ATD Conference Shows Learning and Development Has Become ‘Business-Critical’

For professionals in the corporate learning industry, a massive conference last month in Atlanta wasn’t just an opportunity to get together, exchange ideas and showcase new tools.  It was a chance for power players from all over the globe to steer business at large in a new direction.

Experts at the ATD International Conference and Exposition made this clear: To succeed in the new economy, organizations must make talent development a central pillar of what they do.  

From what the Pathgather team saw and experienced while running a prominent exhibition on the showroom floor, the message appeared to resonate.

Learning & Development is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s business-critical.

 

"There seems to be a growing understanding that amid the pace of change everyone’s businesses are experiencing, Learning & Development is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s business-critical,” said Eric Duffy, Pathgather’s founder and CEO. L&D professionals “believe the onus is on them to find novel and impactful solutions."

“They increasingly seem to have a mandate from their business partners to push the envelope, meaning that prospects seem not just willing but eager to seek out new approaches that even a couple of years ago they would not have been ready to take a look at,” Duffy said. He was part of the Pathgather team meeting with some of the 10,000 attendees from 78 countries who filled the sprawling Georgia World Congress Center.  

Along with a growing sense of responsibility comes a newfound commitment to creativity, Duffy said. “I was inspired by how inspired attendees themselves seem to be. I perceive a shift over the past couple of years in how empowered L&D practitioners seem to be to try new things.”

The transformative state of the training industry also struck Kirk Wells, Pathgather’s vice president of sales. The conference showed there’s a “reshaping of how L&D is viewed,” with practitioners becoming “more strategic” and more “prescriptive,” rather than “reactive,” he said.

Still, there are challenges that come along with that, Wells noted. The conference showed there are “tons of content providers across all specialties.” He said that’s “great, but also creates more noise …  It did seem everyone was trying to find a way to combine many different things — such as content, communications, initiatives and resources — in a meaningful direction. That could make it harder for someone to “sift through the BS and get to something relevant.”

Becky Hobbs, a Pathgather product marketing consultant, also picked up on a challenge facing the industry as she worked her way through the conference. Too many companies are not designing training for “the average employee,” she said. “Almost all of the training content providers were sales and leadership companies.”

This is a problem experts have also pointed to, including Pathgather adviser Tamar Elkeles during her session at the conference. “Don’t just focus on your VPs and above,” Elkeles said. “If you’re a true talent executive, you’re looking at talent as it comes in the door.”

Hobbs also found that many in the L&D space still believe myths about millennials, the largest group in today’s workforce. For example, she said, “they say millennials complain and ask why instead of just doing.” But people in general look for answers, Hobbs said. Millennials are just more used to getting them because of such quick access to information. Asking the reasons for a task doesn’t mean millennials are less interested in getting a task done, she said, adding: “It hasn’t changed the core intent.”

Hobbs says she also found that much of the “L&D/Talent crowd is ‘traditional’ rather than tech-savvy — far behind many of their colleagues in their businesses in grasping new tech.”

This is another challenge facing the industry. AT&T executive Robert Koehler referred to it during his session at the conference, saying professionals must embrace new tech to create engaging content. 

That’s another reason Duffy found the conference hopeful. As learning professionals are just starting to explore new technological options, “many people were intrigued to learn more about what a Talent Development Platform is,” he said. “At Pathgather, we have a good opportunity to define it.”

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