For companies looking to increase retention, encourage innovation and equip employees with future-ready skills, learning and development (L&D) tops the list of critical strategies.
But what does effective L&D actually look like in practice? It’s a question that HR leaders have long faced.
Finding the right mix of workplace learning that builds in-demand employee skills for varying positions across an entire enterprise can pose a significant challenge. That’s why the most innovative organizations make use of both training and formal education as part of their L&D initiatives.
Though you’ll often hear training and education used interchangeably, there are distinct differences — and both play a role in developing a highly-skilled, productive workforce that’s prepared to take on the future of work. The question is not whether to use training or education, but when to use each and for what purpose.
Let’s take a look at these key differences in workforce learning to see how this affects your current L&D strategy.
Understanding training in the workplace
Workforce training teaches proficiency in specific skills so that your employees are better equipped to do their job well. This can take place in formal learning environments, such as in an online classroom, or while on the job. Training is distinct from workforce education with its laser focus on individual topics or skills.
Let’s dive into this a little deeper.
- Often specific to an organization or job
Training can be used to get groups of individuals on the same page, ensuring employees are abiding by specific company or industry standards. For example, many IT departments administer company-wide cybersecurity training to ensure that employees are well-versed on how to address cybersecurity threats.
- Training encourages consistency of service or approach
When employees are trained with the same guidelines and instructions, everyone develops a baseline understanding of how things should work. This keeps business operations running smoothly and consistently.
- Typically short-term and laser-focused on a specific topic or skill
While it’s possible that you have a long-term training plan in place, the individual training sessions themselves usually take a shorter, set amount of time.For instance, when a person joins a company, their onboarding training can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the position and their level of experience. Having standalone training periods like this allow you to “plug-and-play” training as it’s needed throughout the employee lifecycle.
- Encourages rapid skills development
High-quality training allows you to fast-track skill building and increase productivity. This is especially useful when rolling out a new process or technology that requires employees to get up-to-speed quickly.
How education differs from training
While training builds specific skills, workforce education provides a broader foundation upon which more learning can take place. It provides context, promotes critical thinking and teaches individuals how to look at problems from multiple angles. Education implies broader, longer-term thinking behind the more narrow topics of study.
For example, education on tax accounting may cover topics like the progression of tax accounting over the past hundred years, nuances and ramifications of tax fraud, effective tax strategies based on business type or how proposed tax laws may affect the future of accounting.
In comparison, tax training more likely covers the details of filling in IRS Form 1120-S, how to execute specific tax strategies, how to look up the tax code to confirm you’re in compliance and other tasks that can make you a better bookkeeper or accountant.
Similarly, nursing education may give an overview of the nursing profession, with exposure to different specialties like NICU, endocrinology and orthopedics. It would also require a significant understanding of medical sciences, procedures, tests and their results, including discussions of patient care and bedside manner. This knowledge allows nurses to synthesize vast amounts of information about a patient’s situation, make more informed decisions about their care and communicate clearly and compellingly with patients and other care providers.
As nurses begin their clinical training, they begin to put their knowledge to use on real patients. If they’re already practicing, they may receive training on medical records software, intensive clinical practice on a new procedure or a management class to prepare for a promotion.
Characteristics of workforce education
Education encapsulates more under its umbrella than training does. Within the context of the workforce, here are some specifics on how to think about education:
- Teaches critical thinking
Instead of learning the specific details of completing a task, education aims to show the individual how to figure it out on their own. This is not always specific to a job. Education encourages learners to draw conclusions and solve problems by asking questions and pursuing multiple paths of thinking.
This is particularly beneficial for individuals who strive for a career — one that comes with opportunities for advancement and leadership development.
- Typically takes a longer time
Degrees and other types of learning credentials take time for a reason. It can take months or years to become adequately educated on a subject. However, unlike traditional full-time students, adult learners are in a unique position that allows them to take what they learn and apply it on the job almost immediately.
- Theoretical, yet vital
Whether through a college degree, short-form certification or other learning credentials, education surrounds employees with ideas and then asks them to be curious. It’s this kind of curiosity that sparks creativity and innovation — benefitting both the employee and ultimately, your business.
Training vs. education: Why both are necessary for your workforce
By now, you know that both training and education are vital to the prosperity of your workforce.
When used alongside each other, training and education work together to equip your employees with the skills and confidence to be successful in their roles. Job training is an excellent place to start for short-term skills and learning needs, whereas education is a longer-term investment that puts workers on the path to meaningful career advancement and even leadership development.
It’s worth noting that although many modern organizations are moving towards skills-based hiring, this doesn’t negate the need for training, degrees and learning credentials. In fact, it reinforces it.
Removing degree requirements from job listings opens doors for countless skilled individuals that may not have had access to formal education or job training. This means companies that adopt a skills-based hiring approach must invest even more in quality training and education so that their people have the continuous learning opportunities needed to succeed in the long term.
Regardless of your industry, having skilled employees is an essential asset to your organization. Knowing when to apply different teaching methods creates a workforce powerhouse of confident, career-driven people who are ready to take on the future.