Executive Summary

In this year when national and world crises have unexpectedly hit everyone in healthcare and public safety harder than imaginable, leaders might be tempted to write off 2020 data as so far out of the norm that it skews analysis of trends.

However, changes wrought in 2020 will have implications for staff development and training for years to come. As a case in point, the coronavirus pandemic has underlined the need to train staff so they are competent and prepared for future crisis situations.

The Relias 2020 State of Training and Staff Development Report, initiated in February before COVID-19 had widespread effects, was designed to take stock of the national perspective on five broad staff development and training issues in healthcare and public safety organizations. Because healthcare operations changed dramatically in the months after the coronavirus threat appeared, we conducted a follow-up survey in June to capture those trends.

Findings show that COVID-19 drove organizations to place even more emphasis on training and staff development beyond the importance given to professional education early in the year.

As a leader looking at the 2020 survey analysis, you may want to focus on perceived gaps in training as opportunities for new approaches to achieve optimal results. The data then can inform your immediate and long-term action plans for staff development in your organization.

Finding: Compliance with external requirements strongly motivates investment in training.

Licensing and certification needs continue to drive training dollars. A dramatically higher percentage of overall respondents acknowledged this need in 2020 than five years ago. Of healthcare respondents, 25% said their investment in training and staff development was too low.

Takeaway: Although an external driver, compliance has powerful internal benefits too. Compliance safeguards the organization’s reputation and fiscal strength by avoiding government-imposed financial penalties. It also can boost staff confidence and competence, aiding retention and supporting high-quality service.

COVID-19 Insights: A third of healthcare respondents increased their training amid the pandemic. Organizations tend to be increasing training for existing front-line employees (healthcare 54%, public safety 27%) more than they are increasing compliance-driven training or new-hire training. This shows recognition of the value of training to be prepared for and navigate within a crisis.

Finding: Most respondents see strong value in staff development and training, and they identified topics related to interpersonal skills and job competencies as priority needs.

Although compliance is a big driver, respondents strongly recognized the need for staff development that supports front-line interactions with the people receiving services.

Takeaway: Survey participants indicate a need for training related to leadership, communication, and competency, especially in infection control, mental health, and trauma-informed care.

COVID-19 Insights: Training was deemed highly important to even more respondents during the pandemic (healthcare 91%, public safety 83%) than in the February pre-COVID-19 survey. More post-acute care participants (74%) especially recognized its importance since the pandemic. Healthcare is prioritizing infection control, pandemic planning, employee wellness and self-care, and telehealth; public safety is prioritizing employee wellness and self-care, pandemic planning, and infection control.

Finding: Organizations are not widely using their systems to evaluate the effectiveness of training, even though many respondents use online training and tracking.

Many organizations (healthcare 61%, public safety 40%) are using online systems for more than half of their training. However, less than half of respondents (41%) indicated positive or well-developed methods of evaluating whether training is put in practice on the job. More than a third of respondents still use paper or word processing files for tracking training.

Takeaway: Tracking the completion of training and analyzing its effectiveness on the job are areas ripe for improvement. Because the use of learning management systems is growing (44% in 2020 vs. 33% in 2017), learning and development leaders should consider ways to use those systems to tie training to performance and impact on business objectives.

COVID-19 Insights: Many respondents noted a major or moderate shift toward online training (healthcare 76%, public safety 82%). In healthcare, a learning management system (LMS) was the most common new method of tracking training (24%); in public safety, database (23%) and LMS (21%) tracking were the methods adopted most often.

Finding: Less than half of healthcare respondents indicated that training directly affects the organization’s financial results, and that area ranked lowest when they identified areas where training showed positive results.

Although most respondents (76%) said training has a positive impact on business goals, they are not recognizing clear financial results from the investment. Training was seen to have the most impact on compliance, core staff clinical competencies, and risk management.

Takeaway: Executives should ensure that learning and development professionals are aware of high-level goals, then they can use their systems to measure the effectiveness of training and link that to outcome measures to show a return on investment.

COVID-19 Insights: With almost half of respondents (47%) noting a major change in the use of online training during the pandemic, online tracking becomes more feasible as well. As noted in the previous finding, more healthcare organizations are now using an LMS to track their training (24%).

Finding: Public safety respondents noted gaps in training and lack of time as the biggest weaknesses of their programs.

On the positive side, participants identified the relevance of training content as the top strength.

Takeaway: Organizational leaders need to consider creative scheduling and online options to ensure their staff members have adequate training and time to take courses.

COVID-19 Insights: The pandemic may be facilitating ease of access to support future training, as a major change in the amount of online training was noted by more than half (61%) of public safety respondents.

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