On September 9, Tina Sung, ASTD's president and CEO, spoke at a meeting of the Training Officers Conference at Ft. McNair in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1938, the Training Officers Conference provides federal trainers with a way to learn about key training issues. Below are excerpts of her speech.

I'd like to share my views about trends in the learning and workplace performance field and what opportunities they present as we look to the future. Let's start with what we all know: We know that skilled workers are needed to drive growth and success. Whatever else may occur in the future, we know the need for learning will remain.

As we move from the New Economy to what is now known as the Next Economy, we can expect an even greater emphasis on learning and performance in the workplace. More emphasis; more need; more scrutiny. And, more expectation of a solid return-on-investment.

In the Next Economy, learning will still be a continuous process. But the cycle, or the half-life, of what we know will be shorter. So, people will need to learn and develop their skills at a much faster pace. At the same time, people's commitment to a single organization is changing. People move from job to job, company to company, agency to agency. Their skills, therefore, will need to be not only relevant and marketable, but also transferable.

Leadership Development

We are seeing a renewed interest in leadership development and coaching. This is coming about as more organizations recognize the need to develop the next generation of leaders. Along with this interest in leadership development is the emergence of executive coaching as a distinct discipline within the learning profession. This, for many of us, is a new specialty, calling for an even higher level of business acumen along with knowledge of change management and strong communication and interpersonal skills.

In the Next Economy, the organizations that succeed are more likely to be those that are in tune with these broader developments that are taking place - organizations that have the foresight to look beyond their current needs and to project what their long-term needs will be as well.

Let me give you one example. Everyone in the United States at some point in their lives will interact with the Social Security Administration. And many of you know that I worked for SSA for many years. SSA currently issues some 43 million benefits checks every month. In the next five years some 60 percent of the 65,000 employees working in SSA will be eligible to retire. So, this government agency can conceivably lose as many as 36,000 employees, many of them mid- and senior-level managers.

Several years ago, the commissioner and deputy commissioners recognized this enormous "brain drain" heading their way. Wisely, they created a strategy to upgrade the skills of their workers to fill the gaps as senior-level employees began to retire. The agency also began systematically to recruit the next generation of claims representatives and benefit authorizers. To train those new employees, the agency used an interactive e-learning model to deliver training in half the normal time and at half the normal cost.

I know many federal agencies are confronted with the same demographics. And that the number one initiative on the President's Management Agenda is the strategic management of human capital. ASTD's Public Policy Council recently published Human Capital Challenge, which

  • frames the human-capital challenge faced by public- and private-sector organizations
  • explains how organizations are responding with innovative recruitment, retention, leadership, learning, and measurement initiatives
  • identifies key questions leaders should address as they make human-capital management and development a priority.

I met with Marta Perez, associate director for human-capital leadership and merit systems accountability at OPM, and she said these questions were exactly what the Chief Human Capital Officer Council was addressing. In particular, she said many agencies want to know

  • the role and function of the CLO with an emphasis on transitioning into this position and leading effectively
  • what successful practices and techniques are necessary for conducting a workforce assessment.

Diversity

Diversity, beyond the way we have traditionally thought of it, is beginning to re-emerge. Today, when we talk about diversity, we are also talking about diversity of ideas, of thought, of people, of culture, of points of view, of experience, and of skills. I'm not alone in believing that the real winners of this century will be those who prove with their actions that they can be both profitable and socially responsible.

Recently, one of our members said to me, "Tina, in every organization there are hundreds of people focused on the financials, on the systems, on the 'hard stuff' of the organization. But, only we in our profession focus on the people. We are special." And she's right!

Yes, we are enablers of business outcomes. But we're more than that. After all, we chose this profession because of our interest in people, our desire to help others to realize their potential, our desire to make a difference. We are the ones who look not only at the bottom-line and agency mission, important as they are. We are the ones who can help bring harmony and improved performance through learning. It is not too much to say that through our efforts we help to create a world that works better.

We do have a special calling. And I can think of no other time when the world has been more in need, not only of skills and knowledge in the workplace, but also in need of understanding, of tolerance, and of mutual respect.