18 minute read

Trends in Training and Development


Sandy Dutkowsky

The American workplace is rapidly changing. In the past, workers went to their jobs to perform a task. Now, the workplace is changing into a place where workers both work and learn, as companies transform themselves into learning organizations. Companies are joining high schools, trade and technical schools, colleges, and universities in assuming responsibility for the education of the American workforce. As learning organizations, companies provide ongoing work-related training to all levels of employees, offer a variety of information and resources, encourage the exchange of ideas, and reward employees who acquire new skills.

Companies have to invest significant resources in order to provide educational services to their employees. What motivates a company to spend time and money training and developing its workers? The answer lies in understanding the new economy that is emerging in the United States.


Technology, and the rapid pace at which it develops, is a major factor contributing to the development of the new economy. Advances in the speed and memory of microprocessors have opened up new worlds in technological development. Procedures that used to take hours or weeks to complete can now be performed in minutes or even seconds on high-powered desktop or notebook computers.

Technology has also improved telecommunications systems. It is now possible for companies all across the globe to quickly communicate with one another. Such rapid communication has made the international marketplace a reality. American companies are no longer just competing with each other for business; they are now competing with companies worldwide.

In order to remain competitive in this rapidly changing environment, companies are rethinking how they do business as a means to improve productivity and the quality of their products. There are many ways that companies try to change the way they do business, including redefining corporate structures and revising policy and procedures. In addition they can train their employees to understand the most effective ways to interact with customers and to be aware of the best practices of the most successful companies in the field. By doing this, corporations are attempting to increase productivity by rethinking processes.

How the New Economy Affects Workers

The new economy has a profound effect on the American worker. In the new economy, jobs can be performed more cheaply and efficiently through the use of technology than through human labor. By relying on technology instead of human beings, companies can increase their productivity and be more competitive

Sandy Dutkowsky is a freelance writer and educator.

in the global marketplace. However, this increased productivity through technology also renders some skills and jobs obsolete. For example, it is now possible to build automobiles and other large pieces of machinery and equipment primarily through the use of computerized robots. As a result, there is less and less demand for the traditional American factory worker. Therefore, workers need to be able to adapt to new workplace realities. The person who used to build objects directly with his or her hands will now need to learn to run the computer that will build the object. As quickly as jobs are made obsolete, new jobs will emerge. With training, workers doing these new jobs will become important players in the new economy.

Advancing technology also has its effects on employees in non-technical positions, such as managers and marketing personnel. They must learn enough about the technological aspects of their field to intelligently converse with employees and customers. All employees, in order to be successful in the new workplace, will have to have the ability to adapt and to learn as required. Those who have "learned to learn" will become most valuable in the new economy. Therefore, the role of education and training is becoming more and more important in the American workplace. Employees are recognizing the need to improve and broaden their skills to remain employable.

The Corporate View

Companies have found that investment in human capital in the form of training and development yields high returns. The ones that recognize the value of their employees and place a new emphasis on education and training are becoming more competitive, successful, and profitable as a result. According to a study conducted in 2002 by Knowledge Assessment Management, companies in the top 20 percent of those who spend money on training receive higher returns in the stock market. Is it possible that knowledge is equal to profit?

According to an article by Chris Taylor in T+D Magazine ("Recession Survivors: Training to the Rescue," October 2003), a knowledgeable workforce may ensure a company's survival. The article profiles four companies that survived the economic impact of September 11, 2001, and a business climate marked by recession and corporate scandals. These companies—Southwest Airlines, Viacom, Dell, and Guardsmark—all consider employee training an investment in company growth and stability. Rather than cutting back their training budgets during hard times, these companies chose to invest in the development of new skills and knowledge within their workforce. In doing so, these companies showed a commitment to their workers and gave them the educational background necessary to increase productivity and effectiveness in their respective markets. The workers, in turn, supported these companies and ensured their survival through a difficult chapter of American business history.


Some training and development programs teach new hires to perform a specific job, while others update the skills and knowledge of established employees. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the majority of middle- and large-sized companies provide formalized training to their workforces, and it costs them billions of dollars.

Some of the money is spent to provide technology-related training that teaches employees to operate, maintain, or repair equipment used in the workplace. Technology training is needed for workers in industries as diverse as construction, manufacturing, health, and transportation. Technical professionals include scientists, architects, engineers, and health professionals. Blue-collar technical workers include mechanics, repair people, and those in precision production jobs. Technology is constantly changing and therefore job responsibilities are constantly changing, requiring many workers to update their skills on a regular basis.

Training in electronics, for example, can vary widely. Electronics jobs may require less than a year of training, done primarily on the job, or they can require an advanced college degree. However, regardless of whether an electronics technician is fixing television sets and DVD players or designing a new computer network, the need for training is paramount. The field is changing constantly, with new equipment being introduced almost daily.

While learning to work with technology is extremely important, companies provide many other kinds of training to their employees. For example, employers that emphasize teamwork and encourage employee problem solving may offer courses in effective communication and group work. Systems training helps illustrate to employees their role within, and their effect upon, the entire corporation. As the price of health insurance has increased dramatically, many companies have begun providing their workers with information about how to become healthier by, for example, quitting smoking or developing an effective exercise plan. Another growing trend in American corporations is to provide training sessions on issues that affect employee relations. The topics of such training sessions might include affirmative action, workplace diversity, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and sexual harassment.

Between 2000 and 2003, more than four million immigrants entered the United States, many of whom are not English speakers. Additionally, according to an estimate by the U.S. Department of Education, in 2004, over forty million Americans were unable to read effectively. Many of these people are employed in the American workforce. In order for these workers to be successful, companies are providing literacy programs to meet their needs. This includes teaching the non-English speaker the basics of the language. Training programs could also provide workers with basic writing and math skills. These programs are conducted in ways that are sensitive to the workers' cultural differences. For example, training programs for non-English-speaking workers might be conducted in a bilingual fashion, to assist them in making the transition to English from another language. American corporations are making a commitment to these workers because in addition to playing an important role as employees, they also play a role in the larger American economy as consumers of goods and services.

Cross Training or "Multiskilling"

As companies looked for ways to respond quickly to changing markets and personnel needs, the concept of cross training began to emerge. Whereas in the past employees were trained to perform only one job, the companies of today are recognizing the value of cross training employees to perform multiple tasks. In this model, employees are trained in a wide range of skills. If an employee's job becomes obsolete or if there is an overwhelming need somewhere in the corporation, the employee can easily transfer to another position and immediately begin to work productively.

According to an article in the London Financial Times (October 5, 2005), a flexible workforce—including a multiskilled one—can help a company expand its business capabilities while not necessarily expanding its staff. In small and mediumsized companies, multiskilling is particularly important. Rebecca Clake, resourcing adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, advises these companies to "recruit staff with broad skill sets [and] organize training to expand their capabilities." Multiskilling can not only make work more satisfying for employees but also help enhance employee performance.

For example, cross training is part of what makes the Japanese automaker Toyota so successful. The company avoided the massive layoffs that U.S. automakers were forced to make in the early twenty-first century. As Ron Harbour, head of Harbour Consulting, publishers of an annual industry productivity report, said in an article in the Washington Post, "Toyota is the Tiger Woods of flexibility and efficiency; they've got everybody a few strokes behind." Among other flexible working practices, the company cross-trains workers to build multiple car models on the same assembly lines. These practices help lead to the company's success. Multiskilling will become more important in the competitive market of the twenty-first century.

Just-in-Time Training

Another type of training within American corporations is known as just-in-time training, or "just-what's-needed" training. As the name implies, this short-term training fills a specific need or responds to a particular problem. For example, the Human Resources Department at California State University Fresno offers workshops to its employees on demand. These on-site training sessions are between twenty minutes and two hours in length, and they include programs related to contract issues, hiring guidelines, and diversity. Just-in-time training is cost-effective and saves time. Additionally, since the training ties in immediately with actual work and employees study only the skills they need, the content is less likely to be forgotten.


When much of the training required within a company is specific to that particular organization's products and goals, it is usually done in house. As training areas become more general, such as in public speaking or supervisory skills, many companies will contract with a private vendor to provide the program. For computer training, representatives of the company from which the equipment is purchased often are contracted to provide employee training. Many times a training course combines prepackaged programs with in-house goals to create a customized training opportunity.

Corporate Education and Training Centers

Larger companies tend to do much of their training in house, and some have designed and built elaborate employee education centers known as corporate universities. Such facilities range from Disney University in Florida to the University of Toyota in Los Angeles. Many of these centers contain state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories with expensive equipment for teleconferencing and video feedback. They may also offer housing accommodations, recreational facilities, restaurants, and libraries. In addition to the facilities and equipment, companies will also provide all necessary training materials including books, courseware, films, and video programs. Many companies have found that the development and utilization of their own corporate university is an effective way to pass valuable skills (which translate to profit) on to their employees. In fact, a survey conducted in 2005, with results published in Fortune, found that 55 percent of companies with corporate universities reported the program has increased the performance of their businesses (Anne Field, "Corporate America's Learning Curve," Fortune Special Sections: Corporate, http://www.timeinc.net/fortune/services/sections/fortune/corp/2004_01corporate.html).

McDonald's Hamburger University is a good example of a successful corporate university. In 1961 McDonald's started Hamburger University in the basement of one of its restaurants. In 1983 the company invested $40 million in the creation of its 130,000 square foot training facility on eighty acres in Oakbrook, Illinois. Since its inception, Hamburger University has graduated more than eighty thousand employees and currently graduates about five thousand restaurant managers, mid-level managers, and franchise owners each year. The curriculum, which focuses on Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value, is consistently recognized for its excellence. In addition to the main campus in Oakbrook, McDonald's has expanded Hamburger University worldwide with satellite campuses in Sydney, Munich, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Brazil.

Colleges and universities recognize the high level of training that is going on within corporate classrooms around the country. In fact, they are awarding college-level credit to many of the training participants. Through the Center for Adult Learning and Educational Credentials, a special program administered by the American Council on Education (ACE), a company can have training courses evaluated. Once the course content is approved by ACE, a student can receive college credit at more than 1,200 colleges and universities across the country upon the successful completion of the course.

Small and Mid-sized Businesses

In small and mid-sized businesses (those with fewer than five hundred employees), the training department typically consists of one person. Usually this person does not run training programs themselves. Instead, this individual functions as a broker of training services. This means that he or she is responsible for finding outside consultants who can provide training to meet the company's needs at a time and place convenient to employees, and at a reasonable cost. In order to maximize training efforts, the company trainer may work with production line managers and supervisors on developing and conducting their own on-the-job training sessions. Small companies with limited funds may send their employees to other companies for training, or they may ask their major suppliers to help with the costs.

Federal Government

The federal government allocates funds for training programs around the country. The government's employee training programs are as varied as its own departments and agencies. For example, The United States Fire Administration houses the National Fire Academy. The goal of this program is to train firefighters to deal more effectively with fire emergencies that are related to, for example, terrorism or arson. The United States Department of State supports the Foreign Service Institute. Employees who attend this program's offerings learn how to adapt to living and working in foreign countries by learning their languages and customs. The United States Department of Agriculture provides farmers and other food producers a variety of training programs covering food inspection, safety, and environmentally conscious farming practices.

Among the many other types of training available to employees of the federal government are foreign language training, computer training, and equal employment opportunity education. Such training can be conducted either by bringing in an external specialist (if the number of people receiving instruction makes that cost-effective) or by sending individuals to an outside agency.

As in many corporate classrooms, much of the training that is conducted by and for the federal government is at the college level. Therefore, participants can receive college credit for courses that have been evaluated by the American Council on Education.

Colleges and Universities

Business organizations and higher education often form partnerships in training and development. Many colleges have started separate departments to meet the needs of business and industry. They offer a wide range of collegiate services, often tailored to fit a company's specific educational requirements. In some cases the company calls on the college to identify its training needs; in others the company's training department has identified the instruction it wants to offer and is looking for someone to provide it.

One example is Boston University's Corporate Education Center (BUCEC). People who attend this program through Boston University can obtain training in business and management, information technology, or corporate training. The training programs are offered in a variety of ways to meet the needs of those in attendance. Classes are available at the BUCEC training center or at a client's workplace, and services can be provided through online sessions, as well.

Other Postsecondary Institutions

America's two-year colleges also work with local businesses to meet the need for more highly trained employees. Kent Phillippe, senior research associate at the American Association of Community Colleges, estimates that 95 percent of the nation's approximately 1,600 community colleges provide employee training through direct contracts with businesses.

Training programs provided by the community colleges are designed with the specific needs of the corporations' employees in mind. A current trend in business training offered by community colleges is to provide measurable skills to employees, which can result in higher company profits. Tulsa Community College (TCC) in Oklahoma offers training in areas such as effective customer communication, listening skills, and basic word processing skills. TCC designs primarily half day programs so that employees are away from the office for only part of the day. Additionally, many programs offered by community colleges are developed specifically for the needs of the corporation who hires them. For example, Tacoma Community College in Washington conducts a needs assessment of the corporation's training needs before it develops a training program. This way, the corporation is assured that their employees are learning exactly what they need to know to be more effective at their jobs.

Private Vendors

A growing number of companies are in the business of training employees of other corporations. These vendors offer services as diverse as public speaking courses, writing classes, team development seminars, and computer training. One of the best known is Dale Carnegie Training, which has been used by hundreds of major companies, including AFLAC Insurance, Burger King, and AT&T, to provide specific, measurable skills to employees. These training programs are also available to individuals who are interested in developing their skills in public speaking, sales, human relations, and executive leadership. One of the ways both corporations and individuals can access this information is through widely available software programs and DVDs that are developed and sold by private training organizations. Companies and individuals can purchase these training programs and utilize them when it is most convenient.


Delivery systems for training include traditional classroom instruction, on-the-job instruction, and instruction via technology. Technology-based instruction includes computer-based training (CBT), multimedia CBT, televised distance learning, video training, and use of the Internet. Much of this technology falls under the term e-learning, which also includes virtual classrooms, Web-based courses, "Webinars," and digital collaboration.

Technology-Based Learning

TraCorp is a company that develops specific technology-based training programs for large corporations. TraCorp develops their products by utilizing the talents of software engineers, animators, and artists. Therefore, their training programs are interesting and fun to work with. TraCorp was hired by Procter and Gamble to create a program to educate veterinarians about their product, Iams pet food. This training program was highly successful due to its interesting and interactive content. The veterinarians also liked it because it was flexible to use and they could view and work with the content as they were able to find time in their busy schedules. As a result of the success of this product, TraCorp was hired by Procter and Gamble to create new programs that could teach veterinarians worldwide. TraCorp has designed and produced education programs for a number of other large organizations including the United States Air Force, Motorola, and Corning, Inc.

As e-learning technology continues to grow and develop, more corporations are finding that it is a cost-effective and efficient way to provide training to their employees. Studies show that individuals who participate in e-learning learn faster and retain more information than those who learned in a traditional classroom setting. Although this type of training may be cost-effective, it is not without its challenges. For example, some employees may resist e-learning because they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology. The potential also exists that some employees are not motivated enough to progress through on-line training programs if there is no one around to keep them motivated. Additionally, a study conducted by economy professors Carl Liedholm and Byron Brown ("Can Web Courses Replace the Classroom in Principles of Microeconomics," American Economic Review, May 2002) found that online courses can teach basic concepts, but not complex analytical skills. Therefore the scope of what e-learning can do is limited. Regardless, it is clear that e-learning is here to stay, and it will continue to grow and change as technology and the needs of the learners change.

What Is the Most Effective Way for Employees to Learn?

Should employee training be conducted through technology or in person? This is a difficult question to answer because not everyone learns in the same way. For example, some people may learn the most through reading while others may do better listening to a lecture. Others may need to gather information and then talk about it in order to understand the material. Also, not all classes can be taught as effectively in an online environment as in person. For example, while it is possible to learn how to read Spanish online, speaking the language with other people is invaluable in the development of conversational skills.

Therefore, in order to address the best way to teach employees, some companies have decided to combine the two methods to meet the learning needs of a wider range of employees. For example, the city of Palm Beach, Florida, provides on-line computer instruction to all of its employees and provides learning labs that are run by instructors. In this learning environment employees have access to learning in the way that suits them best.

How Are the Programs Evaluated?

Given the expense involved in conducting training programs, many corporations are very interested in measuring their concrete outcomes. In the past, the success of a program was measured by how many classes were held and the number of employees trained. If the numbers were high, then the training was considered successful. In the current workplace, companies want to know to what degree the training assisted in the transfer of new skills to the job and to what extent individual and group performance improves. In fact, the movement toward outcome-based training is so strong in some companies, the professionals who provide such training refer to themselves as "performance improvement specialists."


Many of today's most successful companies realize that their employees are their greatest asset. Therefore, corporations are increasingly investing in educating their employees so that they can grow and change within the company and make it more profitable. The range of training opportunities varies considerably from company to company so, when researching potential employers, it is important for job seekers who care about this to investigate the level and type of training provided to employees.

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