Looking Forward: The Training Industry in 2007

With the war for talent in full swing, CLOs are thrust into a more strategic role as company leaders look to them to help address a wide range of talent management issue. Learning is no longer just about training — it’s not seen as a strategic function th

With the war for talent in full swing, today’s CLOs find themselves thrust into a more strategic role, as company leaders look to them to help address a wide range of talent management issues. Learning no longer is just about “training,” but it is now seen as a strategic function that can transform a company into a high-performance organization.

Equally important, the learning function can help position a company as an employer of choice — a critical designation in today’s competitive race for talent acquisition. Add to this the traditional challenges for learning professionals of business alignment, generational learning, support for informal learning and evaluating emerging technologies, and 2007 already is shaping up to be another challenging year. Still, most CLOs welcome the added responsibility and are optimistic about what the year will bring.

Every other month, IDC surveys Chief Learning Officer magazine’s Business Intelligence Board on an array of topics to gauge the training industry’s attitudes, interests and concerns. In November 2006, this article looked at chief learning officers’ investment portfolio. This month, 275 training professionals shared their thoughts on what issues will have the greatest influence on the training industry in 2007.

Competencies Expected to Have Significant Impact in 2007
To measure the expected impact various training-related activities will have on their profession in 2007, participants were given a list of topics and asked to rate each one on the anticipated effect it will have on their company over the next year. While the top five activities are consistent with last year’s results, their order is different. Competencies jumped to the top of the list from the fifth position a year ago. Competencies always have played an important role for training professionals. Indeed, many consider them to be the heart of learning because without a clear understanding of which skill sets are required to accomplish a task, training and development professionals have no way to determine what to teach, let alone at what level.

Today, however, amid the shortage for talent, competencies have taken on greater significance. HR executives and CLOs are being held accountable to find and develop the talent needed to execute on corporate strategy. With demand for talent so high, companies have had to step up their internal development initiatives, and these are not possible without a sound competency management plan. Adding urgency to this is the baby boomers’ impending retirement. To address future vacancies, organizations are looking to competency models to help them understand which skills they might lose to retirement.

Given the concern many organizations have regarding the expected wave of retirements, it is not surprising that leadership training continues to be a big issue for CLOs. In 2007, ensuring there is talent in the pipeline to support corporate succession planning initiatives is paramount. There is a real fear amid company executives that as their businesses grow and as their leadership teams contemplate retirement, there will not be the needed bench strength and depth to draw from to lead or manage their companies.

One respondent summarized the mood aptly: “The CEO, the president and the CTO have recently said that what keeps them up at night is that we are growing the business faster than our leadership capability.” More than half of respondents said they would be looking to outside providers of leadership training in 2007.

The learning activity that topped last year’s list — instructor-led training (ILT) — is expected to continue to have significant impact in 2007. Although it might not carry the panache of some of the emerging technologies such as podcasts, wikis or blogs, the majority of training still occurs in the classroom. Some training departments have no other choice. They do not have the budgets to invest in learning technologies.

For others, though, it is a conscious decision based on what has been learned regarding the limits of e-learning, as well as what other self-paced learning alternatives can and cannot do. Rather than seek to replace ILT, they have learned to maximize its impact and use learning technologies, where appropriate, to support its objectives.

Past survey work with the CLO Business Intelligence Board has shown that instructor-led training accounts for 40 percent of the delivery mix. It’s clear that despite the sometimes dizzying hype that accompanies emerging technologies in the learning industry, the heads of training still see the value of the classroom experience for their employees.

To this point, at the other end of the impact spectrum, there are many of these emerging and heavily spotlighted technologies such as vodcasting, podcasting and expert locators. Despite their buzz, it appears on the whole they will have minimal impact on training in 2007.

Industry Can’t Make up its Mind on Measurement
In an effort to gauge which training-related topics held the greatest appeal among chief learning officers, IDC asked survey participants to pick a topic to which they felt the industry should be paying more attention. Likewise, participants were asked to give a topic they felt the industry was giving too much attention and was considered overhyped. Interestingly, the topic of measurement scored high on both lists. While just about all respondents were proponents of measurement in some sense, those who felt it deserved greater attention saw measurement as the proverbial key to the boardroom. They cited the link between measurement and learning’s value proposition, and they said they felt the only way learning ever will have a real seat at the table is when it is able to quantify its impact through measurement. They agreed much has been written on the importance of measurement, but not enough guidance has been provided regarding best practices for implementing successful measurement campaigns.

Those in the other camp, who felt there was too much hype regarding measurement, cited many reasons for their position. Chiefly, they said most measurement initiatives require a lot of time and money, and they produce vague results at best.

The second area study participants feel deserves a greater amount of the industry’s attention in 2007 is learning alignment. This topic didn’t even register with respondents when this question was posed 12 months ago. This year, however, CLOs clearly feel the pressure to align learning with business, and they think the industry as a whole needs to examine this topic in earnest.

Conversely, there are many areas where CLOs think too much attention is being paid. E-learning, which leads the list again this year (albeit by a much slimmer margin) still has some learning professionals irked with the modality’s perceived “silver bullet” reputation. As with last year, respondents acknowledge e-learning should be part of a training portfolio where it makes sense, but it should not be seen as a cure-all to which all training should migrate.

Predictions for 2007
The respondents expressed a wide range of ideas when asked what they thought the coming year will hold for the learning and development industry. The majority of predictions were positive ones that touched on the growing significance of the discipline and those who contribute to organizational development. Many expect to see the continued evolution of training into a business function with an overall growing recognition of the strategic value of learning. Further, as measurement initiatives are stepped up in 2007, industry professionals expect increased recognition across many fronts for those companies that value talent development. Some think, for example, the financial analyst community — a group typically critical of organizations trying to merge workforces after an acquisition — will place a higher value on companies that can demonstrate they have sound competency and performance management models to ease the integration of joining workforces. Another belief is that amid the ongoing war for talent, companies with a reputation for employee development will become employers of choice. They will not only benefit on both the recruitment and retention fronts but also will win out over the competition because they do a better job of developing talent internally, a key differentiator during the skills shortage.

Optimism Abounds for 2007
A majority of CLOs expect good things in 2007. Nearly 60 percent say they are more optimistic about employee development at their organizations than they were a year ago, and only 11 percent are less optimistic. IDC’s Training Outlook Index confirms the industry’s buoyed demeanor. A majority of CLOs expect increases in budget, better alignment, improved quality, tighter integration and an increase in the perceived value of learning within their companies over the next year.

The charge for CLOs over the next 12 months is clear: With increased responsibility comes increased accountability. As senior executives come to realize the impact the war for talent will have on their businesses, they are looking to the learning function as a strategic partner to help develop, recruit and retain key personnel. In 2007, CLOs will be under even greater scrutiny to successfully scale their training activities and provide meaningful offerings that are aligned with business objectives, demonstrate impact and exceed expectations.

Peter McStravick is the senior research analyst for IDC’s Learning Services group, where he addresses the impact of training methodologies and business models on end-user organizations and tracks market growth and opportunities in the U.S. corporate training market. He can be reached at editor@clomedia.com.