My Industry Working Thesis

If you are not not asking the big, uncomfortable, scary questions about the future of L&D you are not a learning leader. It is easy to lead during periods of growth. This is no longer one of those times.

Workforce Development is a large and rapidly growing pain point worldwide for government, corporate and “student” customers. Economies are feeling the strain of a mismatched talent pool. Companies are realizing that their patriarchal relationship with the workforce is inefficient and no longer compelling to the workforce. Workers are learning to take greater agency for their labor, imposing consumer-grade expectations on learning solutions. Combined with a track record of limited impact and minimal stakeholder confidence, the workforce development sector is poised for a wholesale transformation.

Wholesale does not mean incremental. It does not mean best practice. It means new practice. It means that learning leaders will need to rebuild from the base not modify from what exists. What will the focus of L&D be in a world where 70% of a company’s workforce is non-employees. What skills will L&D need to develop in an economy where you can buy the skills you need, in the amounts you need, on the open market? How does learning design change in immersive environments? Does L&D’s tech stack become redundant when learning moves to digital domains where performance, activity and engagement data already abounds?

L&D has evolved as a domain alongside the growth of organizations. Organizations based on factory and military models. Models that are quickly proving themselves inadequate for today’s economy. L&D, which already has learner and sponsor satisfaction levels that would bankrupt most companies, needs a revolution not more slow evolution.

At some point L&D turned down the educational arts path and away from its organizational science roots. This shift left it with a stronger affinity to school teachers than to psychologists, labor economists and cognitive scientists. Neuroscientists and AI researchers are now defining what learning is for humans and machines. All the while millions of hours of “en vivo” learning experiments are being conducted in companies around the world by L&D.

The entire system (suppliers, degrees, roles) is built around core assumptions and canon that will need to change if L&D is to reinvent itself for the workforce of tomorrow. Reinvention won’t be easy. A lot of people have a lot invested in things staying the same. But they are not. And L&D needs to stop trying to build a faster horse.

What is your industry thesis? What assumptions underpin your plan for the future?

Author: J.

J. Miguez has spent the last 25 years designing Learning & Development organizations and the service offerings that support them. Learning domain explorer.

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