New report reveals flexible learning as the key to talent retention challenge

A new report from The Open University into public sector skills, Embracing Flexibility, highlights a desire for more flexibility and learning and development opportunities in one of the largest recent UK public sector employee surveys.

According to this four-nations report, adapting to a flexible hybrid working model is key to staff retention within the public sector, indicating the pandemic’s effect on ways of working is here to stay.

It revealed that three quarters (73%) of public sector employees state they are more likely to stay in a job that allowed remote or hybrid working options.

Public sector workers also emphasised the importance of learning and development opportunities. The new survey revealed that out of more than 2,500 respondents, 8 in 10 public sector employees cite learning and development as key to job satisfaction in the public sector.

However, a lack of flexibility is hindering training, since almost a third (29%) of respondents cite a lack of flexible working hours as a factor preventing public sector employees from participating in training opportunities. A desire for flexibility is even carried through to learning, with blended learning shown to be the preferred learning style at 55% and distance learning at 25%.

Balvinder Johal, Director Sector Business Development, The Open University said: “The public sector has traditionally been at the forefront of workplace change. From flexible working, to creches, to job shares, many employees have been able to build long-lasting careers and fulfil their ambitions around their personal responsibilities.

“But two years ago, the UK business landscape was forced to adapt to the pandemic, leading to a rapid acceleration of this change, with public sector employers and employees still trying to understand what increased hybrid and flexible working means in the future.

“Our survey reflects the desire for flexible learning, hybrid models and remote working, suggesting they are here for the long-term in many job roles, but employees still want to engage in learning and development to reach their full potential.

“This report outlines the challenge for public sector leaders and L&D teams. The future will require more choice, driving better awareness, and rethinking the way learning is delivered in the workplace.”

The report further demonstrates a lack of awareness of training amongst employees with more than one in four respondents (27%) feeling unsure about the training that was available for their role and almost one in five (17%) did not know what formats of training were offered.

This highlights a missed opportunity for employers, suggesting that public sector organisations need to communicate more clearly to remote and hybrid workers about training offerings to aid retention.

Public sector employees also expressed a desire to upskill on technology and leadership. The combination of digital services and remote working makes technology skills essential.

The report suggests more than a third (35%) of UK public sector employees would like to improve their digital skills. Leadership and management training showed to be the most popular area of learning in this survey, favoured by 29% of public sector employees overall and rising to 48% in Wales, 48% in Scotland and 54% in Northern Ireland.