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The evolution of L&D roles and skills


Ruth Stuart shares findings from recently published CIPD research, in partnership with Towards Maturity, outlining how L&D roles and skills are evolving and the ways in which practitioners can ensure they’re not left behind.

Key drivers of change

We live and work in a time of unprecedented change, where disruptive trends are commonplace and profoundly affecting organisations:

  • Globalisation is here to stay, as major economies are increasingly interdependent and new nations become major economic players

  • The ‘Internet of Things’ is predicted to lead to increased automation and decision-making optimisation

  • Major demographic change is anticipated, as the global population is expected to grow to 9.2bn by 2050

Collectively these drivers are working together to create a VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).

Impact on organisations

In order to survive and thrive in this VUCA world, organisations must be adaptive and ambidextrous. They must be attuned to the external environment, and have the capability to change direction at speed. To be ambidextrous they must both exploit short-term opportunities, while being open to broader, long-term change.

To enable this state and drive performance, the L&D function therefore needs to be:

  • Business and context-savvy, to anticipate and contribute towards organisational strategy and direction

  • Affecting and aligned to organisational and learner needs

  • Able to be versatile, adopting different roles depending on need

  • Ubiquitous to simultaneously operate in, and have impact on, different parts of the organisation

The research from the CIPD and Towards Maturity, L&D: evolving roles, enhancing skills, explores what this changing context means in practice. Through benchmarking data and organisational case studies the research identifies the extent to which L&D is evolving and lays out steps for L&D practitioners to adapt to these changes.

Changing roles

There are signs that L&D roles are becoming increasingly multifaceted, necessitating a blend of skills and capabilities. Organisations are encouraging L&D to shift away from learning delivery to more of a performance consulting role in the workforce, where practitioners are required to both diagnose problems, and identify the right solutions. In practice this might mean developing a bespoke L&D initiative, curating content, or in fact suggesting a non-L&D solution. This change is underpinned by the need for L&D to have a tangible business impact and continually add value to the wider organisation.

L&D capability

In order for L&D professionals to take on these roles, they must first address key skills gaps and invest in building capability closer to home. Often L&D teams are so focused on developing others that they don’t actively address their own learning needs. But if L&D is to truly impact the business, as a profession we must address key gaps in our own skills and capabilities. The research suggests that business and commercial understanding, technological and analytical capability, as well as content curation are all critical skills that many are lacking.

This greater awareness has already led some to actively invest in building L&D capability. Forward-thinking L&D teams are using a broad range of methods from formal development programmes to mentoring and knowledge sharing through networks. For example, PwC have introduced a digital learning academy, which focuses on building confidence in learning technologies, and having great conversations with business leaders, while McDonalds have introduced a programme specifically designed to build performance consulting capability.

Using evidence and insight to drive change

Having an appreciation of wider changes in the external environment can help L&D practitioners make the business case for investment in their own capabilities. Various forms of evidence and insight (such as benchmarking reports or your own internal data) can identify which skills are needed to build and put in place the right solutions to address the gaps. This evidence can also be used to make the case for change, to engage the team and gain stakeholder buy-in.

Ultimately if we are to thrive as an L&D profession we need to adapt and evolve to the changing context of work. To do so might just mean putting ourselves first.

Ruth Stuart is the research adviser for learning and development at the CIPDRead the full research report at will be speaking on this topic at this year’s L&D Show, taking place on 13-14 May 2015 at London Olympia

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