In 2021, the impact of Learning and Development (L&D) within organizations will continue to grow, providing many professionals with opportunities to reinvent themselves, embrace change, and reach their potential.
In the last twelve months, most workers have been forced to adapt to regularly evolving circumstances and to find their feet in new and dynamic scenarios. At management level, keeping on top of these changes in the face of a pandemic and having to mitigate new health risks has resulted in novel approaches towards setting and reaching milestones. Planning for the long-term with so much uncertainty has verged on the impossible at times.
2020 saw a large percentage of the global workforce transition into remote work, finding methods and technologies to enable them to do their in-person tasks from behind a screen. As 2021 gets underway, we want to look at how Learning and Development teams can continue to provide a new normal in a constantly evolving and mostly digital workplace. Using the bumpy ride of 2020 as a foundation moving forward, we will discuss the trends we expect to see being embraced.
Trend #1, The Continued Transition to Online Work
The Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence, Automation and many more technical innovations have completely flipped our working lives on their heads. Even timeless professions like teaching are being forced to head to the laptop, open the lid, and try to manage dozens of students through a device, rather than with the room and resources they are used to.
In 2020, we saw millions quickly jump to remote work almost overnight, but is such a rapid transition sustainable? This way of working is not going to suit everyone long term, and it certainly will not play to everyone’s strengths. How do Learning and Development teams best navigate this?
Firstly, organizations should help employees pick up the IT skills that will make their remote work easier. It would help to have dedicated IT support teams who are ready to do immediate troubleshooting when technology fails. Also, almost a year into this new normal, organizations have had some time to assess the problems of their tech, where they are not being productive enough, and what new developments they could construct to make work smoother and more accessible for all their remote workers.
Secondly, learning and development initiatives that were run face-to-face need to be successfully migrated to an online format, to ensure that there is no gap in learning and that employees are still being developed to reach their maximum potential. They are likely to prioritize experiential learning approaches, which bring considerably higher training engagement than traditional lecture-style sessions.
To summarize, the trend we see as the transition to remote work continues is for organizations to make platforms easier and increase their IT support structures, and to try and make remote work sustainable in the long term for those employees who want to continue in this way. L&D professionals will adapt to this new remote environment, and use innovative learning formats to drive engagement in the virtual space.
Trend #2, Upskilling & Reskilling
Over the next three years, experts believe that 1 in every 2 jobs will require the employee to be upskilled or reskilled in order to meet the needs of the market. That’s a lot of people, and a lot of training to roll out in order to support them, but the logic is sound. Whether it’s working remotely with new tools, changing the working day to be compliant with new health procedures, or using new processes to meet changing needs, teaching new skills to employees to help them do the same job function is nothing short of absolutely vital.
2020 was, in a way, an upskilling for all of us. We all had to adjust and adapt, learn to navigate new technologies, find ways to collaborate virtually, and manage our wellbeing and resilience in the face of issues beyond our control. In 2021, we predict that this upskilling process will have more structure behind it and greater resources devoted to it, with mandatory and opt-in learning opportunities made available across organizations.
Consider the argument that many are beginning to levy against higher education: students spend many years (and in some countries, a small fortune) developing skills that quickly become obsolete by the time they enter the labor market. Higher education doesn’t always guarantee the tools and knowledge to succeed in the workplace, and so if organizations can themselves become pillars of learning, they will be able to attract higher quality talents who have the drive for continuous self-improvement. Organizations now share the burden of creating a quality learning environment too.
Trend #3, Investing in ‘Human-Only’ Skills
Over the last twenty, thirty, or even forty years, we have seen the computer reshape organizations from top to bottom. Over that time, we ourselves have adapted to the computer, even trying to talk its languages and integrate it into every aspect of our lives, from fitness to dating. But, whilst we ourselves modernize and become ‘techier’, and we learn to compete with AI, the business trend we are predicting to see is a greater focus on being more human.
Social, emotional, and cognitive skills gain ever greater importance as we enter a period of economic uncertainty that will require creativity, agility, compassion, and resilience.
Research from Deloitte shows that 90% of surveyed respondents admit that jobs in their organizations were being redesigned. Part of why this is occurring, and why it will continue to occur, is that people have proven that they can quickly adapt to the advances in technology and automation. Businesses are pivoting from selling products to selling services: consider Amazon, one of the biggest online retailers in the world, but who is investing more and more each year into their cloud services. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies are seeing that their industry will shift from selling products to providing services like diagnostics, prevention, and monitoring. App-based health is another growing trend.
Ultimately, if one of the biggest threats to job security is artificial intelligence, professionals will need to double down on what they do best - being human - in order to not have their jobs eliminated by technology. Organizations can support their employees in investing in tools and training that will help to build human skills that can make the business more agile and the employee more versatile. This means better coaching and feedback, virtual support rooms, and looking at things like mental health and open dialogues for difficult-to-approach subjects.
Trend #4, Increased Focus on Diversity, Equality & Inclusion
Many training and development sites and organizations predicted a trend in diversity, equality, and inclusion training in 2020, but few may have predicted just how well it has taken root. What valuable movements like Black Lives Matter have done for organizations is to highlight and expose just how wide the canyon is between how much people know about diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias, and how much they think they know about it.
Businesses in the US, Europe, Australia, and further afield were already investing in diversity training in 2020, but we now expect to see more resources invested into L&D, helping to make sure that the delivery is sensitive, relevant, and responsible. The aim is to bring workforces closer together in a time when we all feel so far apart.
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