Companies continue to put substantial resources into employee training programs with the hope that these MP900401942programs will prepare their employees for jobs now and in the future. For example, AT&T is starting to retrain its entire workforce as it transitions from phone lines to the cloud.

In an article for the Wall Street Journal titled, “AT&T’s Ambitious Effort to Retrain More than 100,000 Workers,” Rachel King writes:

As AT&T Inc. takes on a massive effort to transform its technology infrastructure, the company is trying to give workers new skills for the new environment…The scale of the effort is unusual as many companies today tend to lay off employees when their technology skills become obsolete and hire new employees with the new skills. AT&T is an example of a company that’s trying something different in an effort to close the U.S. digital skills gap, where demand for highly-skilled tech jobs outstrips the supply of qualified workers.

The problem with AT&T’s approach to change is that training isn’t learning. Formal training programs, including online classes, do not transfer into performance improvement unless the organization culture is aligned. That is, goals are clear, expectations are high, managers are supportive, practice is immediate and frequent, and learners are held accountable for results.

Rachel King interviewed me for her article about AT&T and included this quote:

The success that AT&T will see overall depends largely on how the program is implemented, said Stephen J. Gill, co-owner of Learning to Be Great, a firm which helps companies create a learning culture. Skills learned in online classes need to be reinforced on the job by managers, he said. “Whether the training program will translate to AT&T preparing employees for the future is a leap of faith,” he added.

I would argue that companies like AT&T can't depend on faith. They need to be very intentional about learning, not training. The culture of these large, long-standing organizations is typically one of command-and-control management, hierarchical decision-making, silos of work, and fear of failure. This is not an environment conducive to learning and applying that learning on the job. Training is nice, but learning is what the company needs.