upskill their teams.”

What about the digital skills gap?

Learning and development, as AI continues to evolve, is becoming increasingly more important.

According to an IONOS survey, 79% of small business owners in the UK consider the adoption of new technologies to be critical for future growth yet 29% said the ongoing shortage of skilled workers is making it hard to adopt said technologies. The digital skills shortage is costing the UK economy roughly £12.8bn.

If we focus on AI, the numbers tell a similar tale. According to Salesforce, only one in ten global workers have key AI skills.

Teaching workers how to use AI meaningfully will be what separates businesses that are prepared to evolve with technological advances and those that play catch up.

“You still need to know how to operate [AI], the people that understand this and are able to think differently and use the AI system to their advantage are going to be able to do amazing things,” Milla predicts.

AI means there’s a new interesting way of differentiating professionals now and it comes from the adaptability to embrace change and being creative and being able to use AI as innovation for the business,” she outlines.

Beyond learning and development

A persuasive L&D offering can make the difference between an employer who stays at a company and one actively looking for a new job. 94% of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if there is investment in their learning and development.

Similarly, 59% of millennials claim development opportunities are extremely important when deciding whether or not to apply for a position.

Although L&D is an important factor to consider, there’s other measures they can take to ensure they are retaining and attracting the right talent.

Speaking from her experience in HR, Milla reveals culture is a crucial ingredient.

“You need to bring people that really believe in what you are building and it doesn’t matter what they are doing, they feel they are really helping to change other people’s lives on the platform that they are building,” she stresses.

“It’s important to open the discussion about how important and how much of a difference learning and development can make, as opposed to being considered as something nice to have,” she concludes.

Even if a startup’s team is made up of five people, fostering a culture of learning and development helps employees feel empowered with the necessary skills for the modern workplace.

More importantly, it creates a sense of growth and purpose that can make the difference between a startup having an unengaged workforce and one that supercharges its way into scaling up.

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Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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