4 Corporate Training Industry Trends You Need to Know in 2021 [Part 2]

Corporate trainers know that the past year has probably seen more changes to corporate cultures than any other. Many of these changes have affected the corporate training industry more than most fields. For a time, Zoom replaced in-person training sessions, while tacit learning from “water cooler” conversations was replaced by... nothing. With at least a partial return to the office underway in some parts of the world and hopefully on the horizon elsewhere, it’s time to look at the future of the training industry.  

In Part 1 of this series, we made the point that the training market had already been facing disruption and change before the pandemic. The lockdown created further disruption and dramatically accelerated certain trends, but did not directly create them. 

In this Part II, we will explore four more general trends affecting corporate trainers. These trends are broader than issues surrounding remote or hybrid delivery of training to a remote or hybrid workforce. We can expect them to play out over the next few years, even the next decade.

Corporate Training Trend #1: Accountability

It’s been a long time since organizations have increased their focus on measuring the return on investment (ROI) that they get from various activities. The corporate training budget has been shielded from this dynamic to a greater extent than most because its impact can be difficult to measure. As Jill Sandy of Constant Delights explains, this is changing; like all service providers, internal and external, trainers will need to do more to quantify and justify their value in the future: 

While it is still not possible to quantify the productivity of training programs, there are better tools and methods out there for calculating ROI. Data analytics tools are now being used to identify the ROI of learning initiatives by organizations. ROI is a great way to test the quality of any training program and reshape it accordingly. Training assessments and ROI training calculators are some effective strategies to evaluate the quality of training programs.

James Walsh, CEO of Billions in the Bank, agrees that data analytics demonstrate the value and efficacy of a training program. He cautions corporate trainers to be aware that their work is increasingly likely to be evaluated through this lens, noting that: “people are turning towards using data analytics as a way to efficiently measure the ROI of the learning initiatives being undertaken.”

Corporate Training Trend #2: Peer-to-Peer Learning

With the shift overway from “delivering a service” to “increasing productivity”, corporate trainers have had to rethink many aspects of how programs are delivered. Indeed, Part I of this series noted the growing impact of microlearning for delivering content to employees in easier-to-absorb formats. 

Similarly, many trainers have noted improved results when incorporating more peer-to-peer learning into their training programs.  Instead of talking to employees in a lecture or seminar format, many trainers are talking with employees in more of a facilitation-style format. According to Megan Robinson, Leadership Coach at E Leader Experience, doing so makes training experiences more dynamic and creates a more collegial environment:

The role of the trainer is moving away from educator to a skilled facilitator role as participants imagine, create, share, and explore a solution that creates stronger retention and application of the training. It is the trainer's responsibility to create the environment, experience, and discussion that allows for effective peer-to-peer learning to take place.

Another advantage to companies of peer-to-peer learning - though it presents a challenge to trainers - is that it generally carries a lower cost. Elizabeth Sandler, CEO of Echo Juliette, LLC, notes this shift, advises trainers that “rather than pay for expensive 1:1 coaching, many employers are looking for options that facilitate peer mentoring and group-based growth and development.

Many of the trainers who succeed in the next decade will be ones who can profitability deliver these lower-cost programs incorporating peer learning, at scale, in ways that generate an observable ROI.

Corporate Training Trend #3: Diversity in Diversity Training 

The increasing importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI, or D&I for diversity and inclusion) training is not in itself new. As Clarence Underwood of Count US IN reports, “diversity, inclusion and belonging are amongst the biggest things for training hourly employees all the way up to CEOs.”

Indeed, Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer at Resume.io, predicts a potentially grim future for trainers who are not following this trend:


Corporate trainers without serious D&I credentials are going to need to seriously consider what this will mean for their ability to compete in the post-summer 2020 world. The pressure on the private sector both from within and without to double down on orienting their CSR [corporate social responsibility] and their executive-level development towards things like implicit bias training, intercultural competency and an awareness of and sensitivity to important cultural and political issues means opportunities for corporate trainers with this expertise and lost revenue for those without.

That said, the newer trend requiring corporate trainers’ attention is that diversity and inclusion training must itself be diverse. This does not mean ensuring a diverse makeup of your training team, though that is also a good idea; it means that a “one size fits all” approach to offering DEI training will have decreasing interest to customers. As RoverPass CEO Ravi Parikh notes, “different industries have different diversity concerns, so it's pretty hard to create a standardized training plan that works for everyone. I'm seeing a lot of companies hire local people or agencies who are familiar with the community and the people in it.”

As a side note, trainers who want to deliver higher-end in-person DEI training can point out to organizations that employees are becoming increasingly savvy and willing to attribute intent to their employer’s choice of training programs. This can act as a shield against potential clients’ desire to save costs by using an off-the-shelf online program. As Cynthia Cristilli of Life Theater Services notes, employees often question whether an organization “wants to just check the boxes, or do they want to have some real impact?” 

Post pandemic, I strongly feel that if you want to make any kind of dent, ESPECIALLY in anti-harassment/abusive conduct/unconscious bias you’ll need to bring people together, with live trainers and in the same room. You can’t download empathy, but you CAN learn it by engaging with and listening to others. More than ever, employees are craving social interaction and the synergy that comes with it. 

Corporate Trend #4: Personalized Training

The move towards inclusion at the office is paralleled by increasing understanding that people also have diverse neurology and learning styles. As such, trainers and organizations which can adapt their offerings to the diverse needs of their trainees will have a leading edge. In addition, employees will often exhibit greater buy-in to the process when they have individualized experiences.  

For example, Israel Gaudette, founder of Link Tracker Pro, reports that his organization expects better results and employee retention from a recent shift in this direction:

I’ve deployed a personalized training program and let them freely decide how their own learning will go. I’ve catered it to them in the form of training modules with specific milestones that need to be achieved. And once they choose which of these modules is fit for them, they’ll just have to ensure to fulfill the objective being set. With it, I'm not only giving a bigger focus on their experience but it is attracting them more to stay with the company as well.

Personalized training is another area in which trainers can lead clients to opt for higher-priced services that are justified by improved results. Damien Knight, CEO of Workever, explains that “personalized employee training programmes that are customised to each individual employee's strengths and weaknesses produce better results in terms of efficiency and growth, despite the fact that they are more costly and time-consuming.

Incidentally, while they are more expensive to develop, personalized training programs will benefit from the increasing ubiquity and accessibility of AI-based tools and “no code” platforms that trainers can use to develop and deliver them. In many cases, they are an investment well worth making.

Conclusion

The corporate training world is at an inflection point, as the pandemic and its aftermath deeply disrupted operations and dramatically accelerated some emerging trends. To succeed in this new world, trainers will need to embrace quantitative measurement of their results, use personalization and peer-to-peer tools in their training, and be part of a trend for increasing diversity in diversity training.

[To see Part I of this article, click here]

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