Our current global situation has amplified the need for future-ready, digital-savvy learning and development (L&D) teams. We’ve accelerated the need for modern and effective training as we’ve thrust our workforce into working and training digitially. With this, the future of work is already here, and employees are approaching learning unconventionally. The half-lives of capabilities are dwindling and there’s a constant need to reskill and upskill. Employees need experiences that will allow them to continually reinvent themselves with new skills or face the risk of being stagnant in an ever-accelerating world.

Employees’ training demands are not the only thing changing. Learning professionals also need to prepare for a future where emerging technologies and workplace transformations are disrupting the status quo.

In order to keep up with the changing times, there’s a call for L&D teams to regroup and evolve as the workplace evolves. Here are four skills you need to develop for your L&D team over the next few years:

1. Data-driven analysis and decision-making

One of the biggest challenges that L&D professionals face is the measurement of training impact in hard data. There’s a constant struggle when it comes to showing our business leaders their ROI in training. How do you directly tie the impact of learning into business results? Traditional ROI metrics don’t paint a clear picture about learning measurement as they do for sales and marketing, which is why it is important to invest in data-analysis training for yourself or for your L&D team.

Business leaders are becoming more insistent on data-driven insights because this is how they measure performance and ROI. Luckily, as attitudes towards data are changing, technology is available to counter the demand and make data-collecting, prediction, and analysis easier and more accurate. L&D analysts need to build skills in data science to map the collected data against organizational performance in order to measure impact. This data will inform their decisions in training going forward.

A popular and extensively-used model for analyzing and measuring the results of training and assessing its impact on business is the Kirkpatrick model. Companies have used this model for over 30 years and the newer training evaluation methods have this as their foundation. It follows the initial reaction to the training, the impact (i.e., skills learned and knowledge acquired), the transfer or demonstration of skills, and finally the results shown in organizational performance. We’ll see more Level-4 evaluations and a continued push to measure impact on business success as this, in turn, helps L&D be a business partner.

2. Learning about learning

L&D pros need a full review on ‘learner-centric’ approaches and learning solutions. The way to provide better training is by getting better at learning. This will entail immersing themselves in the learner experience through learner personas and being able to reframe content in a way that empathizes with learners’ needs and motivations. Learning about neuroscience in learning has also proven to be a solid step toward supporting this. It has, in turn, shown us the importance of developing skills in other learning techniques like microlearning, visual learning, blended learning, etc.

If this new learning climate has taught us anything, it’s that it’s time to stop recycling the old ineffective learning methods and lectures and start focusing on methods that drive optimum engagement. Employees are seeking learning opportunities that keep pace with their lives and are authentic to their individuality.

3. Technology mastery

Faster, deeper, and better learning experiences don’t just happen by simply willing it to happen. The effort you invest is important but technology is what makes just-in time, in-context learning possible. Right on cue, there are a host of emerging technologies taking part in the digital transformation of the workplace. In recent years, we’ve seen tools like AI and augmented reality take center-stage.

It is the job of an L&D technologist to stay up to date with these emerging technologies and maintain an adequate level of savvy understanding of most of them. This is especially helpful in decreasing the need for outside vendors, as in-house technologists are likely better acquainted with employee and organization-wide needs and limitations.

4. Consultancy

Being a business partner means consulting—talking, listening, understanding, thinking deeply, and responding. L&D professionals need excellent communication, influencing, and engagement skills, as these skills are at the core of being an effective professional. This means engaging in critical thinking in order to make the right decisions for the right reasons, and also delving more into business awareness. In order for L&D to align itself with the business, it has to understand the business and the market it operates in.

L&D cannot remain “order takers”; there is a need for strategy within the department. To fail to plan is to plan to fail—that’s why L&D needs to continue to push for a “seat at the table” so that learning and development is prioritized in the organization’s business strategy. L&D pros need a clear plan of action to tackle each performance need that will arise. This means understanding employee and wider organization goals and getting creative in how they address the learning and performance needs of the organization.

Fueled by inquisitiveness and curiosity, L&D professionals can unearth and ultimately understand the big questions and challenges: How adults learn best, the changing business environment, the impact of technology on learning, etc. Senior leaders will be looking to see planning and efforts from the L&D department that save time, energy, and resources and drive actual performance results.

The bottom line

The rise of global, fast-paced, and complex operations, digital transformations, and the gig economy signal the need for more evolved learning programs that allow businesses to adapt quickly and thrive in this constantly changing workplace ecosystem.

Organizations are starting to invest more in L&D as they view it as an opportunity to attract and retain the best talent and appropriately map out socially responsible approaches to the future of work.

This is a call for L&D roles to evolve and multiply in order to bridge the skills gap and stay ahead of the curve. What we do with this challenge will be a major determinant of our organizations’ success and future.