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John McGurk

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Scanning the future of learning: The three I’s


The CIPD's Dr. John McGurk gives his predictions on the future of learning from a talent development perspective.
Usually when people are invited to make predictions about how things will be in learning and talent development in the next 5-10 years, it normally results in two basic scenarios. First, there is the tomorrow's world scenario: we'll all be hovering around using integrated skull pads, holding virtual meetings with people in all continents, beaming thought bytes, working with robot trainers. Or secondly, the 'steady state': everything will be like it is now only the pace will change and it will get faster. Technically of course we are hovering around in a cloud and we already have robots in training. That said, a massive increase in the pace of technological change, hyper-contestability in markets for products, investment and talent are already shaping the future. A number of megatrends such as demographics, the ongoing rise of Asia and Africa and emerging America will provide the backdrop. These developments will all continue against a context of choice about economic and political systems, and our environmental future. What these strands will certainly do is unleash the need for human capital.
"Simplifying delivery is a key issue. We need to remove layers of complexity and get straight to the heart of organisational capability."
A joint report involving the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Boston Consulting Group points out that by 2030 an additional 45m employees will be required in Europe alone, where population growth rates are falling and immigration is curtailed. Developing talent will be a real challenge, it is therefore a critical time for L&TD. So here is what we in CIPD think will be crucial.
  • Intervention: How we deliver and increasingly facilitate learning
  • Insight: How we use L&TD to impact the organisation
  • Influence: How we position L&TD where it can make the best impact


Being seen as the training department is a narrow option for L&TD now and in five years' time it will be even less of an option. The spread of elearning is already making this a reality and the proliferation of smart technology, a computer in every pocket, and the rise of gaming will also change our role. Using evidence-based L&TD to make powerful arguments for doing things differently will be critical. Intervention also means effective evaluation, which we must put right at the front of our intervention. Simplifying delivery is a key issue. We need to remove layers of complexity and get straight to the heart of organisational capability. We need to challenge and test the requirement for interventions even when it shifts us away from delivery towards a much more challenging and impactful consultant's role. We also need to use our skills in coaching and facilitation, team intervention and action learning to spark insight, which is our next key issue. 


We need to move towards an insight-driven approach to HR with obvious implications for L&TD. That means using what we know about learning and talent to impact the business. It's about spotting and supporting new capabilities. It also means harvesting the best insight inside and outside of L&TD to help drive performance. It increasingly means having an eye on the global dimensions of the business. The medium term challenge is linking our powerful transformational interventions such as coaching, performance management, change OD and engagement. Used properly these are powerful game-changers. We think insight about the mind and how people learn about changes in the world economy and the way different people in the workplace access learning will be critical.


Influence is built by our ability to intervene effectively and to use our insight to impact the business. However, influence is eroded by invisibility and an unwillingness to use the work or ideas of others ('Not Invented Here' syndrome). Innovation will be key. From 2002-2007 the number of researchers in developing countries jumped from 1.8 to 2.7m (Source: PWC/Saratoga 2010). In the developing worlds it was much less, though against a higher base. If we stay in the training suite or spend our time perfecting our learning needs analysis we will lose influence. That is why we need to think deeply about our ability to challenge existing practices and suggest new ones. That means getting around the organisation, aligning with managers and supporting them to develop L&TD interventions. Influence also comes from making sure that we help organisations as the 'go-to' on effective L&TD interventions and help to influence the Government's skills agenda. That means being sector-smart, knowing that what works in an airline is different from what's needed for an accountancy team, for example.
"Insight about the mind and how people learn about changes in the world economy and the way different people in the workplace access learning will be critical."


We have a bright but challenging future. If we think about our interventions, the insight we bring and the influence we need to shape the future, we can get there. Even though we will probably not even be flying from a third London airport, let alone hovering with a cloud pack in 10 years' time L&TD will have a continued pivotal role at the heart of organisations. Incidentally I think that by 2021 we should be able to have an uninterrupted Skype conversation between a team in Belo Horizonte and one in Basingstoke, but I wouldn't bet on it!

Dr John McGurk is CIPD Adviser on Learning, and Talent Development with special responsibility for HRD and Coaching issues. After a multi faceted career starting as a Train Driver, becoming an HR academic then Research Director for the UK pilots union, he has settled into the role of CIPD adviser. John is a qualified coach and mentor and is currently working on the evaluation and impact of LTD in organisations, as well as managing research projects and key outputs on learning and talent development for CIPD


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