Advice to L&D Professionals Facing COVID Redundancy

If you are here because you have been laid off, then I am terribly sorry. This is the type of content I do not like producing. We did record a webinar version, but I also appreciate many people do not have the headspace for yet another hour of screen time. So, here is the skinny on what was discussed.

I am old (not wise) enough to remember the two major economic downturns of this century: the first after 9/11 and the second (much longer) in 2008. Those were very grim times. Whilst they are certainly not at the scale and velocity of our current situation, there were patterns observed in the L&D industry that may offer clues to the future.

In most companies, the L&D function was the very first to be trimmed. It was an easy cost line item to cut. But our industry responded. In 2001, it was the birth of digital learning. Companies wanted to produce content cheaper and outside of the classroom because budgets were battered. The LMS gained popularity when companies in insurance and finance had to comply with the Sarbannes-Oxley Act. Around 2008 we saw the rapid proliferation of large content libraries as well as rapid authoring tools. These were an answer to the lean L&D team who could no longer hire coders or build bespoke content.

Now my disdain for the LMS, canned content, and all things eLearning is pretty evident. It is a hornet’s nest I have kicked more than once. The point here is that L&D does find other ways to evolve and this COVID situation will be no exception. The differences today are the speed to which we went digital and the massive chasm between consumer-grade and corporate-grade digital experiences. That sentence is critical reading for anyone in the industry. L&D has not kept pace. If you will not acknowledge this gap, you might be left behind.

So, what now with the new normal?

If you are leading a team or are a senior L&D professional, there are two main things you need to do: 1) Get a direct line to your CEO today and determine the new business goals. If you do not have that type of access, go as high as you can and talk to the PMO as well. The latter will be able to tell you which projects are mothballed and what is priority. 2) Ditch the annual plan. Any content not directly aligned to business goals should be shelved. If you cannot prove you are contributing to ROI, do not do it. Now more than ever you should be the best strategic partner you can be.

Of course, none of this is new. We have had these discussions for eternity. Now it is real. Bring it on.

As an instructional or learning experience designer, you might be considering rapidly upskilling into converting ILT to VILT. Personally, I would not recommend it. Yes, there is a deluge of opportunities in this space and I totally endorse anyone doing this work right now to keep the rent paid. However, treat this as a short-term solution. If you invest too heavily in this skill, once the initial wave wanes, you will be one among millions who are specialists in the field. You will not be as competitive. Likewise, the tools we use today and what is understood as an online classroom will change rapidly. Facebook announced last week they are getting into video conferencing. Google only took a hot second before they made their Meet product free to users. Do not make this a career leap just yet.

I would offer the same advice when it comes to picking up a rapid authoring tool. Long before COVID-19 we at NilesNolen were steering clients away from building courses in favour of other media types. Creating a SCORM package is like having a coat you can only wear in one city…and it has a really ugly pattern from the 00s. To my point earlier, our audiences are now experiencing digital on a scale never seen before and their benchmarks will rise by default. There will be no more tolerance for subpar content and clicking X to close is too tempting.

So, what should you focus on? First, you might not be in the mental place to even consider upskilling right now and that is something to acknowledge to yourself. I have given up scrolling through bread-baking artisans and miracles in crochet whilst I have a vodka and soda and wipe off sloppy crumbs from my pyjamas. Be gentle on yourself. When you are ready, think of how to get ahead of the curve. If the need for commercial-grade experiences is coming, then consider graphic design or videography. Not your jam? Time to learn to write for digital like journalists do. In all the transformation work we have done, the hardest role to fill was finding talented writers. Always. The inverted pyramid is you new BFF.

If I had to place bets on what will be the emergent EdTech out of all of this, it will be what I call the invisible LMS. Pieces and pockets of this functionality are already starting to bubble up in companies like Sparks and Filtered with MS Teams. What prevents this technology now from being mainstream is a lack of skills in the industry in fields like data and marketing automation. Even if this tech is a slow burn, either of those skills will make you stand out from the crowd. 

Finally, if now is not the time for a career pivot, then think strategically. There are pockets of innovation and new industries being carved out. All of these will need L&D professionals to help with onboarding and warp speed change. Think sanitation, medical waste recycling, logistics, e-Commerce, cybersecurity, grocery and food supply, to name a few. Read up and target these companies. Likewise, with WFH the new normal, do not limit yourself to your postal code. Your new role may only need to be in a similar time zone.

We had a lot of technical tips and tricks in the webinar on how to leverage LinkedIn, but other people are way smarter than I am, so refer to those experts. The big takeaways on the topic were to be your authentic self online, and to know most really good jobs are rarely posted. In the case of the former, when I was able to be honest about my opinions, I attracted the opportunities I wanted. Yes, I have plenty of detractors in my InMail (yay!), but the quality of my network for the work I love to do drastically improved. For the latter, speak with Amanda Nolen. She is the expert on the hustle.

I wish things would improve, like, yesterday. But that is unrealistic, and this is going to be a long-haul recovery when that even begins. I do not have words of wisdom and have screwed-up a million times, but hopefully sharing these experiences will help you stumble along with fewer bumps and scrapes. Also, take this advice in the context of your current situation and what may not apply to you. In the meantime, stay healthy and look out for each other.