Reason for Optimism
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Chief learning officers tend to be an optimistic bunch. So it’s not surprising their expectations for the future often come with a rosy tint. With intervention, bad outcomes can be turned to good. A struggling worker can be transformed into a high performer.
The same sunny disposition holds true for their outlook on learning and development in 2019.
According to a survey of the Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board, a majority (65 percent) of CLOs say their outlook for 2019 is more optimistic than 2018, with 26 percent saying their outlook is the same and 10 percent less optimistic (Figure 1).
The Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board is a group of 1,500 professionals in the learning and development industry who have agreed to be surveyed by the Human Capital Media Research and Advisory Group, the research and advisory arm of Chief Learning Officer magazine. This survey was conducted in June 2018.
It’s not hard to understand why CLOs are feeling so good. The U.S. economy continues to hum along with GDP growth of 3.5 per-cent in third quarter 2018. Unemployment is near historic lows. Tax cuts for businesses delivered by Congress have corporate coffers brimming with cash and bosses feeling peppy. That’s all despite the warnings of some economists that we are due for a correction in the not-too-distant future.
In fact, this year’s good feelings build on top of a multiyear trend. In the same survey last year, a solid majority (59 percent) of CLOs reported feeling more optimistic about the year ahead.
A closer look at the responses reveals CLOs expect continued improvements and positive movement in a number of core talent areas (Figure 2). For example, a vast majority (86 percent) of CLOs are not taking the good times for granted and expect the learning function to be more aligned with company business objectives.
Nearly 3 out of 4 (74 percent) are experimenting and expect to adopt new techniques in 2019. A majority (65 percent) think learning will be better integrated with other talent management functions in the coming year. Nine out of 10 expect to either maintain high quality or have even better quality learning offerings.
All that good feeling isn’t to say there’s not a note of caution as CLOs look ahead. Less than half (43 percent) expect the learning budget to increase next year and 28 percent expect their budget will actually decrease, up from 45 percent and 24 percent respectively in 2017.
As always, cost plays a significant role in plans for the year ahead. Plans for using external vendors are a useful proxy for where priorities lie in 2019 (Figure 3). The accelerating pace of change in business and the need for agile, well-rounded leaders is pushing a majority of CLOs (88 percent) to either increase their use of executive education or keep investment the same.
Informal learning is the second highest area of expected change. According to the survey, 43 percent of learning leaders plan to use more external support and 39 percent plan to keep use about the same, reflecting the ongoing shift from traditional class-room-type learning to more flexible learning resources and platforms.
Custom content design came in at No. 4, with 78 percent of CLOs reporting plans to increase or maintain their use of external vendors. Given the highly specialized nature of business, CLOs appear to be looking beyond off-the-shelf options.
Continuing a multiyear decline, CLOs plan to cut their use of external vendors for books and printed materials. A significant majority (74 percent) plan to use these services less or keep their use steady.