With the COVID-19 pandemic in their rearview mirror, organizations face new challenges in today’s market. The rapid development of digitized business processes, which started more than two years ago, is still a stumbling block. This increased pace of change still leaves many employees under-skilled for their roles, continuing the need for organizations to upskill and reskill employees.
Compounding these challenges are still-low employee engagement rates, high turnover, the struggle to fill critical roles, and an uncertain short-term economic climate.
All these factors are driving organizations to reexamine their company culture to train, engage, and retain talent. The learning and development function has emerged as a key component of an organization’s talent and human capital management strategy.
As such, now more than ever, L&D is in the spotlight. It is seen as the driver in organizations to manage large-scale change initiatives and prepare employees to navigate these changes. In many cases, it’s L&D’s time to shine and demonstrate the value training can bring to the organization.
“Training is quickly becoming a competitive differentiator for companies — and those that lean into training to close skills gaps, identify blind spots, and create a strategic plan for the future will reap the rewards,” notes Ken Taylor and Michelle Eggleston Schwartz in Training Industry magazine’s Trends 2023 report.
And with that, below are eight learning and development trends for 2023 that you can implement to build a high-performing workforce that thrives in this new world of work, bolstering your organization for any challenges that may come.
Learning and development trends to watch out for in the year ahead
1. Leadership training, with a focus on advocacy and communications
Organizations have always sought to train the next generation of leaders, but it is now more critical than ever.
Leaders shape every facet of the employee experience. They help to foster teamwork and establish a work environment that encourages employees to not only deliver their best work but also try new things and take risks. Poor leadership can lead to low morale and increased turnover.
However, the skills incorporated into today’s leadership programs include a healthy dose of empathy training, as leaders today are seen less as task managers and more as employee advocates and skilled communicators. Today’s leaders must be able to accomplish what project management software cannot; they should not be reminding team members when assignments are due but instead providing the necessary support and guidance.
2. Design and deliver training for the work-from-anywhere workforce
As learning leaders continue to assess and reassess the needs of their employees, they need to consider how employees prefer to receive training and then enable them with the tools, resources, and access where and when employees need it most.
Research from Training Industry magazine has shown that offering training in multiple modalities can increase training outcomes. Using various delivery methods increases the likelihood that an employee will receive training in a preferred method, which can increase learner engagement and knowledge retention.
This means more than enabling training via a mobile app. Work-from-anywhere means that L&D teams will be challenged to offer training in multiple formats and then let the employee choose the modality and format they prefer. More than simply ensuring that learning can be carried out via a mobile device, some employees may opt for training via recorded, instructor-led videos. At the same time, others may prefer text-based support tools.
Adaption to employee preferences and learning styles is critical.
3. Continued focus on acquiring technical skills
Even before the pandemic, companies had to keep up with technological changes and find talent with the right skills to unlock operational efficiencies and stay ahead of the competition. Future-proofing—or at least staying up to date—remains a necessity during difficult times. If teams are reduced, or budgets are cut, there’s still a need to deliver projects, ship software, and continue digital transformation programs initiated during the pandemic. Staying focused on remaining agile and innovative is more critical than ever.
Online course aggregator Udemy has found that total learning hours of technical skills increased 49% over the last year on its platform, as indicated in its 2023 Workplace Learning Trends report. This is expected to increase as employees understand the need to upskill to stay competitive professionally, technology obsolescence accelerates, and under-resourced L&D teams outsource training that they cannot build in-house.
4. Training employees and contractors alike
Organizations are more likely to have a talent pool that includes a high proportion of part-time and contract employees. As the labor market uncertainty and skills shortages continue into 2023, it’s even more likely that companies across industries will need to lean on non-full-time employees to fill the gaps more than they have in the past.
Long a perennial debate as to the value of training such employees, however, given the challenges ahead, learning leaders will increasingly devote resources to training contract employees and consultants—regardless of status.
Such employees or contractors might be handling sensitive data, and so they need compliance and project-specific training to not only protect the organization but also complete their required tasks. Additionally, these part-time “outsiders” could also serve as subject matter experts for other training, thereby reducing L&D’s need to source SMEs externally and speeding up the course content and development process.
As this workforce diversification between FTEs and contractors increases, L&D will need to figure out the “what, when, and how” of delivering training to team members outside the traditional FTE category.
5. Doubling down on learning metrics
Learning and development metrics inform the L&D team, learning stakeholders, senior management, and even learners on program success. Unfortunately, more than two-thirds of companies say that an inability to measure learning’s impact represents a challenge to achieving critical learning outcomes, according to a survey conducted by learning industry research firm Brandon Hall Group. LinkedIn Learning’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report also cites measurement as a continuing challenge for learning leaders.
To address this shortfall, organizations must implement programs to select and track the right learning and development performance metrics, especially as they measure the impact of training on the organization’s bottom line. Without data or insights, no one will be able to agree whether goals were met or resources were properly utilized.
The good news is that data abounds at multiple touchpoints throughout the course development and delivery process, including these 15 metrics that span training intake, course design and project management, course completion and satisfaction, and operational metrics.
6. Even more personalization of learning programs mapped to career paths
To streamline, organize, advise, and facilitate learning, AI and related automation technologies will be in demand much more than in the past.
With so much training needed and with employees at different experience, knowledge, and skill levels—and with fewer and fewer hours available to participate in training—personalization makes learning more efficient for both L&D teams and learners alike. Based on profiles and previous skills assessments, AI tools can deliver recommendations and even entire curriculums so that employees can focus on learning.
In the year ahead, AI will likely become more practical and deeply embedded into many different forms of learning technology. In his HR Predictions for 2022 Report, learning consultant Josh Bersin highlights the emerging metaverse technology and how innovations such as these will continue to revolutionize virtual learning experiences.
7. Employee experience and “best-fit” careers gaining importance
Many HR and training leaders struggle to identify the internal moves employees should make to grow their careers—and whether their organizations even provide this type of internal mobility.
In a recent survey on employee career preferences by IT industry analyst firm Gartner, just 1 in 4 employees voiced confidence about their career at their organization, and three out of four looking for a new role are interested in external positions. Further, less than half (44%) of HR leaders believe their organizations do not have clear career paths for employees.
While assigning employees mentors to help steer and advise on career goals is not new, the pathway is less clear now that work experience is changing. “Career options are less visible with less time in offices,” notes Gartner’s report. “Current skills are becoming obsolete, and employees aren’t prepared for future roles, and current options don’t satisfy employee needs as people rethink the role of work in their life.”
This presents new career imperatives and challenges for L&D teams to work with HR and business leaders to create the training for “best-fit”—even if less ideal—careers for employees.
8. Practice makes perfect: a renewed emphasis on simulations and “practice zones”
Beyond course completion and taking an assessment, employees need a safe space to apply their newfound knowledge or freshly acquired skills.
To ensure that training is implemented, organizations have begun to implement “practice zones,” where employees can try things out without worrying about the potential for damaging critical resources or customer relationships.
To meet this need, companies are using simulations, AR/VR, role-playing, and other deep engagement tools.
“Simulation opportunities are expanding,” notes Harvard Business Review. “The so-called ‘metaverse’ may or may not deliver on its current hype, but the investments being made by companies in virtual reality increase training and simulation options.’”
9. Prepare for increases in specialized training, such as ESG
Aside from the organization’s need to upskill/reskill employees and leverage training to digitally transform, L&D will increasingly be called upon to develop and deliver training related to specific, mission-driven initiatives.
One such initiative is ESG (environmental, social, governance)—more than 90 percent of S&P 500 companies now publish ESG reports in some form, notes McKinsey. ESG training enables employees to integrate such principles into their daily work, and, at scale, helps the organization reach its ESG-related goals.
Additionally, training is an opportunity to demonstrate the company’s commitment to ESG to all employees. “It brings ESG out of a silo, involving only a small group of staff, into a process that is deeply embedded in the organization’s culture,” notes UK-based training provider VinciWorks. “This has been shown to increase employee engagement, employee retention, and ESG performance.”
10. Emotional intelligence: a critical skill for the future workforce
Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.
Unfortunately, the disruption ushered in by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, and other technologies is driving the need for increased EI skills in the future workforce, notes Training magazine. EI is needed across the organization, for individual contributors, customer-facing roles, salespeople, and leadership—anywhere where collaboration, resiliency, garnering buy-in and problem-solving are needed.
The demand for emotional skills will grow by 26% by 2030, and will be among the 10 most in-demand skills through 2025, predicts training and coaching provider Niagara Institute.
11. The not-so-new kid on the block: LearnOps
Just as DevOps unites IT and engineering and RevOps unites sales and marketing, LearnOps unites team members from across several functions dedicated to the learning function. These include designers, developers, subject matter experts, learning leaders, and HR, in addition to those in the business, including operations, finance, and IT.
LearnOps ensures that the right team members are in place to create more effective training materials faster. It’s about unlocking operational inefficiencies across people, processes, and technology to produce better outcomes. LearnOps enables the training function to move from cost center to performance driver, leaning on data to track learning measurement and tie results back to business performance.
Some benefits of LearnOps include the following:
- Reducing friction among project stakeholders
- Clearer visibility into resource leaks—i.e., time and budget—to reduce strain
- Ensuring that L&D’s objectives are more closely aligned with those of the business units and of the organization as a whole
- Improved learner experiences and outcomes
Organizations continue to lean on L&D to lead during this time of uncertainty. Learning is the only thing employees and the organization as a whole can do to face new challenges and prepare for the unknown.
Whether it’s a shift in the modalities the training is delivered, adaptations to the training content itself, or how the L&D team operates, the year 2023 will see L&D teams perfecting and optimizing activities they may have been forced to quickly undertake in the previous two years.