6 Professional Development Trends for Learning in the New World of Work
Making sense of all the options for employee learning and growth
Something that has always struck me as odd is that while our workplace and organizations have evolved, our approach to managing our careers has been slow to change. But with the Great Resignation/Reimagination/Rethink, this serves as a great opportunity to transform how we as employees think, how we manage our careers, and employers, we can reconsider how we create opportunities for our people to develop their careers so they stay with our companies and contribute to the bottom line.
Fortunately, we’ve seen a lot of change and transformation in the learning, professional development and leadership space over the past few years. There has also been plenty of investment from VC and PE firms in this space.
After talking with hundreds of professionals who have made career moves over the past few years, there are a number of interesting new trends I’ve witnessed as proactive and career-driven employees consider unique and new ways to manage their careers.
As companies develop their return to work policies and we navigate a changing world of work, here are 6 trends that I think will be interesting to watch as they relate to how employees can develop and manage their careers.
Trend 1: The Fractional MBA
The MBA is a fantastic career accelerant. But it is not the only one, and it’s not the cheapest nor most accessible. This is changing as programs like the University of Illinois and their iMBA offer more accessible opportunities. But the iMBA is still in its infancy.
Furthermore, MBA Programs, especially full-time ones, offer a suite of benefits (e.g., in-person, networking, and community) that not everyone needs, nor has the time for. Other MBA program formats (e.g., online, part-time, and executive) solve some of the issues, but there is still a wide market out there of people who want fractional elements of an MBA, but not all of them. Enter the “Fractional MBA.”
These are various aspects of an MBA that solve a specific pain point or problem that someone or a company is willing to pay for. In some cases, these are also offered by Business schools because they see the value of targeting these individuals. Companies like Scholarsite and Section 4, offer short “sprints” on various level topics that would traditionally target the types of employees who might consider an MBA. (Courses are generally less than $1,000 per course.)
Companies like Emeritus, ExecOnline, and Udemy For Business do the same, but they are targeted toward the enterprise. Say for example, a CIO who wants 200 of their workers to take a course on a specific topic, they could work with such a company. While some of these are taught by traditional professors (e.g., business schools) other companies rely on industry professionals (e.g., ScholarSite) and SMEs to teach their courses.
Business schools are paying attention and advancing the development of their offerings to account for these trends. Most Business Schools offer a suite of both Specialized Masters Programs (shorter specialized programs for early-in-career professionals in fast growing fields), as well as other forms of Short Form Courses and Bootcamps. They also have Executive Education programs and are investing in digital learning formats for many of their offerings.
Examples: Brunchwork, ScholarSite, Modal, Section4, Emeritus
Trend #2 Online Career Communities and Associations
One of the major challenges over the last few years is the lack of connection and relationships that employees feel. This not only has an impact on well-being and engagement, but also on professional advancement and development. Furthermore, learning is an inherently social activity.
Traditionally, industry and trade associations were the professional organizations that employees joined to get their credential and connect with their peers. While these associations are still around, new-aged digital associations, with a bent towards content, connection and career have formed and scaled exponentially.
These are mostly organizations that are online and bring people together over a particular function, role, industry or vertical, and include opportunities for professional development, networking, and career advancement. What’s interesting is that in some cases, these are nothing more than a discord server or slack channel, whereas in others, they are a full blown startup, organization or other type of entity.
For example, the Product Marketing Alliance has a Slack channel for its members to share information, find job postings, and connect 1:1. They started with Product Marketers, but now have communities for Customer Marketers, Sales Enablement Professionals, and CMOs.
Reforge, a professional community, is venture backed and just recently raised a Series B round to expand to other functions and roles. Go to Twitter and you’ll find plenty of Twitter Spaces for all sorts of professionals.
Employees that want to develop their career either to perform better in their job or find a new one will take advantage of this to enhance their skills, build relationships and unlock new career opportunities. I’ve also had many colleagues hire people directly from these places, versus a traditional company job page, or other job platform like LinkedIn.
Examples: Pavilion, Reforge, Product Marketing Alliance, Product School
The Product Marketing alliance offers membership, workshops and networking for the PMM profession: (Source: PMA Website)
#3) Coaching Becomes Corporate Friendly
If you talk to world class performers across fields like sports, music, and entertainment, most will tell you that they spend more time off the field or off the screen practicing and preparing than they do on the field. For some reason, the knowledge worker corporate workplace is the only place where we’ve decided that practicing off the field is a hindrance to performance on the field. This is starting to change.
More and more companies are seeing the value of coaching employees, not just executives or high-level leaders. Second, more and more companies are coming up with innovative ways to deliver personalized coaching (e.g., executive, leadership, and career) and coaching at scale.
Before, coaching was reserved only for the top executives or up and coming managers, but now, companies like Sounding Board, GoCoach and Placement have made coaching accessible for all employees.
For example, a former colleague of mine oversees an organization of about 100 people and manages a handful of people managers. One of her people managers is a first-time manager, and was nervous about handling the duties of managing people who had more experience than her.
Working directly with a leadership coach through a major coaching platform, this individual manager got 1:1 coaching over the course of her onboarding into her new role, which she credits to helping her navigate the complexity of this challenge.
Another example of this comes from a colleague who recently started a new role at a Growth-Stage startup (Head of Marketing) In addition to going through the company’s official onboarding program, they were paired with a leadership coach to help them acclimate and accelerate their ramp time into the new role.
Examples: Sounding Board, Go Coach, Placement, Raise The Bar, BetterUp, Know Your Team
#4) Leadership Development Is for More than “High Potentials”
Traditionally, formal leadership development programs were reserved for high-potential employees or those in MBA-management training programs. Now, leadership development can be for more employees outside of those lanes.
Furthermore, companies are beginning to wake up to the fact that, especially in this new world of work, many of the traditional leadership skills that new managers and leaders need, especially communication, collaboration, delivering feedback, and influence, are very important to all workers, especially in our new world of work.
New Manager Training - One of the hottest areas of growth comes in the form of new-manager training. These programs offer a mix of learning modalities (e.g., live, video, 1:1 coaching, and feedback) into a programmatic approach for training new managers on how to succeed in the role. The investment in these programs makes sense, especially when you consider the outsized role a manager plays in the engagement and retention of employees. 
Leadership Training for Underserved Populations - Because for so long, leadership development has been reserved for high-potentials, many other employees have been left out of opportunities for growth and skill development.
A combination of individuals, organizations and startups are tackling this by providing leadership development offerings for these groups of people. Ascend, started by Shivani Berry, is a leadership program for women in tech. Forte Foundation has also started a leadership program for women,
Other Examples Maven, Ascend, BetterManager, Campfire, Bravely, Hone, Know Your Team
Salesforce offers its Pathfinder program to help employees build careers in salesforce: Source: Salesforce
#5) Create Your Own Career Mobility
Many employees believe it’s harder to find a new job at your own company than to search for one outside of your organization. This is why many are starting to find their own career mobility options. Taking advantage of career pathways and reskilling programs so individuals can change functions, roles, or industries is becoming accessible through a variety of different programs.
Some of these are startups like SV Academy while others are organizations with a specific focus, such as Aspireship. Others, like Salesforce have created their own learning and career ecosystem to provide training and jobs, even partnering with other organizations (such as non-profits, workforce development organizations, and systems integrators) to help them achieve their goals.
Finally, some companies are creating their own. Take First Round Capital, which created their own Recruiting Track Program to help people transition into careers in recruiting to help their portfolio companies hire more recruiters.
To be sure, internal mobility is still possible, especially at larger companies, and there is a whole market of vendors (e.g., Gloat, Fuel50, Hitch, and Eightfold.ai) that are looking to find ways to do this, and some companies have seen success. But for employees who want to own their careers, sometimes they may take matters into their own hands.
Examples: Aspireship, Salesforce, SV Academy, Gloat, Fuel50, Hitch, Eightfold.ai
Trend #6 Creator Economy Meets Career Development
The Creator Economy has heavily influenced mainstream culture, as well as our workplace. Individual employees can now use the same tools many creators use to build their audience and grow their brand to enhance their own career. This allows them to learn or cultivate a skill, share their knowledge and ideas, build a network, and for some, directly monetize off that.
All of these are examples of how someone can develop their career. The obvious examples are big platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, but other new tools like Polywork, Contra and Caard are also interesting examples of how to create and get credit for your work.
What’s interesting as well is that some companies are taking notice of this and empowering their employees to create their own content. Gong is a great example of this, as is Klue. Posting and creating content helps enhance the brand and careers of their employees, which in turn enhances the health of the brand.
Examples: LinkedIn, Substack, Podcasts, Twitter
What to Do About These Trends
If you’re looking to strategically manage your own individual career, or if you’re a professional responsible for learning and development at your organization, here are some implications for you.
Make Time for Experiments - I think having a career development plan is a great thing to do. And I’m all for being proactive and intentional about your career in a strategic way. But I also recognize that sometimes you feel limited with these things, so I recommend starting with a career experiment. Take one of these trends and consider how you might be able to experiment with it just a little bit. For example, maybe you want to attend a few events from Product School to meet other product managers. Or, maybe you can work with your company to sign up for some workshops through LifeLabs Learning.
Find People You Want to Hang With - If we are the average of the five people that we spend time with, as you think about your career development think about who you are engaging and connecting with. Are you meeting and engaging with people who are going to enrich your life and grow your career? How might some of these career communities or other forms of learning augment your career? The simplest and most easy way to do this is just to think about the types of people you enjoy spending time with.
Ask About the Learning and Development Policy - One of the pieces of feedback that a number of professionals made is that they ended up having to create their own professional/career development plan because their companies’ learning and development stipend policies were not very employee friendly.
I think this goes back to my original point, that while business has evolved and changed drastically, the way we think about career development is still very much how we did decades ago. I’ve heard anecdotal success stories of people going to their managers, making a business case, and either having their manager approve it, or having their manager work with internal teams to get exceptions. You don’t know if you don’t ask, so you might as well try.
Talent, Career and Learning and Development Professionals
Assess How These Fit With Your Current Offerings
Think about how these offerings fit into what you’re already doing. Can any of these complement what you are already offering your employees? How does their delivery model and ROI compare against what you’re already providing? How do these new offerings scale in a hybrid/digital world?
Identify What Your Employees Are Doing on Their Own
For the trends that are more employee driven, consider how many of your employees fit this mold and how you might support them in these endeavors. I’ve talked with a handful of employees who brought a career community to their company to do a private event, with the help of their manager or leader of their business unit.
On the caution side, some of these trends (e.g., Creator Economy Meets Career) are happening because employees don’t feel like employers are taking their career development seriously. People build their brands and start side hustles for many reasons, but one of them happens to be that they don’t feel like they can use their strengths in their current role. How might that impact engagement and attrition?
Update Your Professional Development Policies and L&D Stipends
Communicating to your employees they should make time to learn and encouraging your managers to allow for this is a great first and second step. But to make this real, work with leaders to reimagine and reinvent your own professional development policies to bring these programs into your organizations.
"Professional development is the single most impactful investment a company can make, especially in a tight labor market - employees are asking for it and companies will realize an ROI more than ever before” says Steve Gilman, Co-Founder and CEO of Range, a professional development platform that companies can use to connect their employees to learning opportunities.
When it comes to policies, Gilman encourages leaders to consider this a competitive advantage in talent strategy. “A good policy with clear and consistent communication around the learning strategy allows for employees and managers to thrive,” Gilman said.
Note: If you’ve used any of these resources, programs or offerings, I’d love to hear what your experience was. Also, if you are evaluating any of these offerings, please let me know how your experience has been in the buying process.