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November 28, 2023

Train to retain: How to tackle learning and development as a scaleup

From lesson length to gamification, here are the key elements to ensuring your employees get the most out of your learning initiatives 

Tom Ritchie

6 min read

Upskilling employees through learning & development (L&D) has become a vital tool in retaining talent. A recent study by City & Guilds Group found that 41% of senior L&D and HR professionals view workplace learning as one of the most important factors in their ability to attract and keep their best employees. 

But it’s an area startups often struggle with. With limited budgets, focus on accelerated growth and a lack of an established learning culture in place, L&D programmes are often an afterthought. 

Rafael Guper, cofounder and COO of UJJI, an AI-powered L&D platform designed for scaleups, knows this problem only too well from his experience in building companies — he’s had two ventures in the past, as has his cofounder, Ludmila Milla. 


“People were always spinning plates, we ourselves were always micromanaging, dipping in and out of different workstreams,” he tells Sifted. “When we started to drill into this more deeply, we found the reason this happens is a lack of training in the startup and scaleup world.” 

Learning on the go

It might seem contradictory but with the downturn in the market and budgets being tightened even further, delivering the skills your scaleup needs to thrive to the people you already have in-house is becoming ever more important. According to research by the ScaleUp Institute, 80% of growing companies are increasing their training budgets.

“It's more efficient to make the best of the teams you have than to expand or spend a lot of money on talent attraction,” says Milla. 

It’s always in a staff member’s pocket with a mobile-first experience. They can complete this when they're on their commute or during their lunch and coffee breaks

But while companies may be willing to spend more, there’s no guarantee they’ll be getting bang for their buck. Guper cites industry-wide benchmarks that just 12.5% of employees will engage with a new optional L&D programme. After 90 days, that number drops to just 2.5%. 

How do startups ensure adoption across their teams? 

According to research of senior HR and L&D professionals in the UK by CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development), the biggest issue facing companies of all sizes is a lack of learner time, a problem that is likely exacerbated within scaleups. Some 42% of respondents felt staff don’t have the bandwidth or support from senior leaders to carve out time for learning. 

Guper says that delivering learning in smaller chunks — UJJI’s sessions typically last less than 15 minutes — with delivery across a range of devices, should help employees manage their own learning more effectively. 

“Our research shows that when people access learning through their browser or desktop screen, they just switch off. They think, ‘Here's something that will take two-three hours of my time’, and they just don’t engage with it,” he says. 

UJJI's AI solution

“We deliver bite-sized micro training. It’s always in a staff member’s pocket with a mobile-first experience. They can complete this when they're on their commute or during their lunch and coffee breaks.”

Cat Stevenson, people manager for Connectd, a startup that connects founders with investors and advisors, says the accessibility of the platform has proven popular with the company’s expanding team.

“As a fast-growing startup, we were looking for a L&D tool that could upskill the team to support personal and professional development. Due to a recent hiring spree, we also needed a tool to support a clear and structured onboarding process,” says Stevenson, adding that UJJI’s five-minute “learning pills” allow for greater flexibility and accessibility. 


Time to play the game 

Adoption also relies on designing engaging delivery mechanisms, underpinned by research into how people like to learn. 

The real-life task lets you put the learning into action straight away. You can validate your learnings straight off the bat

For example, Milla says elements of behavioural economics and neuroscience are built into UJJI’s platform. Rather than passive learning methods, such as listening to a video lecture or reading prescribed material, users are prompted into action. 

Most sessions start with a survey or quiz to establish the learner’s level of understanding of a topic, before short interactive audio or video lessons. Lastly, users are given tips on how to implement learning in their working environment. 

“One thing we learned is when people go into a session without knowing their own level of knowledge, they don’t absorb the knowledge. They get lost, and you lose them across the journey,” Guper says. “The real-life task lets you put the learning into action straight away. You can validate your learnings straight off the bat.” 

Activity is also encouraged through gamifying the process. For instance, through UJJI, learners can compare themselves to others within their team and win real-life perks such as trials, gifts, discounts and experiences UJJI's partners offer. Additionally, UJJI upskilling coins can soon be exchanged for vouchers from companies such as Uber, Nike or Deliveroo. 

“The 'gamified learning' module has received overwhelmingly positive feedback,” says Bilal Ishaq Khan, cofounder and CFO of Doji, a marketplace to sell unwanted and idle consumer tech. “It makes training more engaging and enjoyable. This not only boosts knowledge retention but also encourages friendly competition and collaboration among team members.”

Mohanjeet Arora, head of people of MOBKOI, a 150-people and counting scaling business in the advertising tech delivering creative mobile ad experiences agrees, adding “people love the avatar feature, the opportunity to change your outfit and look as you progress with your learning journey. By gamifying things, it is already getting quite competitive on the leaderboard.”

Tailoring learning to deliver business outcomes 

In the fast-paced environment of a scaleup where many new hires may be joining in quick succession, ensuring key processes are learned quickly is crucial. These can be fundamental elements of a company’s mission, its culture, its sales approach, its customer success approach or its product specificities that need to be absorbed and put into action straight away. 

We extract knowledge from existing documents, presentations, videos or URLs

To achieve this, UJJI uses a GenAI model to process key company information and generate bespoke learning programmes off the back of Word documents, Powerpoint presentations, Notion Pages, YouTube videos or URLs.

“We extract knowledge from existing documents, presentations, videos or URLs. You just upload that to the platform and then it extracts the specifics required to produce gamified training that follows that test, learn, play and apply methodology,” says Guper. 

Khan says Doji’s senior leadership felt that “off-the-shelf” learning programmes weren’t adequately delivering sustainability training for employees. 

“Doji is committed to sustainability and we recognised very early on that, to effectively address our sustainability goals, we need to equip and successfully engage our team members with a tailored L&D strategy in this area,” he says. 

“UJJI offered us the flexibility to create bespoke sustainability training programs that align with our industry standards, business goals and values.” 

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