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ATD Blog

Welcome Back to the Future

Friday, April 1, 2022

Two years ago, much of what we thought of as the future became the present. We knew we were heading for more virtual and less in-person training, with more individualized development and microlearning. As talent development professionals, we eventually expected to be pulled into organization development, performance management, employee experience, company culture, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Suddenly, there we were. Speed and agility went from being aspirations to expectations. The jobs we supported and the jobs we held were deconstructed and redesigned on the fly. The concept of career changed, and—much sooner than we expected—skills and capabilities became the currency employers and employees valued the most.

Whether you call it the Great Resignation, the great reshuffling, or the great reconsideration, the future of work has become the present. People are taking control of their careers and insist they receive the employee experience they deserve. They won’t settle for an organization they don’t believe in.As traditional job titles give way to just-in-time collections of capability (often even human and artificial capabilities) first workplace and then work time are diminishing as job requirements.

Though L&D was not the only profession to do so, it made an amazing pivot. And now, still not through the pandemic, we as TD professionals are beginning to raise our eyes to the horizon again. And as we do, we see unprecedented opportunity. Our profession has never been so relevant—so critical.

For talent development, the fast-approaching future is about executing differently—leveraging analytics, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and mass personalization. The TD function will be expected to create immediate connectivity with massive, ubiquitous availability of an incredible array of resources.

But the horizon isn’t just about doing things differently. It is about thinking differently and being different. We are not reskilling and upskilling as much as we are future-skilling. For everyone we serve, learning is now the job—always and everywhere. We will lead our organizations on a never-ending journey of development.


The talent development function is going to be different, too. Taking advantage of this moment of incredible transformation, we will change first. To take on the future, we must embrace constant development of our own capabilities. We won’t go back to old models and old processes; we will go forward to find the next best way. By embracing the uncertainty and excitement of the future, we can first find our own paths and then show others.

Our work has always been about the future. It is where we live. It is who we are. And it has never been so close.

The old problems have not disappeared. There are still issues of budget, executive buy-in, and people who think they don’t have the time to learn. Add to that the people (including some leaders) who just want to go back to the way things were. But remember: We’ve already figured out how to do it cheaper, sooner, and faster. And now we have new tools and allies in our organizations.


Another part of the old equation has changed: People won’t go back. Surveys say that the best employees will quit before they return to the old ways. We can help them figure out the new purpose of the workplace and give them the skills to optimize it.

We had no choice except to embrace the future when it suddenly became the present, but now we have the choice to continue forward. For the past two years, we have enabled our organizations to thrive in the future. Let’s keep going. Let’s continue to reimagine our contributions and future-skill ourselves.

There will still be tests, classrooms, programs, and curricula. There will be SMEs, assessments, and registrations. We can use all of those tools from the past as the fulcrum to leverage incredible changes. We can no longer claim that “change doesn’t happen overnight.” We know it can. Going forward, let’s drive the change. Let’s be the change. We can be enablers of deliberate, positive disruption and stewards of innovation. We can define the future of work and make it happen. We can create an entirely new development ecosystem and nurture it. We can imagine new leadership models, new ways to collaborate, and new definitions of team.

This is an amazing time for our profession. From now on, the future will be much closer and approaching even faster than before. But this is great. This is home.

Welcome back.

About the Author

John Coné is a former chief learning officer who consults and writes on issues of talent development and organizational learning. He has advised dozens of companies, universities, and the US government agencies and has served on the boards of both for-profit and nonprofit education organizations. He chairs the Chief Learning & Talent Officer Board for i4cp and is the catalyst for ATD’s CTDO Next group. He serves as a jurist for the CLO Learning Elite Awards. He is a past ATD Board chair, a jurist for the BEST Awards, and an advisor to multiple ATD initiatives. In 2005, he received the Gordon M. Bliss Award for lifetime achievement. He is a futurist, a painter, a bicycle mechanic, and a sock aficionado. He is a luminary contributor to ATD’s Handbook for Training and Talent Development.

1 Comment
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Thanks, good insights, my key take-way future-skilling, I'll take that word.
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