Training today for tomorrow

With today’s workplace more fluid than ever, now is the time to reinvent learning and development for 2020 and beyond, says Shelley Osborne of Udemy for Business, through networked teams, skills mapping, continuous training and social learning

Training today for tomorrow

Today’s workplace is more fluid than ever. Career paths are no longer linear or predictable, and workers may find themselves moving into job titles that didn’t exist when they started out. 

It’s the job of HR professionals to respond to this trend by doing more to help employees navigate winding career paths and gain the skills that will keep them moving forward. Prioritizing training and development throughout an organization is not simply a “nice” thing to do — supporting employee learning and development is actually a proven business driver and critical to position workforces for success.

With learning and development (L&D) at the centre of business success, CEOs are increasingly looking to HR and L&D to reskill their workforce. However, the old L&D function of the last decade cannot effectively bring organizations into the future. 

Now is the time to reinvent learning for 2020 and beyond. And here are ways L&D and HR teams can help a company’s workforce prepare for the changes to come, according to the 2020 Workplace Learning Trends Report: The Skill of the Future, based on a survey of 200 L&D leaders by Udemy for Business.

Shift to networked teams and a talent marketplace

The concepts of “roles” and “career paths” as we know them are fading away. Companies are increasingly assigning employees to projects based on skillset versus title. In other words, companies are bringing employees on to projects, similarly to how sports teams would recruit and trade certain players — because of their specialized skills — instead of maintaining static teams. This shift creates a potential win-win: Employers get the best team for the job, and workers have more opportunities to work on a range of interesting projects with a variety of colleagues.  

HR technology industry analyst Josh Bersin posed an interesting question during his keynote at the HRTech 2019 Conference last year: Why is it easier for an employee to find a new job at another company than to be hired into a new role at their existing company? On the whole, companies don’t always prioritize retaining talent; instead, they spend time and money recruiting externally. Creating an internal “talent marketplace” to post opportunities and recruit talent from a company’s existing talent pool makes more sense on so many levels. 

Training and continuous learning come into play in a big way in this new environment, and it’s important for L&D teams to provide resources to help employees position themselves for new and exciting opportunities within their company.  

Ramp up skills mapping 

Understanding current capabilities and anticipating future skills is essential to identifying the gaps and, subsequently, hiring or implementing retraining in time to meet business needs. Companies nowadays need this function on steroids. Skills mapping, or competency mapping, is critical for companies as they manage flexible networked teams and work to keep up with the rapid evolution of technology.

Forecasting future skills for an organization is not an easy task and a common obstacle when implementing reskilling programs. In part, the challenge is that new roles aren’t always a perfect match for reskilling, but for many of these future jobs, since there are no existing candidates externally with these emerging skills, internal reskilling is the best option.

JPMorgan is a great example of a company pioneering new approaches to skills mapping. It’s working with MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy to forecast what emerging skills will be needed in the future and implement training that develops these skills. It is also piloting a “skills passport” platform to help IT employees assess their current skills, browse new roles and understand what training they may need to advance. 

Make training continuous 

On-the-job training has been uneven for years, in terms of quantity and quality. When training is provided, it’s typically ad hoc or a one-and-done part of employee onboarding. However, as the pace of business continues to accelerate, continuous on-the-job training will be crucial to sustain business initiatives and help employees keep up with technology.

While ad hoc training and hiring for additional skills can help jump-start initiatives, these quick fixes don’t build overall capabilities and aren’t enough to transform an organization, according to a 2019 article in the McKinsey Quarterly:

“While hiring new talent can address immediate resource needs, such as those required to rapidly build out an organization’s AI practice at the start, it sidesteps a critical need for most organizations: broad capability building across all levels.”

We’re seeing a growth in “capability academies” — or continuous learning programs — pop up. For example, a business and technology consulting firm launched a specialized academy to provide training for employees in AI and data science. Another data-driven employer has also implemented a data science capability academy to retrain thousands of internal employees to support the company’s digital transformation. 

Embrace social learning 

Software developers commonly use social learning or community platforms to share learnings and crowdsource solutions. For example, industry standards change quickly and are often set by consensus. A group of developers may share a best practice, and the industry will move in a new direction overnight. This can make it difficult to keep up with best practices and curate the right materials to upskill teams. 

This approach is gaining steam as a way for L&D to create structured learning for other types of jobs that also have rapidly changing skills. In fact, 43 per cent of companies say they now offer social learning, up from 35 per cent in 2018, according to the Udemy report.

Companies are increasingly relying on communities of practice. For example, when a developer runs into a problem with a line of code, they naturally ask their peers for help. But instead of only tapping the shoulder of their neighbour, they’re creating a virtual community of developers to serve as a collective brain.

Learning and development teams are taking a page from the software developer’s book and are also creating structured learning around their communities. And they’re getting creative. Some L&D teams scan their company communication channels for commonly asked questions and use them to create content for in-person and virtual sessions. They combine these informational sessions with online learning courses, live coding sessions and discussions on messaging platforms

Keep L&D agile 

The bar for intuitive and interactive learner experiences is set pretty high these days. To meet user expectations, L&D teams have to become more flexible and agile in terms of team skills and technologies. For example, while facilitators and instructors and LMS administrators are still key roles, L&D teams are adding data analysts, content curators, learning technology managers, learning experience designers and social community managers. 

Also, it’s increasingly important to incorporate AI, automation and personalization to create learning paths tailored to individuals versus one-size-fits-all courses. While only five per cent of organizations currently use AI, 26 per cent said they plan to incorporate it into learning programs, according to Udemy’s survey of L&D leaders. 

To enable these changes, L&D leaders must become more deeply embedded in the business and integrated with the executive suite. This will help ensure learning initiatives are aligned with business goals and objectives and supported with budget and resources. 

As learning and development makes its way toward the centre of business success, it will be imperative that learning leaders continue to evolve and partner with the workforce to prepare for the changes to come.

Shelley Osborne is vice-president of learning at Udemy for Business in San Francisco. For more information, visit


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