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Amidst a backdrop of economic uncertainty, a crisis of employee disengagement looms, silently reducing productivity and signaling a need for a shift in Learning and Development (L&D) strategies. Employee disengagement, outdated recruitment criteria, and productivity losses interweave to create a complex challenge that L&D can strategically address.

As the value placed on formal education wanes and the demand for job-specific skills soars, it’s clear that L&D must become the architect of a workforce ready for the challenges of tomorrow.

The Rising Cost of Disengagement

Recent claims from the World Bank’s chief economist about a potential “lost decade” indicate a worrying trend in global economic growth. Alongside this, employee engagement—or the lack of it—is costing the global economy a staggering $8.7 trillion in lost productivity – 9% of global GDP. This alarming figure underlines the direct link between workforce engagement and economic performance, emphasizing the urgency for businesses to address the issue.

The State of Workplace Engagement

Let’s delve deeper into the state of workplace engagement: nearly 59% of employees are ‘quietly quitting’—they’re present but not fully engaged—while another 18% are ‘loudly quitting,’ or actively disengaged. The ‘quiet quitters,’ who often cite a lack of engagement or culture and insufficient compensation, highlight a productivity black hole within businesses. 

Moreover, with over half of the global workforce eyeing new opportunities, it becomes evident that disengaged employees are a significant contributor to the turnover challenge, with a 42% higher likelihood of joining the job hunt than their engaged peers. This cycle of disengagement and turnover not only highlights productivity losses but also reinforces the need for L&D to design learning programs that address engagement by aligning with employee aspirations and business objectives.

Rethinking Recruitment: Why Skills Matter

The job market is changing. With a 33% drop in U.S. adults aged 18 to 29 who view college education as very important, the focus is shifting from degrees to skills. Fewer young adults see a college degree as crucial, and employers are taking notice. They’re now asking: Is it time to shift from degrees to skills when hiring?

Evidence suggests that considering skills over degrees is a smarter move for businesses. When it comes to predicting how well someone will perform in a job, their skills are five times more telling than their education level. Skills even outshine work experience, being twice as predictive of job performance.

What’s more, people without degrees tend to stick with their jobs 34% longer than those with degrees. In uncertain economic times, when employee retention is tough, hiring for skills can be a game-changer for employers.

Companies that embrace skills-based hiring open up to a wider pool of applicants. They also tackle the problem of disengagement head-on by placing people in roles where they can use their abilities to the fullest. This approach is not just efficient; it builds a more varied and capable team, ready to face the challenges ahead.

The Role of L&D in Interconnecting Challenges

In this fast-paced world, the one constant is change, making it crucial to empower your employees with learning and development opportunities. As we examine the disengagement gripping the workforce, the role of L&D becomes central to solving not just this issue, but also to addressing the misalignment between recruitment practices and modern business needs. 

According to the Workplace Learning report, which surveyed 1,444 L&D professionals, employees who feel their skills are underutilized are 10 times more likely to seek new opportunities compared to those who believe their skills are making an impact. It is here that L&D programs can make a real difference, helping to retain top talent by creating a culture of continuous learning and growth.

Designing for Impact

To develop L&D programs that truly work, you need to know exactly which skills will help meet your company goals and where your team is falling short.

Even as we focus on hiring for skills, the wealth of talent in an organization can’t be ignored. Economic downturns can slow outside hiring, making it the perfect time to help current employees move up. Right now, many businesses don’t have a clear system for this kind of internal advancement, and that’s a missed opportunity.

Here’s a reality check: a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey tells us that 77% of people who left their jobs might have stayed if they’d had chances to learn and grow. Too often, skilled employees leave because they don’t see a future with their current employer. We need to change that by offering clear, skill-based career paths within our organizations.

Employers who set up these paths can come out stronger during tough times, and they also give their employees a sense of job security and value. This means looking at the skills people already have, figuring out what they need to move up, and then providing targeted learning to get them there. When you know what skills each role in your company needs, you can spot the gaps and overlaps between different job levels. With that knowledge, you can plan out how to get your employees from where they are to where they could be.

Ensuring learning programs tackle the real skill shortages in your teams makes a direct impact—not just on how engaged employees feel, but also on your company’s performance.

Where to Begin 

To translate this understanding into action, exceptional learning programs must be at the core of your strategy to boost employee engagement. But where do you start on this journey? By following a straightforward, step-by-step process:

  1. Define clear business goals.
  2. Pinpoint the exact skills, behaviors, and tasks needed to achieve these aims.
  3. Find out where there’s room for improvement in current performance levels.
  4. Set clear measures to see how well the learning is working. This doesn’t mean relying on completion rates or learner satisfaction alone. Instead, you must consider metrics that measure skill application and the wider impact on the business. For example, tracking changes in sales win rates after a learning program or analyzing the increased efficiency of processes due to upskilled employees.
  5. Create learning programs that are aimed at getting the performance results you want.

By following this process, you can position learning programs not just as a tool for knowledge acquisition, but as a strategic asset for advancing business goals and nurturing an engaged, productive workforce.


Today’s unpredictable economy and the growing gap between current talent and job requirements present a critical challenge for Learning & Development (L&D). We face a crucial moment as the drop in employee engagement takes a heavy toll on workplace productivity, costing the global economy trillions.

Now is a crucial moment to recover the lost productivity and inspire your workforce to achieve more. A clear, skill-focused L&D strategy is essential as we move forward. It’s this kind of strategy that will help individuals grow and become a driving force behind achieving business goals.

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