Upskilling in North America: You’re on Your Own

New Whitepaper Reveals Critical Gaps in Skills and Training Development in Small and Midsize Businesses

TORONTO, April 19, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- D2L, a global learning technology company, released a new whitepaper today with research that reveals the depths of the talent recruitment and retention challenge currently facing small- and medium-sized enterprises. Businesses polled struggle to support training outside the workplace, even as their employees search for options to upgrade their skills. The resulting gap between what employers can provide and what employees want is deepening a talent crisis in North America, as both businesses and workers are left without good options to upskill and grow.

Enabling Upskilling at Scale: Adapting to Meet the Needs of the Working Learner provides insight into the challenges currently faced by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in supporting skills development, and shows the role employers, higher education institutions, and governments need to play to enable lifelong learning.

“Employees need access to programs to help build their skills throughout their careers and employers need the means to provide that training to maintain skilled talent,” says John Baker, President and CEO at D2L. “But it’s clear from our research that many small and medium-sized enterprises in North America are struggling to provide these valuable upskilling opportunities for their employees, even as their employees are looking for ways to keep learning. This is a big problem that will only get worse if we together don’t act soon to help solve it.”

D2L, in partnership with Innovative Research Group, set out to explore the current state of programs and policies that a sample of small- and medium-sized enterprises in North America have in place to support lifelong employee learning, to gauge the level of interest from employers in participating in different programs, and to identify barriers to greater access to skills training.

The research revealed:

  • Recruitment and retention of talented employees are the biggest human resources challenges facing SMEs in both the U.S. and Canada today. Only 21% of Canadian small- to medium-sized enterprises report feeling very confident that they will have the skills and talent needed to grow their organizations over the next three years, compared with 47% of those in the U.S. who say the same.
  • Few employers provide financial support or time off for employees to take on external training. Only about one in three small- to medium-sized enterprises (34% in the U.S. and Canada) say they provide support for training opportunities outside of the workplace.
  • Uptake of external training programs remains low for employees despite interest, with major barriers cited including cost and not having the time. Only 12% of Canadian employees and 17% of U.S. employees report taking on training outside of the workplace in the last 12 months despite 72% of Canadian employees and 78% of U.S. employees reporting being somewhat or very interested in taking on training.

In its new whitepaper, D2L also offers recommendations for the actions employers, higher education institutions, and policymakers can take today to ensure working learners have access to the skills training and ongoing learning they need.

  1. Employers should invest in employee skill development as part of organizational resilience. Offering financial support and time off for employees to incorporate learning into their busy lives is essential to building steady pipelines of talent for jobs that may not yet exist. Technology should be leveraged to provide ready access to learning that aligns with the skills employees need.
  2. Higher education institutions should adapt to better serve adult learners and employers with high-quality, flexible, and industry-aligned training. More than increasing traditional continuing education offerings, institutions need to imagine new models of programs to support working learners who have competing responsibilities and demands at home and at work, and seek out partnerships with employers to offer learning as part of existing education benefit programs.
  3. Governments at all levels have an essential role to play in unifying stakeholders around a collective vision for workforce development, including uplifting voices of small- and medium-sized enterprises in their consultations and exploring taxable incentives to encourage employer investments in training funds for employees.

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to shed light on a critical issue for small and medium-sized enterprises, which are frequently overlooked when it comes to skills development,” says Baker. “As one of the world’s leading education technology companies, we’re eager to help make sure that employers and employees across North America are able to keep growing, keep learning, and keep our economy ready to respond to the future.”

Read Enabling Upskilling at Scale: Adapting to Meet the Needs of the Working Learner.

About D2L  
D2L is transforming the way the world learns—helping learners of all ages achieve more than they dreamed possible. Working closely with clients all over the world, D2L is supporting millions of people learning online and in person. Our growing global workforce is dedicated to making the best learning products to leave the world better than they found it. Learn more at

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