4 Opportunities to Energize Talent Development for the Age of AI

As AI unlocks new ways of working, it’s only natural that talent development must transform too. 

After leading two AI-focused sessions — and having many timely conversations — at this year’s Association for Talent Development conference (ATD24), I’m more convinced that every talent leader has an opportunity to help their organizations foster the agility and resilience needed for the future of work. 

To do this, I see four areas of transformation that will build strong, innovative, AI-ready organizations:

Career development — empowering impactful and continuous employee growth.Skills agility — encouraging more dynamic and personalized learning to keep pace with change.Internal mobility — developing more ways for people to move around their organizations, delivering skills when and where they’re needed.Business impact — aligning with business strategy and measuring success according to clear business outcomes.

Based on my conversations this week, much of this work is well under way, driven by progressive leaders around the globe. But many others still face considerable barriers, and they’re just starting to have important discussions inside their organizations. 

I want to share a deeper look at each opportunity, along with some data and observations to bolster speed and fortitude. In times like this, I remember this quote from author Robin Sharma: “All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.”

Why AI necessitates fresh thinking for talent developers

Before we get to gorgeous, let’s take a look at the high-level trends driving the need to overhaul our talent strategies. LinkedIn data tells us that two foundational shifts are underway:

AI is accelerating productivity and efficiency: 84% of LinkedIn members in the U.S. are in occupations that can leverage generative AI to automate at least a quarter of routine tasks and increase productivity.
AI is reshaping the skills that every organization needs: Globally, LinkedIn forecasted that skills would change 50% from 2016 to 2030 — and generative AI is now expected to accelerate this change to 68%

So what does this mean for learning and talent development? As the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report points out: “Skill-building is no longer simply a perk for employees — it’s a priority for organizational success.” And it’s no surprise that the report shows aligning learning to business goals is our profession’s top focus area for the second year in a row.

It has never been clearer: We must all deliver skills that move the business forward and continue to help our employees and leaders identify those skills quickly. 

The first opportunity: meeting the moment with career development

The most important shift for learning and talent developers is to move our attention away from delivering courses and think more about how we support impactful careers. 

I wrote about this transformation a year ago, but the change is even more evident today. As people fear being displaced by AI, they crave career relevance more than ever. And career progress is peoples’ top motivation to build the skills companies need.

The North Star here is helping individual employees pursue career progress in alignment with company needs and priorities. And it’s imperative to surround this strategic goal with a culture of continuous learning

Here are a few of the ways LinkedIn is leaning in to support and inspire our own employees:

We are investing in our talent architecture to identify all critical skills and role requirements to power a future approach to skills-based development. 
We focus on resources like our Career Action Plan and Connected Career workshops to help employees identify their career goals as well as their strengths, skills, and interests and to have meaningful career conversations with their managers regularly.
We organize initiatives, such as Career Week, a weeklong series of hybrid events and learning activities centered on career development. We also weave in skill and career-development reflections throughout our annual performance practices to keep it top of mind for employees.
We reinforce learning as a business priority, encouraging managers to incorporate learning into team meetings to create space and time to learn as a team.
We help emerging professionals hone a wide range of valuable skills and priceless connections through targeted development and rotational training programs.

The second opportunity: accelerating skills agility — including AI skills

The second opportunity goes hand in hand with career development. Success in the age of AI requires skills agility — harnessing the right skills at the right time for the right work. 

The best approach here is to empower learning opportunities that are flexible, efficient, and tailored to individual career motivations. This means evolving from merely offering static learning programs to delivering dynamic, on-demand experiences. And it means moving away from learning programs designed for everyone to those that are personalized for individual employees. 

One learning area is top of mind for many right now — AI upskilling. I used some of my time at ATD24 to highlight a new framework to help organizations tackle this challenge. A key principle here is making AI accessible through training that’s matched to the varying needs of teams and individuals. You can read all about it here.

The third opportunity: harnessing internal mobility 

Most talent leaders see the rising potential of internal mobility. They see that it boosts retention rates, develops employees with deeper cross-functional knowledge, and fosters the ability for a company to tap into hidden pools of internal talent.

In fact, 87% of L&D pros say they can show business value by helping employees gain skills to move into different internal roles. But internal mobility is also a new muscle for many of us. At LinkedIn, we are still early in our journey, taking these steps forward:

Fostering career development (aka opportunity No. 1): We’re deploying career development programs and career pathing tools that will empower employees to develop skills in line with business priorities.

Supporting managers: We aspire to celebrate managers who export talent from their teams to other internal opportunities. And because we know that managers are also dealing with so many demands, we are constantly finding ways to support them with the right tools and resources.

Aligning business and talent strategy (see more on this in opportunity No. 4): We’re getting closer to business needs by aligning programs and our talent architecture with those priorities.

The fourth opportunity: demonstrating business impact

Many of us are having conversations that sound like this: “There is a paradox in our industry. We need to drive business impact, yet our chief metric is learner engagement — a mere signpost on the way to impact.”

With skill-building now business critical, talent developers must measure and articulate business impact or risk not having any kind of role to play. In short, our function needs to have a seat at the table to drive strategic talent conversations or we might not have a seat anywhere. According to the Workplace Learning Report, 58% of L&D pros say their function has a voice in the C-suite, but that also means 42% don’t.

To spur further thinking and small steps forward here, I have a couple of recommendations.

First, some more reading to check out: 

3 Key Ways Learning Benefits the Business,” which digs into an infographic on business outcomes and learning culture. “How to Start Determining the ROI of Your Learning Programs,” which offers specific steps to guide your efforts. 

Second, consider taking a cue from Jess Almlie, a learning and performance strategist, who points out a productive way to reframe measurement. It’s not about justifying the work of talent development, she points out, it’s about making informed business decisions. 

“When we reframe measurement from something we have to do to prove our worth to something we need to do to make decisions about our work,” she writes, “it sheds an entirely new and much more positive light on the subject.” 

Final thoughts: These four opportunities power one another 

Remember Robin Sharma’s quote on change? Well, a talent development strategy built on all four of these opportunities can be truly gorgeous. In fact, the opportunities form an engine that constantly amplifies its own energy:

Career development motivates employees to build skills, powering skills agility and internal mobility.
Internal mobility powers skills agility by connecting skills where they’re needed most — and creates more career development opportunities.
Together, career development, skills agility, and internal mobility drive measurable business growth.
And business growth powers even more career development opportunities. 

Of course, change is never truly finished. But the work we do today has the potential to change many careers and many lives — including our own. I hope we all continue to seize the moment and lean into the messy middle.