The “New Normal” And Its Impact On Training: 10 Predictions
Sasin Paraksa/Shutterstock.com

Captains Of The Industry Respond

Like most parts of the world, we in India have been under lockdown for the last 7 weeks. While frantically trying to adjust to working from home, managing a virtual team of more than 150 people scattered across the city and country, and bracing for a downtrend in the training business, I tried to talk to as many business and training leaders as possible, most of who are our customers in various countries, from different industry verticals.

It is very heartening that almost everyone agreed to talk with me and when they did, freely shared their assessments and predictions about business in general, training in particular, and eLearning specifically. (A few who didn’t advised me to touch base with them in a few months as they were in too much of a flux to share anything concrete at the moment.)

Anyway, I started off by sending them a set of 5 questions (there were 12 initially but after a few interviews, I whittled them down to 5 as I realized that I was repeating myself). The interview centered around these questions and usually went on for an hour or so.

The Questions:

  1. In what manner is your organization affected?
  2. Did you change any classroom training to virtual training?
  3. How will training change in the next 9-12 months
  4. Will there be any reduction in training budgets? If yes, how much and for how long?
  5. What is your advice to training professionals in general and our company in particular?

Immediate Priorities And Actions Taken

It is common knowledge that the impact of COVID-19 [1] is more or less the same for all businesses. Of course, the nature of business has a direct effect on whether there is a downtrend (travel and hospitality), uptrend (pharmaceutical and healthcare industries), or no great impact (IT and remote services). With most employees suddenly confined to their homes, along with their customers and vendors, the entire business ecosystem quickly decelerated to a zero-knot speed.

Asking how COVID-19 impacted their business was more of an icebreaker, as the more pertinent question was how companies reacted to it. What immediate actions were taken at the topmost level, what were their priorities, and how successful they were in implementing the action plans were more interesting and enlightening. Across the board, all organizations that I’ve spoken to expressed these 3 priorities:

1. Ensure Health And Safety

The safety of employees was of paramount importance. Immediate action was taken, and resources committed to ensure that all employees got back home safely, especially those who were traveling or were at customer/project sites. Offices were made as safe as any home for those who continued to work in them.

The housekeeping and administration staff swung into action (in some cases, overnight or over the weekend) and renovated conference halls, cafeterias, and common meeting places to ensure social distancing and other recommended precautions as advised by WHO. In some unfortunate cases where employees were infected, all support was extended toward their medical care. Thankfully, I haven’t heard of any mortalities, only recoveries.

2. Ensure Customer Service

Once the employees were taken care of, the companies’ immediate priority was to ensure that no customer suffered for lack of service or support. Some companies have proactively sought government permissions to travel to customer places even in countries like India where the lockdown was stringently enforced.

Extra helplines were put up and manned 24/7 and account managers and project managers were instructed to personally call their respective customer-stakeholders. Personal calls went a long way in reassuring customers of support in this unprecedented time of uncertainty.

3. Ensure Cost Control

All expenses and costs—whether budgeted or not—were brought under tight scrutiny. A lot of fat trimming and load shedding was done. But I was happy to learn that most companies did not touch their R&D budgets, nor did they slash any of their planned online learning budgets, although all face-to-face training programs have been canceled, more to ensure safety than to cut costs, of course.

For most organizations, the change was too sudden to make any changes in their business models midway. The economic impact was not felt greatly in April because most of the month’s results, whether in sales or production, were the fruits of earlier labor.

That said, most companies are expecting a reduction of top and bottom lines in the range of 20-25%. While most expect the downtrend to flatten out and rise again in the next 6-9 months, there were a few who were more pessimistic that these trends would continue through this year and most of the next.

Predictions For Training And Learning

Training that did not involve the physical movement of people was not stopped. People are conducting webinars with existing content as it is not feasible to generate new content and formats right now. The demand for webinars has increased substantially as did the use of self-paced eLearning [2] courses and LMS access.

There’s a high demand for learning, probably because people working from home have more "disposable" time accrued from savings in commute time and other avoidable distractions in the office (unnecessary meetings, water fountain gossip sessions…). Not so surprisingly, people tended to work longer and harder working from home than in-office, maybe because there is no clear demarcation between work time and personal time.

1. A Shift Toward Virtual And Online Training

With travel costs slashed by anything between 40-60%, even for the years to come, part of this saving will find its way into increasing online and virtual training. The consensus was that there will be a big leap in all forms of virtual and online training.

2. A Change In The Training Paradigm

There is a strong feeling that the training paradigm will change—online training will no longer support physical and classroom training; rather, physical training will be a support for virtual training [3]. The current training that is ~70% physical and 30% virtual, will now become 70% virtual and 30% physical.

3. A New Normal

The “new normal” of the training mix will include:

  • eLearning
  • Assisted virtual training
  • Classroom training
  • On-the-job training (supervised, then unsupervised)
  • Virtual assisted on-the-job training

4. Training Needs Will Be Address Virtually

With the reengineering of business processes into their virtual avatars, right from marketing, sales, service, and supply chains, there will be enormous training needs which will have to be addressed virtually! In turn, there will be a huge requirement for training people in these new business processes.

5. A Flood of New Recruits

Once organizations come out of the COVID-19 related recession, there will be a flood of recruitment—of all the laid-off employees, and then some more. This is especially true of large companies as they try to fill the vacuum left by smaller players who will get decimated by the time this crisis ends. This will further increase the training needs.

6. New Content Will Be Created

New content will be created which will be used for multiple purposes, including training. Content for lead generation and qualification, sales and quotations, order closing and processing, project management, site management, customer service, plant building, and more, will be used to lay down new processes as well as for training.

7. New Training Media

New training media like AR/VR will be used in a big way, especially for skill-based training to simulate classroom demonstrations for the sales and service of complex products. These will of course take time as the immediate concern of companies is to conserve cash for business exigencies, not to try out new and costly technologies.

8.  New Technology For Trainers

Classroom trainers and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) will be empowered with technology to conduct in-field training, virtually.

9.  A New Era For Training Professionals

Training professionals are advised to:

  • Look at the totality of the whole business in terms of its business processes
  • Enhance and deliver virtual training to support physical training
  • Collaborate with business process experts and emerging media experts

10. A Pentagon Of Partnerships

The training function of the future:

  • Content leaders: typically, SMEs of the organization that is changing to the new normal
  • Business process leaders: specialized consulting companies, who will help customers change their overall business processes toward being "virtually dominant"
  • Emerging media and technology companies: who will convert specific content into modular and standardized content using the latest version of 3D media
  • Training professionals (including training company partners): who will use all of the above and convert content into all the patterns mentioned above in point 3, the “new normal”
  • The training champion: who conducts the entire symphony for the organization’s training

Training professionals need to position themselves in the last two realms. In larger companies, they need to position themselves to organize other specialists themselves. For smaller, mid-size companies, they should be taking up leadership positions to orchestrate the entire training effort.

The future seems exciting and a bit scary, does it not?

References:

[1] Strengthening an ‘Accidental’ Remote Workforce During COVID-19 Times

[2] 4 Tips for the Quick Development of eLearning Courses During COVID-19

[3] A Tried & Tested Recipe for Successful Virtual Instructor-led Training

eBook Release: CommLab India
CommLab India
CommLab India is the most sought-after global leader for rapid eLearning solutions. Our formidable authoring tools expertise and years of experience in L&D and instructional design makes us the most reliable partners in your eLearning journey.
Close