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A Legacy of Learning: The Journey of Professional Development

From foraging for food to maintaining an automobile assembly line, our ability to learn is crucial to our survival and advancement. Similarly, it’s difficult to imagine how an organization could flourish without a foundation of solid training resources. The journey to our current focus on professional development, however, may be more remarkable than you think.

The training boom

Five years prior to the massive manufacturing boom triggered by WWII, the federal government implemented the Training Within Industry (TWI) service. Composed of four 10-hour programs — Job Instruction, Job Methods, Job Relations and Program Development — TWI was a unified effort to improve the efficiency and capability of the American workforce in response to an increased demand for wartime industries. Though the program wrapped up in 1945, its emphasis on job and leadership skills continued to resonate as industry leaders began to integrate and develop its practices.

HR:evolution professional development

As TWI began to wind down, Congress introduced new legislation that would reinvigorate the American workforce. The G.I. Bill of 1944 may have been one the biggest economic boons of the 20th century. Not only did it grant returning servicemen benefits like low-interest loans and unemployment compensation, it also paid tuition and access to vocational training. The bill made such an impact on education participation that 5.5 million veterans had participated in its job training programs over the next decade.

In subsequent decades, technology would take astronomical leaps forward and forever change the way job training was implemented and delivered. Videos, for instance, offered the potential to condense lengthy seminars and ensure an organization’s method was uniform. Computers became more prevalent and accessible, too. A single computer per classroom shifted to a computer per learner by the end of the 1980s.

As technology opened more doors, organizations found more opportunities to personalize training. In the 1990s, managers in particular began crafting instruction specific to an individual. By the end of the century, the idea of matching an employee to the best way they learn was commonplace.

Learning today

We’ve become acclimated to technology and its use in professional development. Just because our tools can enable more effective education, however, doesn’t mean organizations are without challenges to training.

HR:evolution professional development

In fact, the importance of skills in the workplace may be higher than ever. According to Harvard Business Review, 70% of employees suggested that they lack mastery in the skills necessary for their jobs. Amid the current wave of resignations, professional development may be an organization’s best bet to ensure its employees are engaged.

“Skills have become the global currency of 21st-century economies,” Angel Gurría, the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), explained. “They transform lives and drive economies.”

However, this dire need for revitalization isn’t because businesses gradually fell out of touch with professional development. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. As training became more effective at the turn of the century, so too did the scope of the average employee. Rather than just familiarizing employees with the nature of their specific job, the advent of learning management systems (LMS) enabled them to see the full scope of their employer’s operations.

HR:evolution professional development

This cultural shift catalyzed an expectation from today’s candidates. They see professional development as a nice perk as well as an indication of their organization’s commitment to invest in them. In a report from Forbes, 67% of employees cited a feeling of burnout and stagnation, and professional development can readily address this need.

The benefit of professional development isn’t just employee-centric. An LMS can have a direct, positive impact on employee engagement and retention. In tandem with this, learning systems can improve employees’ chances for promotions and in-house hiring initiatives, which leverages an organization’s bottom line. Additionally, these systems enable businesses to better document training for compliance and performance reviews.

You’ve seen how professional development transformed from a congressional initiative to a modern mainstay and beyond — are you ready to dig deeper? This checklist can serve as your platform for a successful, scalable learning strategy. For greater insight into LMS and other training technologies employees want, read this blog post on employee development. And if you haven’t already, check out our HR:evolution video series providing you with more bite-size historical reviews of big HR concepts, including topics like professional development.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.