Over the past six years, professional services giant EY has transformed its HR function.
A particular focus of this HR transformation has been learning – with the aim of moving “from a compliance-driven culture to a development culture”, Jon Turner, global learning innovation leader at EY, shares exclusively with UNLEASH.
For EY, like many enterprise businesses, there is a requirement for a lot of mandatory learning, particularly in the audit, assurance and accounting sides of the company.
“We are heavily regulated,” he said. “So, there’s very minimal opportunity…to develop yourself” in other areas.
EY’s learning team is on a mission to change that.
“We want to motivate people to learn, provide more opportunities to learn, and more sponsorship and leadership around that.”
EY on learning as an experience
EY has had huge successes in this area to date.
In 2022 alone, it invested $300 million in formal employee training, and 20 million learning hours were achieved (an average of 59 per person).
While business impact is crucial to EY’s investment in learning, the employer is aware that success comes from thinking about learning in terms of experience: helping its people build the career they want.
A key component of EY’s learning transformation was the launch of LEAD, a new global careers model.
This shifted EY away from the classic annual performance review process, and towards continuous, real-time feedback (with the help of Qualtrics), which focuses on career journeys.
As part of the LEAD model, all of EY’s 400,000 employees have a counsellor – “they are not your line manager”, but someone a level above who looks out specifically for workers’ careers.
“That relationship is key in terms of supporting you through career planning, career path mapping, looking at opportunities for learning and development, and then managing your own broader performance,” notes Turner.
All counsellors have been upskilled in how to have productive conversations with employees to ensure that the relationship is strong and successful.
Of course, it is all good and well for EY to empower workers to talk about their career aspirations, but the employer also needed to provide a way for them to learn relevant skills.
EY has always worked with a couple of learning content providers – but four years ago, the professional services giant went out to tender.
Turner explains: “We wanted to find a vendor that had the sufficient quantity, quality and breadth of content, but, just as importantly, the ability, the agility, to create content to support what was happening, and the skills that were emerging.”
EY settled on Udemy, which has 24,000 courses; more than 13,000 of those courses are in international languages, which is crucial as the professional services giant has employees in 150 countries worldwide.
Achieving retention through micro-credentials
The core of Udemy and EY’s partnership over the past four years has been around an industry-leading badges program.
“We needed an organization that had that agility and that breadth of access to subject matter expertise, the ability to create content very rapidly” – it needed to be content that EY needed, but also what “the market is demanding”.
Ultimately, at EY, badges are all about future-focused skills in three pillars: tech, business and leadership. Badges enable employees to continuously learn, develop and stay relevant in a world that never stands still.
Badges at EY are also a great example of that learning experience focus. To complete a badge at EY, employees have to on the job demonstration of the skill.
“You have to apply the learning”, notes Turner.
Employees must prove that they have done so by having “someone that you’ve worked on the project [with] that is more senior than you attest that you’ve done it”, shares Turner.
“Then you have to have an [internal] subject matter expert review the paper that you submit on that experience”.
EY now pays these experts for their time, which drives a better learner experience.
The professional services giant finds that earning just one badge has an impact on people’s contribution at work.
But if you start to see badges as micro-credentials that can be layered on top of one another that has “incremental value”, notes Turner.
“The story that we’re telling is, yes, doing individual courses can be helpful. Gaining badges helps broadens skills, and helps with your own development” but “collecting or layering those badges together helps even more”.
“Then if you take that forward into a master’s degree program, that’s where real value comes through.”
So far, 245 people have completed EY’s MBA program, and, on average, they performed better than their peers without a masters in terms of their “book of business” and the deals they were closing.
Turner shares that this clear return on investment is “helpful in getting individuals that are a bit reticent to go beyond just an occasional additional course… [or] their manager’s requirements”.
Badging and micro-credentials has had a huge impact on EY’s retention rate.
While one EY badge improved retention by 5%, the MBA improved retention by 7%.
To further drive up those figures, EY is leaning into its employee value proposition, culture and values.
Becoming a skills-first organization
Importantly, EY is not resting on its laurels and seeing LEAD and badges as sufficient to continue to drive learning and development excellence.
For the fiscal year 2023, “the focus of our talent operation is to pivot to skills”, notes Turner.
This means that “rather than each individual function doing it’s different thing – recruitment focusing on recruitment, learning focusing on learning courses, performance focusing on feedback – we are bringing that all under one banner and having skills at the core”.
Badges and Udemy are a core contributor to that, but EY is also doing a piece of work “to assess where we’ve got skills gaps, and then do we fill those gaps as rapidly as possible”.
But also developing an opportunity marketplace where people can leverage their skills and badges to change jobs, move location and gain promotions.
EY is also doing some experimentation around emerging technologies.
Turner shares that the learning team has been leveraging generative AI to generate and translate content, as well as for the registration communications for events and to summarize huge amounts of learner feedback.
“We are trying to build out some more culture of innovation and agility in our team,” he adds.
“What we’re trying to do is leapfrog that by rapidly providing out use cases for new innovations, new techniques, and then using it in different areas, piloting a lot.”
The ultimate aim of EY is to use technology to create a “better experience for our people”.
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