Top employee development trends for the year

If you are like every other working professional on earth, you probably spent a good part of January making lists. Resolutions. Goals. Objectives. Targets. It’s what people do to ramp up and settle into a new year. So in that grand tradition, we have one more list to add to the mix: Four trends that we believe will have the biggest impact on your employee training and development planning in 2019. 


Trend #1: Alignment Brings Results

Employee development efforts can’t succeed in a vacuum. Yet all too often, employee training and development programs are still mostly siloed and disconnected from higher-level business objectives.

Breaking this cycle isn’t easy; it requires an active, sustained effort to build productive relationships with your executive team and other key departments across your organization. But with these connections in place, you can create employee development and performance management initiatives that support, align with, and make meaningful contributions to your most important and strategic business goals.

When your business hits those strategic goals, the people in your organization will feel like they’ve made meaningful contributions if you’ve done the work to align what they do with the most critical business objectives.


Trend #2: There’s Nothing Soft About Soft Skills 

The verdict is definitely in. Today, people value transferable skills (often called “soft skills” or sometimes “human skills”) like emotional intelligence, negotiation, active listening, and collaboration more than traditional job-specific skills, and your employee training and development program should acknowledge and reflect this reality.

That’s not to say you should immediately abandon all your job skills training and convert your learning center into a yoga studio. But it’s important to recognize the crucial role that transferrable skills training plays in boosting employee retention, developing leaders, and building a positive, productive company culture. It’s no surprise that communication and emotional intelligence (EI) trainings are surging in popularity. And if you’re not already riding the Soft Skills Express, it’s definitely time to jump on that train. 


Trend #3: Employee Development is About More Than Employee Development

You’ve heard the cliché: Businesses no longer choose employees, employees choose businesses (or something along those lines). If that’s true (and it usually is), the breadth and quality of your employee development program has a direct, unavoidable impact on your ability to recruit and retain the best people.

We live in a world where the practical lifespan of most skills is about five years, which makes ongoing learning and development more valuable than ever. And if current and potential employees see that you’re willing to make a serious investment in their long-term success, you gain a significant advantage over competing employers. Finally, in a competitive employment environment, it’s always a good idea to promote your commitment to employee development as part of your recruitment program—and make it a visible, prominent piece of your employee benefits package.


Trend #4: Technology, Technology, and Technology (Did We Mention Technology?)

Technology advancements shape and impact employee training and development in a big way every year. And in 2019, there’s enough happening in this space to fill multiple articles. Or books. Here’s a quick list of some of the biggest, most promising technology developments you should explore and keep an eye on this year (if you’re not already):


• People Expect Blended Learning. This concept goes beyond simply providing online or mobile access to learning programs and materials. It’s about designing and creating holistic experiences that cater to people’s habits and their busy lifestyles. With blended learning, classroom training, on-demand, mobile, and other formats and platforms all work seamlessly together to provide rich, versatile, and personalized experiences. Blended learning is also about providing easy, anytime access, so people always have quality training and development opportunities at their fingertips.


• UX Matters. When it comes to online experiences, we are basically all spoiled. People are accustomed to easy, frictionless, intuitive experiences whenever they shop, play, or read online. So today, if you present your employees with a hodgepodge of PowerPoint decks, SharePoint docs, video files, and web pages cobbled together in a legacy LMS, they will give up and tune out—no matter how good the content is. That’s why so many smart organizations are investing in new end-to-end employee development platforms. They understand that they have to offer their employees the same quality experiences as their favorite news sites or shopping apps—and that a more unified, advanced learning and development technology platform is the best way to make that happen.


• UX Matters Part II: Flash Is Over. Speaking of legacy, this is a friendly reminder that Flash—the heart and soul of so much training content over the past 20+ years—is officially headed for obsolescence in 2020. If you don’t have an active plan for updating or replacing any Flash-based content and apps that are still up and running, it’s time to create one.


• Making Employee Development Smarter. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have become pervasive—whether it’s Netflix telling you what to watch next or driverless Ubers zipping around Las Vegas. In the employee development space, AI makes it possible to create new kinds of smart, customized, user-focused learning experiences that grow and adapt as people advance and move into new roles. AI will continue to play a central role in most areas of our work and personal lives—and that definitely includes employee training and development.


• Immerse Yourself in VR. Augmented and virtual reality have gone mainstream in a big way, and they hold fascinating possibilities for employee development. The cost of developing AR and VR content is coming down quickly. More low-cost VR devices are becoming available (including ultra-inexpensive options like Google Cardboard). And that opens the door to new categories of immersive, engaging, and ultra-realistic learning experiences that will help take your employee development efforts to the next level.


• Would You Like to Play a Game? The word “gamification” carries a bit of baggage. But in the context of employee development, gamification is not about turning your entire learning program into a Fortnite spinoff. It’s about building a competitive rewards or points system that motivates people to actively participate in your employee development plans. Setting up some friendly competition and rewarding people for their learning achievements is a proven way to boost participation and improve results.


That’s our list of some (but certainly not all) of the trends that we believe will have a significant impact on employee development in 2019. We hope they’re useful. Chances are, you’re already actively thinking about and working on many of them, because they all have the potential to make your employee development program an even more essential and valuable part of your organization’s success.



Check out our e-book to learn more about the future of employee development.