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Top trends in human resource development

A global revolution is taking place in the field of workplace learning. It is driven by the requirements of the information and digital explosion, increased globalisation, the changing nature of work and business, as well as changing learner needs and aspirations. In this article I outline inter­national trends and developments in the field of human resource development (HRD) that have evolved from the international conferences hosted by the world’s largest training and development institutions: the Association for Talent Development ( in the USA and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK ( These trends should be internalised by South African organisations if they want to become competitive in the global world.

1  Globalisation
In the modern business environment, companies are forced to approach the way they con­duct business activities with a more external focus. Not only are business partnerships ex­tending across regional, national and continental borders, but international standards are also increasingly becoming the norm. While production and other business standards have been the norm for decades, in recent times the International Standards Organization (ISO) has started to develop international Human Resource (HR) standards. This new trend has major implications for HRD in the workplace. Human resources need to be developed to acquire knowledge and skills to function effectively in a global business environment. Thus, today a focus on global human resources (HR) is key to business success.  Despite increased efforts of localisation and anti-globalisation campaigns, the Internet of Things has ensured that globalisation is a reality for all top companies to embrace.

2  Strategic HRD and talent management
The importance of managing HRD from a strategic point of view has evolved very rapidly over the past five years. However, it is now more difficult than ever to strategically plan HRD over the long term. The changes in the business environment are so rapid and unpredictable that strategic HRD must be aligned on a more regular basis, with the typical time span of a strategic plan being reduced from 10 years to three years. This means that strategic HRD plans must be flexible enough to accommodate changes in the environment. In addition, major strategic decisions, such as whether to outsource the organ­isation’s training activities wholly or partially, have to take costs savings and business improvements into consideration. Moreover, the worldwide skills gaps have forced com­panies to institute aggressive talent management strategies to attract, develop and opti­mise the available talent in both the broader marketplace and specific industries.

3  Electronic, mobile and social learning
An increasing number of organisations worldwide are making use of electronic learning (e-learning) to facilitate the learning process. The latest technology, such as multimedia, computer-based training, virtual classrooms, Internet training and video-conferencing, is being used. In fact, the rapid advancement in technology has resulted in e-learning being transferred from computers to laptops to smaller devices, such as iPads and smartphones. The explosion of social media platforms has now precipitated the emergence of a new mobile form of social learning — essentially, the availability of learning at any time and anywhere the learner finds his or herself.

4  Management and leadership development
It is evident that the role of managers and leaders is changing dramatically. Managers were previously expected to plan, direct, staff and control. Now, however, they must learn to govern, coach, empower and lead. This necessary paradigm shift requires new skills and behaviours on the part of management. If managers are not trained and developed to em­brace and internalise the new managerial requirements, they will find it difficult to adapt in a fast-changing business environment. World-class companies need highly talented leaders and managers. It is therefore not surprising that the growing field of mentoring and coaching is popular among leading companies worldwide.

While the 1990’s were dominated by management development, the early 2000s were characterised by the shift to leadership development. Now, moving towards the 2020 workplace, management and leadership development are converging. This has resulted in the need for both dynamic and innovative leaders driving change and business transformation, while simultaneously creating systems, governance mechanisms, processes and controls to maintain some order amidst the chaotic change, uncertainty and complexity around us. Thus, the elusive paradigm is still to create the optimum balance between management and leadership. Significant investment in management and leadership development will be required in the years to come.

5  Performance consulting
The ongoing shift from traditional training to workplace performance is another inter­national trend. Key features are: linking organisational culture and bottom-line business results, benchmarking performance, as well as satisfying client needs. The HRD profes­sional is no longer a trainer, but becomes a performance consultant by virtue of their new role of assisting the rest of the organisation in improving their performance. Developing people at the centre of efforts to improve performance remains an ongoing challengee, in particular getting people to perform better in a fast-changing environment.

6  Career and performance management
The traditional system of career management is no longer applicable in the modern busi­ness environment. The time has gone when an individual would join a company and work for that organisation for more than ten years. Rather, moving from one organisation to another more frequently, is becoming the norm rather than the exception. In addition, an individual is also more likely to move into different positions that are not necessarily related to one another. Flexible work practices are also contributing to the erosion of full-time employment. More part-time staff are being employed, which will have a significant effect on HRD. Different skills will be needed such as flexibility, versatility, information technology and processing skills.

A significant trend in the area of performance management has been the shift from trad­itional single-rater performance appraisal to 360-degree or multi-rater feedback systems as the modern approach to performance management. Multi-rater performance feedback is used when a person receives performance ratings from a range of parties, such as super­visors, peers and subordinates and, in some cases, even customers, using some type of standardised instrument which is com­puterised in many companies.

7  Proactive learning needs identification
The demands of the modern business environment, globalisation and the speed of change require a different approach to the assessment of learning needs. Organisations will no longer be in a position to sit back and wait for problems to occur before training interventions are decided upon. Rather, a more futuristic approach is needed, one that anticipates future problems and takes proactive action by means of learning and development interventions. For example, it is more appropriate to provide safety training to prevent accidents, than to present the training after a number of accidents have already occurred. Hence, business drivers will play a key role in driving a more proactive approach to learning needs analysis.

8  Learning design
As a result of new developments such as electronic learning, the design of training will focus increasingly on the human-computer interface. Classroom training is still a popular training method, but is more frequently supplemented with new training techniques such as industrial theatre and outdoor training, self-directed learning and electronic learning. Many companies outsource design completely. The modern approach of design thinking is needed to make learning design work in a totally different business environment.

9  Evaluation of training
Although organisations worldwide neglect the measurement of their education and train­ing efforts, there is an increasing awareness of the importance of evaluating training pro­grammes. Particular emphasis is placed on feasibility analysis, cost and benefit analysis of training, as well as evaluating the return on investment from training. HRD practitioners are increasingly being called upon to make sure that training will have an impact on per­formance in the workplace and produce the required return on the training investment.

Companies are focusing more on performance and business problems when imple­menting training interventions. In addition, training managers must devote considerable resources and effort to indicate how an intervention contributes to the bottom-line. Measurement and evaluation form an integral part of all training interventions.

10  Employment equity and diversity training
With the increasing importance of aligning training to international business practices comes the realisation that training across cultures has some potential pitfalls. If training is conducted without prior consideration to cultural differences, the outcomes can be disastrous. Various organisations in the United States of America, United Kingdom, China, Singapore and South Africa have embarked on major diversity management initiatives to address these issues. A holistic approach to diversity management is advo­cated, one that recognises a diversity initiative as a process of organisational change that is associated with the acknowledgement of diversity as an important business strategy. The importance of diversity training as an important tool in supporting a diversity initi­ative and the ultimate goal of employment equity is increasingly emphasised.

11 Learning organisation
A major shift in the area of HRD is the creation of the learning organisation as an alterna­tive to traditional classroom training. Traditional training is based on the notion that train­ing occurs in a classroom or instructor-controlled setting. A reactive model is followed, which is based on a training needs analysis prior to the design and presentation of training programmes. While this approach has reaped multiple benefits for organisations worldwide, the complexity, speed and reality of change and development in the business environment necessitates a more proactive and dynamic approach to training. The latter approach requires a fundamental shift from training to organisational learning to improve productivity. The most important challenge is to create a learning organisation, i.e. a learning culture enabling learning to take place quicker and continuously (with or without formalised learning interventions).

In conclusion, the impact of worldwide trends and developments in a competitive business environ­ment will constantly change the role of the HRD function. Companies are beginning to recognise the need for talent development and for HRD professionals in their organisations to keep their human resources at the cutting edge. Moreover, it appears that the information age requires a different kind of learner, one who can learn very fast, one more highly skilled than in the past. HRD managers will no longer simply be managers of training departments. Theirs is a complicated job that requires competency in more than just human resource or training management. The HRD manager’s new role constitutes a synergistic combination of various fields of knowledge. The top HRD trends identified in this article present opportunities for companies to align organisational learning to the new realities in the broader strategic learning context.  In essence, we need to leverage technology, while ensuring that learning strengthens all current efforts in talent management.

This article is an extract from the book edited by Marius Meyer entitled “Managing Human Resource Development: A Strategic Learning Approach”   5th edition (2017) published by LexisNexis.

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