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Pulling Some Trends from ATD’s 2021 State of the Industry Report

Have you wondered what kinds of training metrics against which you can benchmark your own organization's L&D performance/culture? ATD's State of the Industry report is a good place to start.

In December, ATD released its 2021 State of the Industry report, which includes survey data from 223 organizations, large and small, across a variety of sectors. This was an interesting report because it was actually taking a look at training activities and trends from the year 2020. I’m pretty sure we can all remember what 2020 was like.

A few quick highlights:

  • Organizations spent an average of $1,267 per employee on learning expenditures (this number changed pretty drastically depending on company size and industry, so be careful throwing this number around in your boss’s office, petitioning for more professional development funds)
  • Each employee spent an average of 35.0 hours in formal learning experiences
  • The average cost for each of those learning hours used was $76/hour
  • The average ratio for employees-to-talent development staff was 385:1 (obviously that number is going to be lower if you work in a smaller organization)
  • The top 10 content areas of focus were:
    • Mandatory/compliance training
    • Manager/supervisor training
    • Profession/industry-specific training
    • Interpersonal skills training
    • Process, procedures and business practices training
    • Information technology and systems training
    • New employee orientation
    • Executive development
    • Customer service training
    • Product knowledge training
    • Sales training (not including product knowledge)
  • In case you weren’t counting, I actually listed 11 content areas, but for some reason I labelled it 10 because that seemed like a more round number (and it’s really late as I type this and for some reason I think this is really funny)
  • Devices used to access self-paced, online learning:
    • Laptop (84.0%)
    • Desktop (69.9%)
    • Smartphone (47.9%)
    • Tablet (44.8%)
  • Extent to which organizations emphasize on-the-job learning:
    • Very high (28.6%)
    • High (33.5%)
    • Moderate (26.1%)
    • Small extent (8.7%)
    • Not at all (3.1%)

I was excited to write this blog post because I always find data like this interesting. But what can we do with this information?

When I led training efforts for a global health organization, I would actually use some of these numbers to benchmark our own organization’s dedication to learning and professional development.

While setting an organization-wide goal of making sure each employee completed at least 35 hours of formal learning per year didn’t guarantee that anyone would actually do anything new or differently or better as a result (that is really a butts-in-seats, Level 0 metric), it did force our organization to consciously think about professional development. Each month, department heads had to submit data on how many hours of learning their employees completed. Employees had to think about and track their own professional development hours. At the very least, using this metric helped start conversations at all levels of the organization about professional development.

Beyond the butts-in-seats metrics, you can also use this report to take a look at trends and perhaps begin to even ask yourself about the learning culture in your organization. How much does your organization emphasize on-the-job learning? How are the end-users consuming your self-directed online learning programs (and are you taking that into account when you design those modules)?

I’ve only given you the tip of the iceberg. ATD’s annual report is 60 pages long, offers much deeper analysis on all of these numbers, and also breaks the numbers down by organization size, sector and, if you’d like to compare your organization to ATD BEST Award winners, you can do that as well.

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