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Learning & Development Climbs to the Top of the Corporate Agenda

May 02, 2022 Learning and Development
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By Sarah Fister Gale

We are officially in the golden era for corporate learning and development leaders. After decades of being treated as a back office cost center, L&D has risen to the top of the leadership ladder, where they deliver guidance to the C-Suite on how to keep people engaged, trained and ready to take on the future of work.

This is the big picture finding of LinkedIn’s latest workplace learning report, "The Transformation of L&D: Learning Leads the Way Through the Great Reshuffle." According to the report, 87 percent of L&D leaders are now involved in change efforts across the organization, with 64 percent saying they are focused on rebuilding the organization. Three-quarters say L&D has become more cross-functional than it's ever been before.

“L&D is having a watershed moment as they help companies focus on upskilling and reskilling the employee population,” said Tiffany Poeppelman, director of the business leadership program at LinkedIn. “We’ve seen incredible growth in how management and the C-Suite prioritize L&D.”

An Evolution Fueled by the Pandemic

The report found that the pandemic, the remote workplace and the challenging labor economy have forced L&D leaders to work more collaboratively with department heads and help executives find fresh solutions for skill building, internal mobility, and diversity, equity and inclusion.

These collaborations may have begun as a stopgap measure to deal with COVID-related events, but their success and the long-term effects of the pandemic are expected to support the ongoing evolution of jobs and the skills people need to do them.

The report found that skills for the same occupation have evolved about 25 percent over the past six years and that by 2025, the skill make-up for most positions will have changed 40 percent. This shift will require companies to rethink who they hire and how they ensure new and existing employees continue to learn and grow within the company.

Among the other highlights from the LinkedIn report:

  • 62% of organizations report that L&D is focused on rebuilding or reshaping their organization.
  • 64% report their organization's culture of learning grew stronger in the past year.
  • 59% say of learning and development professionals say their CEO is a champion for L&D.

Related Article: Remote Work Fueled the Rise of Learning Experience and Digital Learning

Experimentation Is the Name of the Game

The new dynamics are putting pressure on L&D leaders to reimagine the role they play in creating a resilient organization, said Josh Bersin, HR industry analyst and CEO of research and advisory firm The Josh Bersin Company.

Today’s learning leaders are being tasked with building skills taxonomies, finding solutions to job mobility and helping managers redefine how they vet and develop their people, Bersin said. “L&D isn’t just building new training programs,” he said.

Bersin’s research found that the most successful L&D leaders are embracing this change. “They are willing to test new tools and technologies to facilitate better connections between experts and learners,” he said. That includes experimenting with virtual reality, immersive learning, micro-certifications and ensuring employees benefit from the new skills they develop.

“You can’t force people to take courses,” Bersin said. But when L&D leaders ensure they are useful and tied to promotions and new opportunities, it creates a strong learning culture.

At the same time, managers are embracing the idea that learning has to be a part of the flow of work if they want employees to stay engaged and successful, Poeppelman said. The best leaders seek more innovative ways to reskill existing populations, through combinations of self-paced, instructor-led and on-the-job learning opportunities. Seventy percent of what we learn happens on the job, she said.

“It has to be part of the experience,” Poeppelman said.

Related Article: Professional Learning Is Critical – and In Need of a Refresh

A Critical Shortage of L&D Talent Has Emerged

The growing recognition of the value of learning has led to a surge in demand for L&D talent. The number of job postings for these positions increased 94 percent in Q3 2021 compared to the prior quarter, and the requirements for these roles are changing as fast as every other position. Research from analyst firm RedThread found the top skills required of L&D professionals now include things like data analytics, leadership and business strategy.

This should be a reminder to L&D leaders not to neglect themselves, Poeppelman said. L&D leaders are being expected to drive strategic initiatives that are tied to critical business results, yet they spend 23 percent less time on personal learning than other active learners in the organization. By taking their own advice and making learning a personal priority, they avoid the risk of innovating themselves right out of a job.

“They need to invest in their own learning and partnerships — and mental health,” Poeppelman said.

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