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  • What Will the Future of the Talent Development Industry Look Like? Part I: The New Learner

Whether you are an internal talent development practitioner or external supplier, keeping abreast of trends and patterns will help you stay attuned to how best to build and grow your business in order to effectively and cost-efficiently deliver relevant learning to the end user. Looking at the future of this industry offers potentially dramatic changes in the nature of the learner, the workplace, the learning itself and the technology used to deliver it. Taken alone, each of these factors will define grand changes, but it is at the intersection of all of these where the most impact will be felt.  This four-part series, addressing these items, will help you better understand what is likely to be in store as we all look out to the future landscape of talent development. Much of the content is adapted from the recently published book, “The Complete Guide To Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.”

What better way to start this series than to explore what future learners will look like. Currently, according to Deloitte, approximately 42 percent of the workforce is comprised of the millennial generation, those born around 1980 through 2000. By 2020, it is estimated they will account for more than 51 percent of the workforce. By 2025, 75 percent of global workforce will be millennials, compared with less than 20 percent Baby Boomers.

Since it is hard to predict how these millennials will think and act as they age and mature, all we can go on is how they view the business world today. According to Deloitte’s 2016 millennial survey, if given the choice, 44 percent would like to leave their current employers in the next two years. They don’t see opportunities for development; they desire greater work-life balance and flexibility, and they see a conflict of their values with their employers. Values are important to them throughout their careers, as evidenced by the employers they choose, assignments they take and decisions they make to take on senior-level roles. In fact, they seek employers with similar values, with 70 percent believing their personal values are shared by their organizations. But, they are also very clear they want their employers to focus more on people (i.e., employees, customers and society), products, and purpose, and less on profits.

Fast on their heels is Generation Z. Gen Zers were born starting around the mid-1990s and raised in the 2000s during some of the most profound changes in at least a century. Generation Z is already more than 11 million strong (nearly 7 percent) in the North American workforce, and their numbers will grow dramatically over the next few years. By 2017, they will be 25 million; by 2019, 30 million. This is the new emerging workforce, and they will fill a new “youth bubble” in the workplace in the next seven years, just as roughly 30 million aging baby boomers will retire. Generation Z represents the greatest generational shift the workplace has ever seen. Its population will present profound challenges to leaders, managers, supervisors, HR leaders and educators in every sector of the workforce. To say the nature of workforce demographics is changing is an understatement.

Millennials appear to favor networked learning and learning through social media. Eighty percent of their learning happens through on-the-job interaction with peers, teammates and managers. Most of these learners won’t watch videos for longer than four minutes at a sitting and are on the internet 27 times per day. Sixty percent think seven months on the job means they are “loyal.” Most expect weekly feedback and annual progression. Eighty percent want to give their bosses performance appraisals.

However, they are generally overwhelmed with emails, video, Twitter feeds, etc., and 41 percent of their time is spent on things having little to do with completing their work. Two-thirds of knowledge workers complain they actually don’t have time to do their jobs, according to Bersin by Deloitte. It is estimated that 94 percent of millennials play video games an average of nine hours per week. Two out of three millennials think gaming helps them learn, create winning strategies and become better team players. These are the new workers for the next decades.

The exact impact of this situation on the industry is yet to be determined, but with an aging worldwide population, the influx of young millennial and Generation Z talent is upon us. Millennials are all about purpose, passion, ambition, curiosity and diversity. Can these values be incorporated into how they like to learn? Having said this, while the millennial population of some 75 million people born between 1980 and 2000 is now the largest and most racially diverse demographic group in the U.S., there is still some debate whether millennials are really all that different from the rest of the populations. In fact, some claim the millennial stereotype of indulgent and needy young people isn’t really true, other than the fact there is a block of people born within this timeframe whom we’ve labelled millennials. When all is stripped away, they may be more like “us” than not. The real question, then, is whether they will want to learn differently given their digital native status and learning experience prior to moving into the workforce.

Dr. Steve Cohen is a 40+-year veteran of the talent management industry, having founded and/or led eight different businesses in the field. He currently is in private practice focused on strategic and business planning, including senior leadership development. Portions of this article were adapted from his new book, "The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm," published by ATD. You can reach him at steve@strategicleadershipcollaborative.com or 952-942-7291.

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