The opportunity for learning & development at scale

Millennial employees are less drawn to the perks of their parents’ generation, like company-funded pensions, and more motivated by flexibility, autonomy, and access to the newest technology (cool offices help, too). One thing that has remained unchanged, though, is the desire to grow and learn new skills. Large, established corporations have invested in training for their employees for decades, offering dedicated in-house coaches to make sure their less experienced colleagues have the skills to conduct a meeting, manage personal and professional life, respond to a manager, and speak in public. Amazon offers an intensive, month-long training and leadership program prior to hire and AT&T opened AT&T University where employees can earn technical credentials like web and mobile development, data analytics and entrepreneurship.

This kind of training is desired by millennials, 82% of whom say that formal training from their employers on the job is important in helping them perform their best. However, many startups and smaller companies fail to provide it. A lack of development resources is not only to the detriment of the employee, since training is good for employers too; by improving retention (one study found that 94% of employees would stay longer at a company if it invested more in their career) and engagement (Gallup reported that 67% of employees were not engaged in 2016), companies can also bolster financial performance.

There is a clear opportunity to serve this need in the rising workforce at scale through platform and marketplace approaches that combine coaching and training with technology tools, thus broadening access to professional and personal wellbeing.

Demand in the tech industry started with CEOs searching for personalized coaching and has paved the way for coaches like Jerry Colonna and the Reboot team to be oversubscribed for months at a time. Now, increasingly, interest in coaching has extended beyond executives. Coaching is a large and fast-growing $10b piece of the overall learning and development (“L&D”) market. The question is: how can companies drive down cost enough to broaden access to the type of coaching and development training that was once only reasonable to spend on executives?

Technology may be able to provide leverage in three ways. First, automating logistical tasks such as scheduling allows coaches to work with more employees, driving up their per hour value and increasing their overall capacity. Second, finding an employee the right match increases her probability of being satisfied with the interaction. Third, gathering data and reporting allows for individually optimized training plans. Lin-Jin and Andrew Chen highlight how complex building curated (or semi-curated) marketplaces like coaching platforms can be, and the power of these networks if you succeed.

There are several L&D companies taking this approach. Some examples: BetterUp focuses on psycho- and behavioral analysis to help their customers achieve greater satisfaction at work with coaches. LiveCoach provides life coaches who help to provide structure and perspective in and out of the workplace. Ginger does too, over chat. Torch and GoCoach promote efficiency, engagement, and learning. NextPlay matches employees with each other as mentors. Hone focuses on delivering coach-led leadership development programs with a focus on distributed teams.

Another question is how much technology leverage can exist? Can technologies become the coaches themselves? On the one hand, you may want to get advice from another person (at least some of the time) because common to humans is an emotional inner life that allows for empathy and creates connection. On the other hand, if you’re interacting with a machine (and know that you are) you may be more open and honest about issues over which other humans might be judgmental. We’re still thinking through what aspects of the coaching itself can be impactfully outsourced to software.

A final question is whether it makes more sense for coaching and L&D platforms to go direct to consumer or to sell to enterprises. I tend to think that the latter makes more sense. With the war-on-talent in full swing, it’s possible that training and professional development will become a significant differentiator and selling point for employers when competing with the likes of Amazon and Google (Google offers personal coaching to every new hire in its competitive APM program).

If you’re working on ideas in this space we’d love to hear from you, please reach out.

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