Future Focus

Meeting next-generation workforce, learner, and L&D delivery system needs.

With the youngest generation in the workforce even larger than the Baby Boomer generation, companies have a lot to do to keep up. According to population estimates released in April 2016 by the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. Millennials, defined as those ages 18 to 34 in 2015, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51 to 69).

These young people are “digital natives,” who don’t remember a world without personal computers in nearly every home, mobile communications such as smartphones, and the Internet. The youngest employees in the coming years won’t even remember a world without social media. Forward-thinking companies are planning and even beginning to roll out programs and technology targeted at this digitally fluent generation.

L&D Growing With Coming Employees

Many companies don’t have to wait to experience an influx of young employees. Training Top 125er Guckenheimer is one such company. “Guckenheimer has experienced amazing growth over the last few years, and there is every indication this trend will continue,” say Senior Director, Training and Development Mark Lenahan, and Regional Trainer Mary Gregg. “This means an increase in our labor force and new systems and resources to support that growth. As much as we can, we look out several years [in advance] to ensure that the coursework, or system, we are considering won’t be obsolete before it is fully implemented.”

The company has invested in three major systems to support future learning and development needs:

  • Human Resources Information System (HRIS): This provides employee data that will be used to identify training opportunities.
  • Learning management system (LMS): “This changed the learning culture at Guckenheimer,” say Lenahan and Gregg. “Not only do we have a central repository for all things training, we now have given employees, and their managers, more control over their career development than they’ve ever had before.”
  • Mentoring Software System: “We are in the process of implementing a mentoring system that will address three different audiences— career development (existing employees who need help on a specific skill such as leadership, time management, etc.); high potentials (employees who are being groomed for the next level); and orientation (partnering new managers with seasoned employees who can help them get up to speed and guide them through their first 60 to 90 days),” Lenahan and Gregg explain.

As the company beefs up its learning technology, it keeps in mind the different mindset Millennials may bring to their jobs. “We already have seen a shift in the importance of on-the-job learning. Today’s workforce, especially the Millennials, won’t necessarily sit in a classroom for four hours,” say Lenahan and Gregg. “They’ve grown up with instant access to information, so providing micro-learning modules is important. They want small chunks of training on a specific topic, delivered on a handheld device, which will give them just the information they need at the right time.”

Investing in learning technology that allows for employee flexibility, and the ability for each to blaze his or her own path at the company, is worth it, findings from a recent PwC report suggest. According to Work-Life 3.0: Understanding How We’ll Work Next, some two-thirds of employees believe future career paths will be determined by workers themselves, not by their companies, and 63 percent believe the eight-hour workday will become obsolete.

Every Leader Should Be a Teacher

With the mentality of the up-and-coming workforce generation geared toward self-determination and flexibility, on-the-job learning becomes more important. A more continuous and less structured approach to learning is what will be most valued. And with it, the ability of managers to be teachers and coaches, rather than autocrats. Training Top 125 company Vi has anticipated this need, and is nurturing managers to be learning leaders. “To prepare for a greater focus for on-the-job learning, we need to develop and equip our leaders to become more deliberative and thoughtful mentors and coaches,” says Human Resources and Chief Learning Executive Judy Whitcomb. “At the end of the day, managers have the greatest influence on ensuring on-the-job learning is effective. I believe Learning organizations need to begin focusing on developing leaders as teachers. We cannot take it for granted, or leave it to chance, that if we make a shift to a greater focus on on-the-job learning, managers can support, or be effective, at this on their own.”

To enable a culture of leaders capable of delivering learning, Vi Learning professionals are helping managers to develop and deliver training themselves. “We are putting greater emphasis on developing team members outside of the Learning and Development function in facilitation and training skills,” says Whitcomb. “In addition, we continue to refine knowledge, skills, and competencies for each role within our organization, and align learning resources and on-demand content and tools [with those roles], to enable and engage our leaders and employees. Our strategies of offering virtual classrooms, alignment of on-demand training tools, and the development of new resources for managers and employees are steps toward this evolution.”

Collaboration between employees to facilitate learning also has become more prevalent at Vi. The company is relying more heavily on virtual classrooms and study groups. “Over the last year, Vi has shifted a sizeable portion of the company’s Breakthrough Leadership Program to virtual classroom learning and study groups,” Whitcomb points out. “We continue to focus on the usability of our technology solutions. For instance, we’re in the process of going through a redesign of our online university, E-Campus. Providing employees the ability to access learning in easily digestible and flexible learning delivery channels is key.”


  • Assess your current learning technology, such as your learning management system, and decide whether you need a more robust system to manage the youngest generation’s more informal, just-in-time approach to learning.
  • Make the most of Millennials’ social mindset by launching a heartier mentoring program, one that could even come with its own internal social network.
  • Make collaboration between employees, regardless of where they are located, easier with technology solutions that can be used on both stationary and mobile devices.
  • Think in terms of micro-learning modules that allow employees to easily access on-the-job help and in-the-moment learning.
  • Make sure your learning programs, and all other learning resources, are accessible and easy to read and use on mobile devices.
  • Emphasize the importance of all employees blazing their own career path at the company, so they feel they have options for growth, rather than feeling locked into one particular position.
  • Train managers to serve as learning leaders who both learn from their employees and act as informal trainers.


By TJ Coyle, Chief Learning Officer, Alphanumeric Systems, Inc. (www.alphanumeric.com)

All future learning and development (L&D) systems will be learner-centric. The ability to integrate a community component will enable the system to leverage the audience’s intellectual capital. Design should support the overarching organizational goals and be able to measure against them. And it will be critical to engage a new generation of self-directed learners to build the skills needed to succeed.

First Impressions Matter

Future systems will leverage multimedia to allow learners to personalize their experience. An intuitive graphic user interface (GUI) will enhance interactivity and encourage user engagement (and utilization), while supporting the sort of rich media tools—such as YouTube-type videos, mobile-friendly design, social media, and feedback components—the performance- support model will demand.

Embrace and Encourage Active Participation

Rather than expect passive audiences to only receive content, future L&D systems will have to provide ways for learners to contribute. Maybe they’re given authoring rights, which allow them to create and contribute to discussion boards, blogs, videos, or podcasts. Such features will embolden learners to take ownership of their development and assist others.

Automation and AI Augment Self-Directed Learning

Systems of tomorrow will take advantage of advances in analytics, big data, and artificial intelligence (AI) to make self-directed learning programs more efficient and effective. Already we’re seeing chatbots use data and metrics to give users on-demand content in real time from their mobile devices.

Moderators Will Guide the Future of Learning

Delivery systems are destined to change, and so the support needed to maintain them will change, as well. L&D teams, along with their IT counterparts, will need new skill sets that focus on aligning performance and learning while also providing the analytics to substantiate it. Administrators will transform into moderators, facilitating discussions and becoming change management specialists.


Whether for a remote worker, partner, or reseller, mobile training provides learning options unavailable just a few short years ago. Instead of training during a packed workday, people now can train on the go whenever and wherever they choose—whether it be at an airport waiting for a flight, on a morning train traveling to work, or later in the evening in the comfort of their own homes. Mobile learning also has the added benefit of allowing trainees to refer back to training materials whenever they need it—just in time before a deal-clinching sales call or before the launch of a key reseller initiative. And even remote partners and resellers can get up to speed quickly on new products, services, or corporate initiatives at their convenience.

According to a study conducted by online training platform Mindflash (www.mindflash.com), many workers actually prefer to learn after hours and on the go. Mindflash examined 250,000 online training classes taken over six weeks and discovered:

  • Mobile learning is growing—with especially high usage over the weekend.
  • Mobile learners complete their training course in half the time, and 20 percent are more likely to reference training material again.
  • Mobile learners are less active during “office hours” and more active from close of business until midnight.

Corporate training is a $70.6 billion annual market, according to Training magazine’s 2016 Training Industry Report, and mobile learning helps employers train employees, partners, and customers, while scaling their businesses without increasing incremental costs. Large enterprises with gig economy workers, for example, can train drivers and delivery people quickly, cost effectively, and on a global scale with mobile training. It’s clear companies that provide the convenience and accessibility of mobile training stand to reap the benefits of increased productivity and marketplace success.


A national survey sponsored and developed by the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative, the Markle Foundation, Burson-Marsteller, and TIME looks at how companies are coping with new employment models such as the growth of contingent and contract work. The survey was based on 800 online interviews with employers conducted by research firm Penn Schoen Berland (PSB).

According to the Workforce of the Future Survey, a majority of all employers, 56 percent, say having a full-time employee makes it easier to accommodate the ebbs and flows in work volume and report that contract workers are less loyal or invested. Conversely, employers cite using independent contractors both for the flexibility of hiring workers with specific skills as the need arises (90 percent), as well as for cost-saving purposes such as taxes and benefits (86 percent). Still, when presented with the tradeoff, most employers (58 percent) say full-time hires are better for their company because they provide more value over the long-term.

Other key findings include:

  • Employers expect themselves and others to use more contract workers in the future. Of those who use contract labor, a majority, 57 percent, expect to use more in the future—and 70 percent of all employers predict that more companies and organizations will move toward a more on-demand labor model.
  • While four out of five employers believe providing workers with benefits is necessary to attract and retain talent, two-thirds feel they should not be responsible for providing benefits to independent contractors. And 50 percent don’t think they should be responsible for providing training or education to independent contractors. Twenty-two percent of employers believe workers themselves should be responsible for providing benefits, 18 percent believe private companies that help workers manage/gain benefits should be responsible, while just 9 percent say it’s the government’s responsibility.
  • Almost all employers are satisfied with the performance of contingent workers. Some 97 percent of employers who use independent contractors report they are satisfied with their performance.
  • Employers are looking for loyal, engaged employees, and independent contractors don’t meet that expectation. Fifty-eight percent of employers who hire independent contractors agree that “non-employee contingent workers are not as loyal.” Additionally, 54 percent of employers agree that non-employee contingent workers are “ not always available when I need them,” and 52 percent agree that nonemployee contingent workers are “ not as invested in their product.”


By Kelli Wells, Executive Director, Skills and Education, GE Foundation

Ready to hear a shocking statistic? Some 65 percent of jobs of the future don’t exist yet (http://www.successperformancesolutions.com/2013/65-percent-of-todays-students+will-be-employed-in-jobs-that-dont-existyet/). For students today, this means it will be important to hone an adaptable, tactical skill set rooted in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math) learning, as well as nurture their “softer” skills, such as communication, reliability, initiative, and collaboration. Yet according to recent research, few students are prepared to tackle the job market of tomorrow, and employers are noticing (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/20/study-finds-big-gaps-between-student-and-employer-perceptions). How can we adequately invest in students so they have both the hard and soft skills employers will actively seek and prioritize?

The approach is a dual effort, one that straddles practical STEAM education with opportunities to coach for greater emotional intelligence. Case in point: the GE Foundation’s recent $25 million investment in Boston public schools. This investment is capped with a program entitled the GE Brilliant Career Labs. These career labs will encompass physical locations and virtual tools accessible to students around the country. With the resources of the GE Brilliant Career Labs, students will be able discover what vocations of the future match their interests, what jobs are available based on those interests, and what skills and education they’ll need to stand out as high-quality candidates.

In Boston, the GE Foundation is in the process of unrolling the first physical location of the GE Brilliant Labs at Excel High School. At this location, students will be able to engage with 3-D printers, one-on-one mentoring, and other STEAM education tools. Beyond the U.S., the GE Foundation is developing a Global Youth Internship Program in conjuncture with the UN’s International Labor Organization that will provide 16- to 18-year-old students with practical work experience in STEAM careers through diverse internship opportunities. Beginning in 2017, the internships will take place at GE’s new Boston headquarters and scale globally after the initial rollout phase.

With 65 percent of the jobs of the future yet to be created, we need a workforce that’s capable and prepared to dive into tough challenges and succeed. It’s on students to utilize their skills for a better future. It’s on us to provide the tools to show them how.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.