Magazine article Training & Development

The 1998 ASTD State of the Industry Report

Magazine article Training & Development

The 1998 ASTD State of the Industry Report

Article excerpt

How often have you heard business leaders and public figures proclaim that "people are our most important asset"? How seldom have you seen hard evidence that investment in human capital makes a difference to a company's performance?

The rules of the new economy have been written by the forces of technology and global markets. They have erased the competitive advantages of access to capital and to physical assets. They have made irrelevant decades of competition based on steady productivity improvements and on finding a fast-growing market, taking a large piece of it, and settling in for the long term. When almost any business can gain the upper hand - at least temporarily - with speed and a product or service that customers really value, the race belongs to the fleet of foot and the wise. In an information-based business economy, that really means the race belongs to the companies that build and harness their intellectual capital in the service of company goals.

Despite the growing importance of a firm's human capital, and the rhetoric about investing in it, there's little data to support the link between the two. Mainstream accounting practices do not require companies to document the investments they make in the learning and development of their employees. Most companies do not have consistent, accepted ways to measure those investments. What data there is comes largely from such sources as training companies, training publishers, and other commercial enterprises seeking confirmation of a growing market segment.

I am pleased to announce that the American Society for Training & Development - with generous support from its sponsors the Times Mirror Training Group, Development Dimensions International, the Forum Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Labor - has completed research about the industry that is richer and deeper than anything so far attempted. This landmark study of human performance practices reveals new insight about the amount and focus of investments in human capital and, more importantly, about the links between that investment, innovative work practices, and performance.

The picture that emerges is one of change, constancy, and complexity. The forces of global competition and technology determine choices that companies make about what training to provide, to which employees. This state of the industry report shows how that plays out across the training industry and how incremental changes are gradually reshaping it.

To understand fully the report, however, we must look beyond averages and norms. The most significant news is not that some companies have made a real commitment to workplace learning and performance, but that there is a significant gap between the investment that high-performing companies make and all others.

Through the $53.3 billion spent by employers on formal training in the United States seems like a substantial amount, it is paltry compared to the need so many companies express for a workforce that can compete on the strength of its brainpower. The good news is that the experimentation and aggressive pursuit of increased productivity and performance by many leading-edge companies pave the way for new best practices and lower costs for companies that cannot currently afford to make similar investments.

I hope you will find this report a comprehensive and insightful look at the growing evidence of a demonstrable link between learning and performance in the workplace.

---Curtis Plott

President and CEO

American Society for Training & Development

Today's business world is one of intense worldwide competition, dramatic technological change, and a shift towards a knowledge-based economy. Those forces are changing whole industries, changing the nature of work, and changing the kind of knowledge, skills, and abilities people need to work effectively. As a result, a firm's investment in human capital--the education and training of its workforce is a central component of competitive strategy. …

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