How can people use ATD’s annual State of the Industry report?

On Monday, we shared a 10-minute podcast in which we spoke with ATD Puget Sound’s director of research, Sarah Schillen, to talk about some of the things that stood out for us in ATD’s 2019 State of the Industry Report. Several questions that should arise any time data like this is compiled in a report are: what does this information mean and how can it be acted upon?

First, it’s important to keep in mind that the data in the report was compiled from survey responses that were voluntarily given from 318 organizations (with 14,406 employees per organization on average). This report is less a scientific study and more a compilation of data collected from organizations who volunteered to participate in a study.

Even though voluntarily reported survey data like that found in ATD’s State of the Industry Report needs to be taken with a grain of salt, there are some interesting numbers that L&D departments may want to examine as potential benchmarks for measuring their role in an organization’s success.

To be clear, the most important metrics for every department in the organization – including L&D – revolve around achieving the organization’s mission. That could be anything from maximizing shareholder value (bottom line profits), having an impact on the world (number of children vaccinated against malaria) or boosting market share. There is a lot that goes into achieving these numbers, and professional development (making sure people can do their job to the best of their abilities) is key among them. It is here that these State of the Industry numbers are intriguing as potential benchmarks.

There are two numbers in particular that I think are quite interesting for L&D departments to explore:

  • Average direct expenditure per employee on professional development ($1,299)
  • Learning hours used per employee (34.0)

If you dig more deeply into the report, you’ll see that ATD has broken these numbers down further by organization size and industry, but for this conversation we’ll keep our eye on these overall numbers.

Learning hours per employee and average spend per employee… but Brian, are those numbers any better than the proverbial “butts in seats” number?

I think they are. Training attendance (“butts in seats”) alone is truly a vanity metric. What does it say if 400 people attended a webinar? Is that number high? (What if 900 had signed up? What if it was offered to 10,000 people?)

What does it say if “only” 2 people were trained this month? If it was an intensive certification program that was highly selective and allowed important skills or information that only one person possessed to now be replicated by 3 people, then maybe 2 people being trained is a good number.

Getting back to the numbers ATD provides, I think we go a bit beyond vanity metrics and “butts in seats” data and we now have something against which to benchmark. On average, employees spend 34 hours per year in formal training. Employees at organizations recognized as BEST organizations by ATD spend 39.7 hours – about a full work week – in formal learning environments.

How about your organization? Do you even know how many hours the average employee uses on formal learning? Is it higher than 34? 40? Is it lower?

Keep in mind, this metric really does need to be tied to some other key pieces. What if your employees were required to spend 40 hours per week learning? Is that a good thing?

Not if they’re spending that time in the wrong learning space. So goal setting and supervisor involvement are also important. But at least we have a place to start measuring our own organizations against what others are doing.

This brings me back to the average spend of $1,299 per employee. Do you know how much your organization spends on average for direct training costs per employee? Have you ever felt in your gut that your professional development budget should be higher but you cold never quite justify why? I’m not saying that ATD’s State of the Industry Report is the be all and end all for benchmarking and rationalizing budgetary requests, but again, it does offer a key data point. If your organization doesn’t actually earmark any professional development money for each employee, at the very least the ATD number should start a conversation.

A few other fun facts from the ATD report include:

  • Managerial and supervisory training was the content area that was most prevalent, followed closely by mandatory and compliance training
  • Instructor-led (classroom) training comprised 54.4% of delivery methods
  • When it comes to accessing self-paced, online learning, Desktop or Laptop access faaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrr outpaced access by smartphone or tablet

If you’re a member of ATD, I’d encourage you to take a look through this report and use it as a point of reference against which you can compare your own L&D initiatives and strategies.

Out of curiosity, what numbers do you use for benchmarking your L&D initiatives and strategies? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.


Need some help thinking through your training strategy or putting together a training project (whether it’s instructor-led or elearning)? Drop us a line and let’s talk about what you’re trying to accomplish and how we might collaborate!

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