We’re in the middle of a talent war as we prepare our workforce for the future of work. How do HR professionals view the future of work and learning & development’s (L&D) role to reskill the workforce?

HR Open Source (HROS) is a free global community of practitioners who collaborate and share learnings to prepare themselves and their organizations for the future of work. In 2018, we launched the first annual HROS Future of Work Report to better understand how HR practitioners think about the future of work: What does it look like for them? What are they thinking about? What concerns them? How do they see their jobs changing in the short-term? We’ve seen plenty of content on the “future of work” topic from analysts, consulting firms, and so-called thought leaders, but our goal was to tell the story from the perspective of the people who are actually doing the work.

I’ll share some of the findings from the report and what they mean for L&D professionals.

HR professionals predict big changes with automation and digital disruption

When asked which market trends will have the biggest impact on work from an HR perspective, survey respondents zeroed in on automation and digital disruption. Today, 40% of respondents see digital disruption impacting work, but this number jumps to 54% when respondents predict what will happen in three years. The numbers are even more dramatic when respondents rated the impact of automation: 28% see this as a concern today, but 50% anticipate it having an impact in three years. Concerns relating to AI, automation, and robots replacing jobs occur regularly or daily for only 8% of respondents today, but 45% of respondents believe AI and automation will have a substantial or revolutionary impact on their profession in the future.

HR professionals predict an increase in the importance of Learning & Development in the short-term

We asked our survey respondents to identify top areas based on the importance they play to HR. Employee engagement, company culture, and HR were rated the highest today. But when it comes to predicting what will matter most in three years, Learning & Development jumps 8% from 33% today to 41% in three years.

As I look at these numbers, two issues stand out: recruiting and retention. There are a number of factors at play here: the strong economy, the turnover of generations in the workforce, and a more fluid approach to work and talent. All these factors mean that it’s hard to recruit people and hard to hold onto them. This is why investing in L&D can be so advantageous. It allows you to reskill and upskill the talent you already have. It’s expensive to hire someone new, so if you’re able to transition someone internal into a new role with training and upskilling, you’ll save on recruiting costs. By some estimates, it costs six to nine months of an employee’s salary to replace them. At the same time, people crave career growth, they want to be developed in their roles—whether it’s a promotion or acquiring new skills so they can be more impactful in their current role. The desire to reskill and upskill existing employees puts the onus on the L&D team, which is driving the elevated status of L&D over the next three years.

HR professionals see L&D having an increased impact on helping companies meet their business goals

Another survey question asked respondents to rate HR functions based on the impact they perceive them having in helping their company meet its business goals. L&D also sees a significant jump here, from 55% today to 63% in three years. I believe this also ties into the factors I mentioned above—recruiting and retention—because hiring and turnover are expensive. Effective L&D can either upskill or enrich employees’ jobs and their impact, making them more likely to stick around. This chain of events has an impact on a company’s bottom line since it reduces hiring costs. In other words, L&D is less expensive than turnover.

Companies are over-investing in recruitment but under-investing in L&D

Only 32% of survey respondents said they’re using L&D technology (like online learning, learning management platforms) today or plan to use it this year. I’ll admit, this number is actually a little lower than I expected—I anticipated more companies would be investing in L&D now. But when you look at the perceived impact of L&D three years from now, adoption of L&D technology will likely rise as organizations realize learning is critical to business success.

Moreover, companies are enamored with this idea of the “war for talent” and they’ve been investing heavily in recruiting but under-investing in other important touch points like L&D. Several studies have found that companies spend between $4,000–$7,600 on recruiting costs per employee, while the average spent on learning and development is around $1,000 according to ATD.

They’ve been doing everything to get people in the door and not matching that with continued energy to keep them there. L&D technology and career development and enrichment is a big way to get people to stay, so I think we’ll see an increase over the coming years because it’ll become a differentiator. Even if there’s a recession as some are predicting, I think candidates will still be drawn to learning environments where they can grow. In fact, this may become more common in a tight market because employees need to ensure that they remain marketable.

The world is changing rapidly. Regardless of which filter you use—whether it’s technology or societal shifts, learning is becoming increasingly important to adapt and cope with these changes. As the pace of change accelerates, L&D will take on a growing responsibility to support employees and challenge them to build their skill sets.

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