The Business of Learning

Good Times Never Last Forever

The time is right to take steps to make your learning programs and budget recession-ready.

Are you ready for the next recession? I know this seems like a silly question to ask as the stock market continues to set new records and the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in more than 10 years.

However, speaking as a former economist, I know this is precisely the time to ask the question. Good times never last forever and the next downturn is likely to come without warning. Economists have a poor record of accurately predicting recessions. By the time a consensus believes a recession is coming, we will probably already be in one.

Here’s what we do know. We are well into the current expansion and soon we will be living on borrowed time. The last recession ended in June 2009 so we are more than eight years into the current expansion. The longest expansion in modern economic history was the 9-year run from 1991 to 2000. The next longest was eight years from 1982 to 1990. So in another year we will hopefully be in record territory for the longest economic expansion in our history.

This means that a recession is due sooner than later. Are you ready for it? Have you done all that you can do to demonstrate your value by carefully aligning your discretionary programs to the CEO’s most important goals and then showing the impact of learning on those key goals?

Do you have strong relationships with the goal owners and senior leaders so they will speak up on your behalf? Are you running basic skills and compliance training as efficiently and effectively as possible? Do you demonstrate that to senior leaders? Are you setting specific, measurable goals or plans for key programs and then using monthly reports to compare year-to-date progress against plan? Do senior leaders see these reports and know you are running learning like a business?

If you are not doing these things now, why should your CEO continue your current level of funding and staffing when the next recession comes? Competition for funds and staff will be fierce and every department may well see a reduction. Historically, L&D takes a disproportionately large hit, reflecting the CEO’s lack of confidence in or understanding of the value L&D provides.

Now is the time to put the business processes in place to demonstrate alignment and rigor so senior leaders have a better appreciation for the value added by learning and have greater confidence in you as a learning leader. You cannot prevent the next recession but you can position your department to weather the storm. Now is the time to prepare.

David Vance is the executive director for the Center for Talent Reporting, founding and former president of Caterpillar University and author of “The Business of Learning.” He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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