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What’s the future of workforce development?

Explore the key workforce development trends, challenges, and opportunities that lie ahead for L&D practitioners, organisations, policymakers and founders.


Global collective economic progress, as well as the UK’s economic competitiveness and leadership, will rely heavily on workforce development. 

In collaboration with Emerge Education, we’ve created a report examining the changing nature of work and workforce development, and the emphatic shift from learning to performance.

A pivotal point: the future of workforce development is based on extensive research interviews with 50+ CEOs, heads of learning and development, and policymakers. 

Download the full PDF report

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With the nature of work rapidly changing due to automation, globalisation and the rise of soft-skill intensive jobs, there’s an estimated $8.5tn global skills gap that cannot be solved unless organisations begin to rapidly increase investment into workforce development.

It’s widely understood that it is ‘cheaper to build than buy’ – cheaper to develop existing employee skills than recruit – but, when it comes to employee training and development, many businesses are still lagging behind.

What does workforce development look like now?

In the UK, both industry and government are waking up to the importance of bringing workforces up to speed with the changing demands of our workplaces.

Upskilling is the focus of the government’s recent Skills for Jobs white paper and reskilling and upskilling ranked highly in the 2020 L&D Global Sentiment Survey. During Covid, LinkedIn research shows that workers are spending more time learning (130% increase), more L&D leaders are prioritising reskilling (64% see it as more of a priority now than ever), and CEOs are championing L&D harder (159% increase). 

But, there are challenges to overcome. L&D infrastructure is still dominated by traditional, siloed technology sold by big players and designed for HR rather than optimised for learning. 

Additionally, many companies lack clear L&D strategies to empower and encourage greater investment in proper workforce development. Even though L&D could help solve some of the most pressing issues businesses face, it’s often isolated and disconnected from the goals and plans of wider business practice. 

Where does workforce development need to be?

Based on interviews, research, and case studies, the report highlights five key workforce development trends that require our attention in the coming decade.

  1. Technology

Digital transformation has placed L&D under the spotlight. By 2030, workplace learning will have moved far beyond simply replacing face-to-face classroom sessions with online sessions. Technology will drive a shift in workplace development from transferring learning to transforming performance.

  2. Learning in the flow of life

Learning will become increasingly pervasive and seamless in the fabric of our lives. Rather than a separate activity, learning in the flow of work will become the norm. ‘Training’ and ‘development’ will no longer be an activity requiring employees to stop what they’re doing and make a dedicated effort – physically or digitally – to switch to it.

  3. Data and AI for personalisation

Data and AI will better enable employees to learn what is most relevant to them at the time that they need it and in the format that they prefer. It will also allow learners to track progress and develop a constantly evolving and personalised learning pathway.

  4. Coaching, mentoring and management

Increasingly, the role of L&D will be to support managers to support their team. Rather than treating training as something external, managers must be empowered with the time, skills, and tools to help their team perform better.  

  5. Changing role of L&D

L&D will become ever more focused on business aims and far more integrated into the business. Empowering people to learn in a curiosity-driven learning culture and supporting them as they do so will replace the traditional L&D tasks of creating and delivering courses.

Where can technology make a difference?

The workforce development market is large, open and ripe for evolution. 

Where big learning management system providers once dominated, we are now seeing a wave of new and more agile players emerging to meet the growing needs of employers and offering innovative assessment, performance management and talent marketplace platforms.

Our report shows exciting opportunities for technology to drive change, particularly in the world of startups, in four key areas: 

Skill assessment —> How do I improve, if I can’t define?

  • Today’s assessment solutions are bespoke, hiring focused, subjective and big test driven.
  • Tomorrow’s assessment solutions will be more objective, flexible, and business outcome aligned.

Supported career pathways —> Getting employees from A to B

  • Today’s solutions define and untangle skills while offering skill-informed content and learning pathways.
  • Tomorrow’s solutions will show the relationships between skills and roles while providing role-specific career pathways and transitions.

Applied, collaborative learning —> Increased sharing, uptake, engagement and self-motivation

  • Today’s learning is practical and flexible.
  • Tomorrow’s learning will be more applied, immersive and inclusive.

Tailored learning experiences —> Improving relevance and impact

  • Today’s employees have access to all of the content in the world.
  • Tomorrow’s employees will have access to learning made for them.

In conclusion

The last five years of technological innovation have started moving the needle towards workplace development that places a greater emphasis on skills, as well as more flexible and personalised resources and opportunities. 

It’s also clear that while the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown in new challenges to workplace development, it has also sped up awareness and appetite for technology-enhanced learning.

However, we are still just scratching the surface of the potential workplace development can offer businesses and individuals. 

The future of workplace development demands better measurement of skills, more effective skills-building through tailored learning experiences and collaboration platforms, and solutions that help employees progress throughout their careers.

The future doesn’t mean having access to more content, but having access to targeted, specialist content that drives results. 

The future doesn’t welcome siloed L&D and talent departments, but rather workforce development that runs across the whole organisation. 

The future is not about the boxes ticked and hours studied, but the progress made and results achieved.

To explore key areas of growth in the workforce development market in more detail and see recommendations for learning and development practitioners, organisations, policymakers and founders, download the full report here.

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