By Donald H. Taylor
For years, training often was something organizations felt obliged to do. That is, they felt obliged until things got bad and then, like other costs, spending on training was slashed until company finances got better.
But in the recently finished recession, things changed. Yes, some training teams have been badly hit. But, overall, we missed the slash-and-burn response of previous recessions. The reason is that people now know that skills matter. In many cases, organizations have taken across-the-board pay cuts or gone on short working weeks until times get better. The explicit reason: When the recession ends, the company must have the skills to expand production. What a contrast to the downturns of the 1970s and 1980s.
In a couple of decades, developed economies have moved from a position where labor was a commodity to one where ability is a vital part of organizational success in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. This should be a great moment for the training profession, but this recognition of the importance of what we do brings with it both opportunity and threat.
The opportunity is clear: At last, training should be able to take the initiative and prove its value to the organization. It should be able to embed learning in the fabric of daily life.
The threat is simple: If we don’t do this, others will. Others less able, with less understanding of learning, people who believe that anyone can facilitate learning because, after all, we all went to school, didn’t we? That’s like saying that anyone can be Shakespeare because we all can write.
It might be only barely perceptible, but we’re in the middle of a learning revolution right now. Training is changing fundamentally. It’s now about supporting learners in the business and, for the business, not about delivering training. This might sound like something we’ve talked about for years, but now three things are coming together to make it a reality.
First, we have the social learning revolution, which threatens to bypass much of what the training, or learning and development (L&D), department has been about until now. If nothing else demands a rethink of the way L&D approaches skills development, it is the fact that a great deal of learning takes place without the department’s involvement.
Secondly, there is a greater emphasis from executives on skills as they realize that learning is essential to the organization. With that, though, comes an increased emphasis on the business accountability, measurability, and impact of learning. Along with skills, the L&D department is now more in the spotlight than ever, and it’s time to show we can play our part.
Finally, these two changes lead to the final, most dramatic change: L&D has to aim higher than ever before. Of course we always will act professionally, but now we have to demonstrate it. We have to show that we have the right frameworks for creating a learning organization, for demonstrating value, for adding to the business.
Quite simply, we have to drive ourselves to be the best in our field. That way, we will be the agent of personal development that we really can be. Without this drive to professionalism, we run the risk of irrelevance. It’s up to us.
About the author:
Donald H. Taylor is non-executive chairman of the Institute of IT Training . You can also follow his tweets: @donaldhtaylor .He also chairs both the Learning Technologies Conference and the Learning and Skills Group, a free international community of learning and development professionals. Donald blogs at