How can what you learn transform who you become?

4 minute read 22 Jun 2020

As virtual learning accelerates, critical workforce reskilling and upskilling becomes ever more possible.

As the world confronted a global pandemic, a new course was plotted that would change learning and development forever. The World Economic Forum reported that COVID-19 pulled more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries from the classroom. Many of them, along with working professionals, were abruptly launched into a new virtual learning reality.

Even before COVID-19, a virtual learning shift was taking place, driven by digital transformation. Online education was projected to reach $350 billion by 2025. At EY, we invested $530 million USD in skills training in 2019 alone.

The pandemic exacerbated the trend, catapulting virtual learning into the mainstream. Not just for traditional academic institutions, but organizations, too, as their continuity and innovation were often vital to our ongoing, collective recovery. EY saw a 40% uplift in our online learning resources in just a matter of weeks.

According to LinkedIn Learning, 64% of learning and development (pdf) professionals say reskilling to fill workforce gaps became more of a priority for organizations than ever before. As the pandemic tested the limits of our societies, it also brought demand for upskilling to its most critical point.

Our need wasn’t just for proficiency in new and emerging skillsets to fill gaps, but to upskill in a way that will ultimately boost our resilience and help us become more adaptable in the face of an uncertain future. To establish growth mindsets and cultivate transformative leaders who will steer us through challenging times. And to build the agility and internal mobility to hang on to our workforce while margins are being squeezed.

As rapid change has unfurled over the last decade, training and education and programs have struggled to keep pace with the demand for new skillsets to equip us for the future. But, for the first time – thanks to emerging technology – we’ve developed the agile learning environment and the scale to begin meeting demand. What’s unfolding now, is a democratization of learning – reaching more people in more ways, from apps and video conferencing tools to virtual tutoring and online learning software.

The need isn’t just for proficiency in new and emerging skillsets to fill gaps, but to upskill in a way that will ultimately boost our resilience and help us become more adaptable in the face of an uncertain future.

For example, at EY, we just introduced a virtual, corporate MBA that’s available to all our people in more than 150 countries – entirely free of charge. The EY Tech MBA is offered by Hult International Business School, a triple-accredited, leading business school with a learning curriculum that’s custom-built by EY.

With campuses in Shanghai, Dubai, London, Boston, San Francisco and New York, EY is already the number one employer of Hult graduates. So, we know it’s highly relevant to what our people and our clients need.

Following this example, enterprises could endow their workforce with future-focused skills like AI, blockchain, robotic process animation, along with mindset topics like diversity, purpose and inspiration. Keeping programs flexible, allows people to learn at their own pace – whether it takes them 18 months or six years to complete.

These designations should be  part of a wider strategy enabling our people to build the careers they want, in a way that suits them –  at EY it's called It’s yours to build. In other words, transformation won’t just happen because of where you work, but you can be given all the tools to make it happen.

According to HR Digest, one of the main reasons for employee dissatisfaction and, ultimately, departure is lack of professional escalation or lack of training. We know that providing opportunities for career growth is one of the key factors contributing to high levels of employee engagement. At EY, we think of engagement as a combination of factors – pride, advocacy, commitment and satisfaction.

From a business standpoint, we have a chance to, not only develop the workforce we need to grow and succeed in business, but to develop the kind of leaders that will drive long-term, sustainable growth and foster trust in our societies.

Today we have a unique opportunity, by blending virtual and traditional learning, to create new, hybrid experiences across new mediums with the potential for more innovation, more diversity of thought and more collaboration across borders and communities.

Although much of this virtual learning was established to provide continuity during a period of crisis and disruption, the widespread adoption of these online education tools will take us far beyond continuity. 

In the months ahead, we’ll see more organizations taking what we already know about learning and development and building on it – with the goal to make training more engaging, agile, accessible and collaborative. Companies will begin to cultivate cultures of learning, as they explore the potential of virtual learning and how technology enables our people to become curators of their own destiny. Ongoing learning won’t just be something you do at your job; it will become the foundation of the career experience.


Emerging technology has allowed for the agile learning environment and scale to democratize learning. The blending of virtual and traditional learning creates more collaboration across borders and communities while boosting resilience in an everchanging world.

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