How’s the year been for you, learning and development people? I started this year, at midnight, with both my young daughters still wide awake and wired, having watched the New Year’s fireworks on TV. I remember thinking to myself, in that moment, will the rest of my year be this abnormal?
The short answer to that was, yes.
I began the first quarter of the year languishing in a pre-UNLEASH job that, while I knew it very well, I had fallen out of love with. And, in any other year (pre-2020), I’d have been looking forward to a slate of industry events from January to April. Such an essential part of why HR and L&D people do what they do, events are a place to convene, commune, and communicate, to talk about what’s new, what’s the same, and what excites them for the months and years ahead. I missed that side of things.
A cautious start for L&D
We all may have paused face-to-face events activities at that point, but news stories carried on regardless, with UNLEASH reporting on the apparent aberration of remote work amongst many others (*conceals laughter*), and former editor Yessi Bello Perez setting us up nicely for the year with an analysis of HR tech features for 2021, finishing with a truism that we would come to know very well when she said that “HR technology will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of work.”
As winter turned to spring it became clear that the resilience that industry commentators were talking about as business-critical in 2020, was hardening into a steelier resolve for many organizations. Events for 2022 were back on the table, and many were taking the positives from the global situation. If it was clear that there was still a data skills disconnect between young people and the business world, plenty of businesses were making the most of untapped resources.
At this point, I was blissfully unaware of the Great Resignation, a movement that would soon help open up a great opportunity for me, as it would plenty of other people. Amid more heads being buried in the sand, the general direction of travel was toward the future of work, and what that might consist of. Skills, obstacles and missed opportunities figured prominently as we approached the middle of the year. But there was plenty to go…
The back nine
Employers appeared to be embracing the idea that a lack of career progression, and a big part of that being learning and development, was a reason that people were leaving the workplace in droves. It shouldn’t take a pandemic for organizations to realize the value of learning and development. And yet, here we are. The home stretch of 2021.
UNLEASH’s Kate Graham rounded up all the market moves in July, as the learning and development sector showed that there was plenty of business still to be done, pandemic or no pandemic. Consolidation could have become a watchword with acquisitions happening here, there, and everywhere, but there was too much innovation for that mindset to take hold.
In September, things were looking up from a hiring perspective, and I can back that up from a personal point of view, as I joined UNLEASH around that time as well. The journey had started! If you want to read the quick introduction I wrote in my first week (which feels like a decade ago now), have a look here.
Mid-October saw UNLEASH publish one of our first predictions pieces of the year, with writer Roisin Woolnough emphasizing the importance of making the most of what you have, instead of immediately looking elsewhere. Over to Roisin: “Knowing what the business-critical skills are is half the battle – the other half is knowing how to get them. Increasingly, employers are realizing that the best approach to workforce planning is one that focuses on building an internal talent pipeline to meet future skills needs, rather than buying in skills on an ad hoc basis.”
In late November, UNLEASH’s Allie Nawrat reported on some alarming research by L&D platform Fuse that highlighted the loss of subject matter experts thanks to the big G.R. Concerning but unsurprising, and until we see concrete evidence of the predicted Great Return, it’ll continue to be a concern.
What’s next for learning and development?
So, where do I see things going in 2022? Well – I had a few ideas here, and to build on those, and to refute anyone who says that you can’t predict the future, you kind of can, to a degree. A combination of observing current industry trends, paying attention to CEOs’ big announcements, coupled with a bit of imagination and you won’t go too far wrong. Here are my initial five:
- More learner co-creation and self-direction (Listen to your cohort!)
- Dedicated time for learning and development (I mean a whole actual day, please)
- A further move away from the 9-to-5 (shoutout to all you night owls)
- Bite-size learning shouldn’t be the only option (this isn’t a call for long away days, btw)
- Less skepticism about AI (it’s here – find your favorite use case or perish)
So – I’ll stick with those but also add that for many organizations, L&D will carry on as it has been doing post-pandemic. Sometimes, we only make a change when it’s forced upon us. And if there is to be anything good to have come from the impact of COVID-19 it’s that we have been forced to review and rationalize our business practices, learning and development functions included. My hope is that L&D is able to change as quickly as it did in the spring of 2020, the next time that it needs to.
Because there will be a next time. There always is.
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