Want to be a Great L&D Pro in 5 Years? Master These 4 Skills

September 25, 2017

These are the skills that'll become increasingly more important to learning and development professionals over the next five years.

The next five years will offer a great opportunity for learning and development pros.

Not too long ago, many organizations treated employees as a commodity who could easily be replaced, as they were expected to do exactly what their job description entailed. But, with AI automating most of those jobs, what’s left are positions that require either outstanding people skills, strong strategic skills, rare technical skills or some combination of all three.

The people who possess those traits will be in high-demand. There, L&D plays a huge role in developing them and their managers, as studies show employees leave either because of their boss or they don’t feel their growing in their role.

For organizations who don’t have that level of talent, L&D will play an even bigger role. It’ll be incumbent on them to develop those skills within their workforce, a massive undertaking not seen to this scale since the establishment of the university system. If L&D can’t develop these skills within employees, organizations will either fall behind or be forced to pay high salaries for elite talent they might (or might not) be able to attract.

While this sounds like a lot of responsibility, there’s also a lot to gain. If L&D teams can deliver on this promise, they stand to finally gain a “seat at the table” and become as valued as sales or product or any other department within an organization.

So how does L&D professionals do this? What are the skills they need to learn over the next five years to prepare themselves for this challenge?

To find out we asked these four L&D experts:

  • Doug Lynch, a Ph.D. and longtime education researcher who has worked with colleges like the University of Pennsylvania to build their PennCLO program
  • Rose Else Mitchell, CLO at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Kimberly Devlin, managing director of EdTrek Inc.
  • Dan Rice, a West Point graduate and president of the Thayer Leadership Development Group.

The four highlighted several skills that – thanks to changes in both market conditions and demographics – will become increasingly more important to L&D pros over the next five years. They are:

1. Strategy

All four experts agreed: the requests to L&D departments over the next five years will almost assuredly increase, not decrease, as the increasingly fluid workplace requires employees to learn new skills faster than ever.

That’s where strategy becomes so important. If L&D departments don’t have a clear plan, they’ll soon become overwhelmed with asks. That’s going to result in the classic “death by a thousand paper cuts”, as doing that much will mean nothing is done exceptionally.

Instead, the experts agreed that L&D pros need to be highly strategic in how they spend their time. What are the areas they need to focus on the most? And what’s the best solution for solving the dozens of one-off asks that come in (most likely, via technology).

“Enthusiasm for workplace learning is a great thing,” Devlin said. “On the flip side, though, too many requests for weakly substantiated needs can quickly drain the resources – and energy – of any L&D team. Going forward, I see L&D leaders also needing to insulate teams from expending effort on requests that should have been redirected.”

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

2. Learning about learning

Interestingly enough, both Lynch and Mitchell agreed that L&D pros need to get better at learning. More specifically, learning more about the different ways people learn, while being ardent learners themselves.

“As funny as it sounds, most learning leaders aren’t particularly expert in learning,” Lynch said. “If they are to have a seat at the table they MUST be expert in all forms of learning strategies/approaches as well as how to engineer them.”

Mitchell agreed.

“The amount of change that is underway across enterprises in every industry means new businesses, new roles, new processes, new applications and toolsets,” Mitchell said. “We have to be willing as leaders to learn ourselves and be seen learning. This means having an open mindset to how the learning is coming to you – it may not be your preferred form or format; maybe it’s online and you’d rather be in a seminar or face-to-face group or the reverse. Try it; make time for it; choose to get something out of it for yourself.”

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

3. Technologically savvy

There’s no way L&D pros are going to meet the needs of their organizations through sheer will-power alone. They are going to have to become masters of technology, who use new tools as force multipliers that serve the needs of their employees.

“Either because of budget or because of geography, learning leaders will require solutions enabled by tech,” Lynch said. “And L&D leaders need to be fluent in learning technologies. Too often they rely on vendor expertise.”

Mitchell echoed Lynch’s thoughts. She said there are many L&D tools out there, and yet only a few provide real value to employees. With budgets and employee attention limited, it’s critical to focus on the tools that’ll have the absolute most impact on your organization.

“L&D leaders will be well advised to identify and put their resources behind the learning tools and moments that will have the greatest return,” Mitchell said.

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

4. Becoming more data-driven

Here’s been a consistent challenge for L&D pros for decades and one that’ll become increasingly more important for them to solve moving forward.

Granted, it’s difficult to directly tie learning to business results. But it’s not impossible. And, with organizations becoming more and more data-driven, business leaders are going to expect L&D pros to be able to do exactly that.

“Learning leaders should be able to answer two simple questions – did it work and why or why not,” Lynch said.

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

The takeaway

“We are currently in a business environment that is seeing more transformation and volatility than at any time in the recent history – an environment similar to the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment,” Rice said. “L&D leaders need to be able to empower a culture of learning by creating leaders of character capable of cascading lessons, providing feedback loops to evolve quickly and allow businesses to adapt, react and thrive in this type of environment.”

He is exactly right. The need for great learning programs will heighten in the near future – it’s up to L&D pros to handle that need.

Bottom line, over the next five years, few departments have as much to gain as L&D. If you, as an L&D pro, take that challenge seriously and prepare yourself for what’s needed, you’ll play an essential role in your organization’s success.

This article is part of a series on the future of skills that you and your team will need to succeed moving forward. Our other articles cover: