What is the Future of Work?

Future of work refers to how advances in technology and transformations in the workplace will affect organizations and industries in broad, sweeping ways and on multiple levels over the next decade.

Technology advances include big data, artificial intelligence, automation, the Internet of Things, and 3D printing. Potential organizational consequences may include the creation or elimination of jobs, changes in job roles, changes in business models, competition from new industries, changes in customer needs, or changes in market performance.

Talent development (TD) professionals must approach the future of work from myriad perspectives. First, talent development professionals must understand skills gaps, skill pipelines, and how to prepare to upskill, reskill, and next skill their workforce to meet changing demands in their organizations and industries. Also, TD professionals should always have an eye on new and emerging technologies and be prepared to evaluate tools and technologies that make sense for adoption and ones that don’t.
To help guide talent development professionals, ATD included future readiness as one of the 23 capabilities in the Talent Development Capability Model.

Future Readiness and the Future of Work

Future readiness requires intellectual curiosity and constant scanning of the environment to stay abreast of forces shaping the business world, employees and their expectations, and the talent development profession, according to Capabilities for Talent Development. Monitoring emerging trends and technologies is essential to prepare for the demands of future learners. The pace of change requires constant upskilling, reskilling, and new skilling of the workforce.

A TD professional with capability in this area will need knowledge of:

  • factors that influence talent development (for example, organizational and business strategies, availability of labor, developments in other industries, societal trends, and technological advances)
  • techniques to promote, support, or generate innovation and creativity
  • emerging learning technologies and support systems (for example, collaborative learning software, learning management systems, authoring tools, and social media)
  • information-seeking strategies and techniques.

An effective TD professional will need skills in:

  • conducting environmental scanning to identify current and emerging trends in the economy, legislation, competition, and technology
  • applying one’s own previous learning to future experiences.

Reskilling and Upskilling the Workforce

Research from ATD, Gartner, Deloitte, and many others have found reskilling and upskilling the workforce is a top concern of leaders. ATD’s report Upskilling and Reskilling defines upskilling as training designed to augment existing skills with new or significantly enhanced knowledge or skills to enable individuals to continue and succeed in the same profession or field of work. Reskilling is training designed to help individuals gain new knowledge or skills to enable them to perform new jobs or enter new professions.

Analyst and author Ben Eubanks notes that HR and talent professionals should take a strategic approach to upskilling and reskilling. That begins by first assessing what skills exist in the organization. From there, HR and TD professionals can begin to select those employees who might be good candidates for upskilling or reskilling. Eubanks outlines these additional considerations:

  • What skills and jobs within your organization are most likely to be affected by disruption and automation?
  • How quickly do you expect that to happen?
  • What skills will you need to teach?
  • By what methods do you teach those skills?
  • What will success look like?

Using New and Emerging Technology

As mentioned above, TD professionals should always be prepared to assess and evaluate new and emerging technologies. In the 2019 book, Shock of the New authors Chad Udell and Gary Woodill outline their BUILDS framework, which helps training and talent development professionals assess new and emerging technology and its fit for their organizations. The BUILDS framework looks at six areas including:

  • Business value
  • User experience
  • Impact
  • Learning models
  • Dependencies
  • Signals

The Future of Training and COVID-19

In 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic upended how organizations approached training and talent development. Remote work became the norm. While online and virtual training has been steadily increasing in popularity for the last 20-plus years, the pandemic forced many organizations to quickly convert in-person training on online courses and reskill their teams to design and facilitate for virtual learning.
According to ATD’s 2020 State of the Industry report, technology-based learning methods, including e-learning accounted for 56 percent of learning hours used in 2019. Those numbers are expected to increase sharply in 2020.

It remains to be seen what lasting impact the pandemic will have on in-person corporate training or the classroom component of a blended learning program. A gradual return is expected, and it is a valuable tool for developing talent, but the successful delivery of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the benefit of microlearning, e-learning, and blended learning.

How to Prepare for the Future of Work

In ATD’s research report The Future of Work, the following recommendations were made for how talent development professionals can help prepare their organizations for the future of work.

  • Have formal discussions about preparing for the future of work by partnering with HR, IT, and senior executives to discuss industry trends and their effect on their workforce
  • Identify reskilling, upskilling, and new skilling needs
  • Develop employees in future skills
  • Focus on culture to retain and engage talent.

No matter what role you play in training and talent development, ATD has content, resources, and events to help you prepare for the future of work.

[Free E-Book]

Ready or Not Here Comes the Future


The future of work requires new approaches and new ways of thinking when it comes to readying the workforce to handle new technologies, skills, and jobs that don’t exist. Does your workplace have the skills and knowledge necessary to meet tomorrow’s organizational needs? Are you ready to face the new technologies that will change the way work is done? What skills are missing from your workforce and how are you going to upskill or reskill for those capabilities? Find out in this e-book.