By Nikolas Kairinos, Founder and CEO, Soffos
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, e-learning platforms and online training became less of an option and more of a necessity. Although such software had been on the horizon for quite some time, as news of the pandemic and strict social distancing measures brought in-person programmes to a standstill, employers were left with little other choice than to adapt their learning and development (L&D) strategies.
From virtual lectures and Q&As, to industry-specific webinars and tutorials, corporations and small businesses alike have changed the way they share knowledge and upskill their employees. That said, this move to entirely digitised learning has not been without its trials and tribulations.
The pandemic has thrown up different challenges for businesses across all sectors looking to bolster the career development of their employees. Indeed, a significant 42% of full-time workers admit that they find it difficult to properly engage with learning materials and training courses when they are conducted online, according to a recent survey commissioned by Soffos.ai.
With the new digital landscape to endure for the foreseeable future, e-learning platforms remain the obvious solution to the need to support workers’ career progression. So, here are some things to consider when considering whether your L&D strategies are in tune with your employees’ needs…
Taking a person-first approach
One of the first questions employers should ask themselves, is whether their e-learning L&D caters to the masses. If this is the case, it might be time for a change in tack.
The truth is, most businesses are guilty of taking a blanket approach, where a made-to-measure plan is what is actually required. The biggest problem with this is that generic learning solutions, designed to inform your employees using only one simple method (think basic lectures and top-line Q&As), fail to take into account individual differences and learning styles. Naturally, one style won’t be for everyone, and employees might fail to adequately absorb and utilise new information if the way it is presented does not chime with their preferred learning technique.
Ordinarily, in-person sessions provide an antidote to this, as mentors are often able to customize information to suit workers, or else answer any questions when needed. But as we are likely to be working from our kitchen tables for some time yet, it would be wise for companies to determine how their staff members work best.
A positive first step would be to conduct an organization-wide survey to find out individual learning styles, before investing in new resources. HR leaders should then work with employees to plan an L&D programme that fits their unique needs and goals, and encourage active learning methods. For example, supplementing standard lecture and exam-based learning with other methods, like online moderated classrooms and Zoom de-briefs will ensure that individuals are engaging better with content.
Ensuring that learning is holistic
Another problem with straightforward online L&D is that it often lacks a ‘human’ quality, so employers would do well to keep this in mind when developing their training strategies. It goes without saying, but unless your organization has already invested in state-of-the-art software, users won’t be able to ask their computer questions to clarify material, and will often be left with a library full of resources but nobody to turn to if they get stuck.
In the aforementioned Soffos.ai survey, only 19% of workers agreed that online learning software or courses are an effective replacement for in-person teaching. And although replicating in-person training sessions is a difficult task in the working from home environment, there are some ways that organizations can get a head start.
One such method would be to encourage active discussion amongst colleagues, or consider checking in with employees after courses have been delivered. Doing so will ensure that the experience lends itself to a more “Socratic” style of learning, and allows members of staff to engage in an exchange of information, enabling both peers and mentors to contribute.
For organizations with bigger budgets, investing in Natural Language Processing (NLP) software that does all of the hard work for them will pay dividends in both staff productivity and employee relationships. These tools work by utilising voice and text natural language conversation to prompt your staff with conversational cues, allowing them to discuss learning materials without ever needing a training leader to supervise. This is a great way to make learning feel engaging and informal, just as though employees were talking to an experienced member of staff.
Looking to AI for answers
Increasingly, investing in technologies that look to make a big impact by using artificial intelligence (AI) will be the best move for employers when upskilling their workforce. And with some luck, this will mean that the days of generic training solutions – ones that rely on large pre-made archives which contain no reference to specific organizations and their individual practices – will finally be a thing of the past.
Cutting-edge AI technologies will render such strategies null in the future, as they will be able to adapt training materials to suit specific organizations. From integrating company lingo, cultural nuances and information specific to certain roles within your company, the AI-powered platforms of tomorrow should hopefully speak your company’s language.
The benefit of this, is that like your employees, AI technologies will learn consistently from their interactions with members of staff, and will be able to adjust their output. For example, if an employee doesn’t quite understand a specific piece of information, AI-powered software will be able to reword this to make the material easier to digest.
Ultimately, although the past year has been tricky for HR departments developing their L&D strategies, the future looks bright for e-learning. In the weeks and months to come, there are a number of things business leaders can do to boost their training strategies, and ensure that their employees are set up for success.
Nikolas Kairinos is the chief executive officer and founder of Soffos, the world’s first AI-powered KnowledgeBot. The platform streamlines corporate learning and development (L&D) to deliver seamless professional training for employees. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Foxconn chairman says expects “limited impact” from chip shortage on clients
TAIPEI (Reuters) – The chairman of Apple Inc supplier Foxconn said on Saturday he expects his company and its clients will face only “limited impact” from a chip shortage that has rattled the global automotive and semiconductor industries.
“Since most of the customers we serve are large customers, they all have proper precautionary planning,” said Liu Young-way, chairman of the manufacturing conglomerate formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd
“Therefore, the impact on these large customers is there, but limited,” he told reporters.
Liu said he expected the company to do well in the first half of 2021, “especially as the pandemic is easing and demand is still being sustained.”
The global spread of COVID-19 has increased demand for laptops, gaming consoles, and other electronics. This caused chip manufacturers to reallocate capacity away from the automotive sector, which was expecting a steep downturn.
Now, car manufacturers such as Volkswagen AG, General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co have cut output as chip capacity has shrunk.
Counterpoint Research says the shortage has extended to the smartphone sector, with application processors, display driver chips, and power management chips all facing a crunch.
However, the research firm predicts Apple will face a minimal impact, due to its large size and its suppliers’ tendency to prioritise it. Apple is Foxconn’s largest customer.
Foxconn is looking at other areas for growth, including in electric vehicles (EVs), and Liu said their EV development platform MIH now had 736 partner companies participating.
He expected it would have two or three models to show by the fourth quarter, though did not expect EVs to make an obvious contribution to company earnings until 2023.
Liu also said the company was still looking for semiconductor fab purchase opportunities in Southeast Asia after not winning a bid to take over a stake in Malaysia-based 8-inch foundry house Silterra.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Jeanny Kao; Writing by Josh Horwitz; Editing by William Mallard and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
EU seeks alliance with U.S. on climate change, tech rules
By Sabine Siebold and Kate Abnett
BERLIN (Reuters) – Europe and the United States should join forces in the fight against climate change and agree on a new framework for the digital market, limiting the power of big tech companies, European Union chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said.
“I am sure: A shared transatlantic commitment to a net-zero emissions pathway by 2050 would make climate neutrality a new global benchmark,” the president of the European Commission said in a speech at the virtual Munich Security Conference on Friday.
“Together, we could create a digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide: a set of rules based on our values, human rights and pluralism, inclusion and the protection of privacy.”
The EU has pledged to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, while President Joe Biden has committed the United States to become a “net zero economy” by 2050.
Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times and avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
The hope is that a transatlantic alliance could help persuade large emitters who have yet to commit to this timeline – including China, which is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060, and India.
“The United States is our natural partner for global leadership on climate change,” von der Leyen said.
She called the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol a turning point for the discussion on the impact social media has on democracies.
“Of course, imposing democratic limits on the uncontrolled power of big tech companies alone will not stop political violence,” von der Leyen said. “But it is an important step.”
She was referring to a draft set of rules unveiled in December which aims to rein in tech companies that control troves of data and online platforms relied on by thousands of companies and millions of Europeans for work and social interactions.
They show the European Commission’s frustration with its antitrust cases against the tech giants, notably Alphabet Inc’s Google, which critics say have not addressed the problem.
But they also risk inflaming tensions with Washington, already irked by Brussels’ attempts to tax U.S. tech firms more.
Von der Leyen said Facebook’s decision on a news blackout on Thursday in response to a forthcoming Australian law requiring it and Google to share revenue from news underscored the importance of a global approach to dealing with tech giants.
(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Robin Emmott and Nick Macfie; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Packaged food giants push direct online sales to gauge consumer tastes
By Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu
(Reuters) – Packaged food giants including Kraft Heinz, General Mills and Kellogg are pushing sales of their products to consumers directly via their own online channels, in a quest to gather more data about shoppers’ purchasing habits.
Velveeta-cheese maker Kraft Heinz saw its e-commerce sales double in 2020, now representing more than 5% of its global sales, Chief Executive Miguel Patricio said at the virtual Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference this week.
The company sells Heinz baked beans and tomato soup by subscription or in bundles directly to consumers on a “Heinz To Home” website in the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe.
Sales on the site are “giving us valuable insights into consumer behavior, enabling us to quickly test and learn from innovations,” Kraft’s head of international business, Rafael de Oliveira, said at the conference.
Kraft would continue to use the site as a channel to generate strong sales in developed markets, he said.
The company also counts sales of its products through marketplaces such as on Amazon.com and Walmart.com as part of its e-commerce sales.
U.S. shoppers spent on average $1,271 buying groceries online last year, 45% more than they did in 2019 as the pandemic spurred shopping online, according to market research firm Earnest Research. In contrast, the average dollars spent in stores rose only about 7% to $3,849.
PepsiCo sells products including Doritos, Quaker oats and Gatorade directly to consumers through two websites, pantryshop.com and snacks.com, both launched in 2020.
Chief Financial Officer Hugh Johnston said that more than 45% of the company’s capital investments over the next few years would be dedicated toward manufacturing capacity, automation, and a “ramping up of investments in our e-commerce channel.”
As major online retailers including Amazon.com and Walmart.com continue to gather valuable data on shoppers, many packaged food manufacturers are keen to gather their own data on shoppers, too.
“COVID (has) simply accelerated our digital growth and has provided us with yet another source of data and insight,” Monica McGurk, chief growth officer at breakfast cereal maker Kellogg Co., told the conference.
Kellogg, producer of Corn Flakes as well as Pringles chips, said on Wednesday it had launched a direct-to-consumer website focused on digestive wellness. The group plans to sell its new Mwell Microbiome Powder for gut health via the site to gather data on customer interest before it launches the product more widely.
E-commerce sales have doubled in the past year and now represent about 8.5% of the group’s $13.77 billion in annual sales, Kellogg said.
Pillsbury dough-maker General Mills also sees the benefits of tracking consumer habits more closely.
“We’re aggressively investing in data and analytics. We are gathering unparalleled insights from the first-party data we collect through our brand websites,” General Mills’ Chief Executive Jeffrey Harmening said at the conference.
On its Bettycrocker.com website, General Mills provides hundreds of recipes using Betty Crocker cake mixes and frosting. The site leads people to the closest store or an online retailer where they can purchase the products, thereby generating data for General Mills on what a particular customer from a certain zip code is buying. The company does not sell the food products directly on its website.
Consumers, however, may have to shell out more if they shop directly from brand websites.
Prices on the two PepsiCo sites, for example, were generally higher than those on Walmart.com or Amazon.com, Reuters checks show. On Walmart.com, for example, a 10 oz pack of Doritos Nacho Cheese was on sale for $2.50 compared to $4.29 on Pepsico’s website.
Kraft Heinz offers tins of soup, beans, pasta and baby food bundled into packs ranging from six to 25 items and costing between 10 and 20 pounds ($14.01-$28.03) on its UK website. It told Reuters the relatively higher prices of items and bundling of packs than on some other online marketplaces was to be able to eke out a margin after including delivery costs.
“Longer term, we see real value in this channel to be an insight and data channel for us,” Jean-Philippe Nier, head of e-commerce for Kraft Heinz’s business in the UK and Ireland, told Reuters. People are more prepared to order directly from manufacturers than they were before. The time is now.”
Graphic: Direct online sales to cross $20 billion in 2021 – https://graphics.reuters.com/PACKAGEDFOODS-ECOMMERCE/rlgpdexngvo/chart.png
($1 = 0.7137 pounds)
(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Susan Fenton)
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