Blue-Collar Workers Need Not Apply (Learning new skills via e-learning)

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Upskilling. Re-Skilling. Skils Development.  It sounds good. Heck, who wouldn’t want to receive learning/training on skill improvement OR on learning a new skill based on their interests OR the possibility of leadership development or a job role tied to a set of specific skills.

Go to nearly any learning system on the market who offers skills development and whole heartedly jumped feet first into tying it to job roles and in some cases to opportunities or mapping to a specific job that is available at the company.  Need a project manager?  Here are the skills you need.  And here is the content that you will need to complete or “pass” upon completion of said content, to acquire that skill.

Oh, look, you can complete this content on Adobe Photoshop, and get a badge to add to your learner profile in the system.  Better yet, take this course, read this PDF or view this content, and apply your digital badge to LinkedIn.  Skills development tied to leadership training?  Absolutely, we offer all this content “to a select few”, so that you are in the pipeline for future leadership roles and possibilities.

It is all sounds so wonderful, so fantastic.  The problem though is that despite a company saying that they embrace/believe in and so forth their entire employee workforce when it comes to online learning, the truth is entirely different.

Take a look at Executive Education programs online – even those tied to learning systems, it is a nice plus, something I support, but let’s not kid ourselves, not everyone at a company will get this opportunity.  Only those in a white-collar workforce.  Think of your company, and name me the last time, someone on the warehouse floor was offered an opportunity paid for by the company, to take one course in an EE program or if you have it tied to a college (some content for example), the same opporunity as everyone else.

Skills growth? White-collar focused. Learning new skills? White-collar.  Acquire knowledge and content at on the WWW (world wide web) while using the learning system and sharing it with your peers?  White-collar.   Social communities? Your white-collar workers.  Assigning content covering topics of management, leadership, and so on?  My bet, the learners assigned are coming from one slice of your company, those with white-collar jobs.

The Call

I attended an analyst call late last week which for those who are not analysts, is when you have a bunch of analysts from different companies on a call with a vendor, covering numerous items.  In this case, it was a very informal dinner (a reallly nice gesture).   What struck me as odd, okay, what irritated me more so, was that one of the analysts on the call, was talking about skills and referred to those in management and teams. It was very clear this person wasn’t referring to all in the workplace, just those in the “office”, the white-collar.  I know this because the topic was around remote workers at home. 

I said outloud (we were all on a virtual call) that doesn’t apply to blue-collar workers, and they continued to talk, so I figured they didn’t hear me.  So I texted it in the chat room, and again, no retort from this individual.

It pained me.  Not because this analyst was saying those things, but because they are not the only one.  In the corporate landscape, there is a different playing field when it comes to the workforce.  It started with ILT, and has continued in vILT and e-learning.  Heck, it was present in the early days of online learning, and rather than taking it head on and making the changes needed, it has continued to fester.

To be clear, not every company does what I am about to cover, nor doesn’t do what this piece is about, they are fully committed to the blue-collar workforce and learning and training, beyond skills to do their job, or safety-focused.  But they are by far not the norm.

And therein lies the problem.

C-Level involvement – It’s Hot, but really it is cold

The hot new trend in the e-learning market is the active involvement with the C-level executive (often the CEO) with online learning for their employees.  But ask yourself this, who are they really targeting when they say we want to provide online learning to their remote workforce.   “Remote” here is the key word.

If they have a workforce on the shop floor, in a warehouse, the custiodial staff, and so forth, they are not talking about them, because they are not working remote.  Who is?  White-collar.  Your HRIS staff? White-collar.  IT? White-collar. Accounting, Sales, Marketing and so on… – White-collar.  These are the folks they are talking about. 

Lifelong learning? Another wonderful buzz that plays with the C-level involvement, that isn’t for everyone, nope.  That is all about the white-collar workforce. 

I’ve heard from some execs, including those in learning systems who say that they have clients who provide online learning opportunities for front-line workers, which they reference as if society sees these employees as blue-collar.

Here’s a hint.  No one does.  I’ve never heard anyone say “retail clerk” and blue-collar role in the same sentence.  Nobody says the sales person working at a retail place is a blue-collar worker.  The airline individual who is taking your ticket, isn’t seen in the public as a blue-collar worker.   Nor is the barista at your favorite coffee hangout, or the server at your deli. 

But, say the word cable installer or internet installer or electrician or plumber for example, and plenty of people will see those individuals as blue-collar.  

If you are an L&D exec or Training exec or even HR who is involved with online learning for your workforce, how many of your custodial staff are offered content for personal and professional development?  How many of your pick and pack warehouse employees get to select content based on their interests whether it is tied to their job role or not, and especially the latter?

The employees who are provided access to the learning  system, take a long hard look at that data.  What percentage of those accessing are your blue-collar work staff?  And of that percentage, how many are able to take content not related to their job role or assigned to them?  How many though are taking content (assuming they are allowed to do so by the company and take it at the company’s location, etc.) that is assigned to them, is compliance related, safety related, product related? 

This isn’t something as noted earlier that is new, the whole white-collar gets the perks of learning of all types of skills, but blue-collar doesn’t.  It has been seen over and over again with ILT.  Safety training for those on the plant floor.  Leadership development for the white-collar staff.   Interested in learning some skill not applicable to your job role, sure, if you work in the office.  Work at in the field, installing the power grid, sorry, no availability.

Leadership Development – What is missing?

Why do we believe that people who do work on the floor at a manufacturing plant or a warehouse or in custodial or maintenance, have zero interest in becoming a leader?  Why do we see them as people who are happy and content in the job role they were hired for, and never as someone who wants to move up?  Sure, you might see someone who can be a forperson for example, but who is to say, that there isn’t someone on the floor right now, learning on their own, so that one day, they can work in the “office”?

Companies seem to find it hard, to believe that such a person exists.  But, white-collar?  Plenty of people want to acquire more knowledge and skills.

Online learning with the personal and professional option can create an equal playing field.  Sure this is not applicable in many cases with edtech, but I am referring specifically to the corporate market.

I hear the “we can’t take them off the floor” way too many times.  I do not blame the L&D or Training or even HR person (if they are the person behind the e-learning inititatives), I do blame though the CEO or President or whoever is running that company.

Just as I blame those same folks for the “we do not have a computer at that location, because we do not have an internet connection there.”  Okay, so pay some $$$ and have a server either installed at that location(s) or pay the money to connect those locations, so that they can get the same broadband experience everyone in the office or offices get. 

You talk about the value of your employees? Okay, proof it.  Give your blue-collar staff the time to take an online course or content that goes beyond compliance, safety, product-related, HR focused or even job role.   Instead of saying to them, okay you can access the computer during your lunch break (which honestly, who wants to do this, and why wasn’t this the push for your white-collar workstaff), set aside one hour a week for them to experience the knowledge and learning acquisition that your white-collar workforce enjoys.

The Future of Work

It 100% applies to the white-collar workforce.  The remote workers – often noted – in any mention of it.  You want reality?  The future of work isn’t being applied to the blue-collar workers, unless it only means they have to be at the location working, during a deadly pandemic and thereafter going forward.

The Future of Learning

Applicable for the remote workforce. Available to the blue-collar workers?  Job-driven, maybe, but let’s not fool ourselves with the notion that upskilling is for everyone at your company or that re-skilling a word that sounds wonderful, is actually applied.

Next week, I will cover the biggest trend I see in L&D in 2021 – job related in this case (i.e. L&D and Training execs) and the repercussions of it, on the workforce. I’d love to say that it will apply to the entire workforce at a company, because it should, but when the rubber hits the road, too many companies will see it only from the eyes of their white-collar workforce.

And that is just plain wrong.

What can we do?

Impact of learning is the best way to enable your blue-collar workers to receive the same online learning perks as your remote white-collar workforce.  When the CEO says “we can’t take them off the floor”, but in the company’s mission statement or value statement, talks about all employees in some way that is always uplifiting and reassuring, then turn around, and say, so this only applies to a select few? 

Bottom Line

Remote workers (white-collar) are getting the perks of online learning, the opportunities to select topics of content based on their interests including skills they want to learn,  but not your other workforce, the ones that are essential to the success of your business or company.

These individuals have been told repeatedly in society, that they are not good enough, that they have no aspirations, that the best they will ever be is in a job role that they applied for and are working at. Sure, they can be happy, even love what they do, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get a chance to learn something new, something different based upon their interests and goals.

Everyone like to learn.

Now, let’s make it equal,

so they can.

E-Learning 24/7

One comment

  1. This article is spot on. I am currently commencing some research on the effectiveness of training and development for blue collar workers and its tangible benefits to organisations. I contest that if we expose the blue collar worker to the mechanics of running a business finance,marketing,strategy HR they can add much more to their contribution to its success. As well as all the engagement and ownership positives that come with that

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