Before the Industrial Revolution, most skill training was done through apprenticeship. But with the growing number of factories in the 1800s, companies needed to train large numbers of workers at once, making the apprentice model impracticable. In the late 1800s, training programs within companies emerged to teach the mostly unskilled workers how to perform (what were then) new industry jobs. The first documented training and development program was in 1872 when New York-based Hoe and Company provided regular classes to train their printing press machinists.
The push for company-sponsored training intensified in the United States and Europe during World War I and especially World War II when goods were quickly needed for the war efforts and combatant recruiting created a skilled labor shortage. During World War II the U.S. federal government established the Training Within Industry (TWI) program, a nationwide partnership between industry and the U.S. War Manpower Commission. TWI trained millions of new workers and supervisors needed for the large transformation to a wartime economy.
After World War II, the federal government passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944: the “G.I. Bill.” Under the first ten years of the G.I. Bill, about 2.2 million veterans attended post-secondary education and 5.5 million participated in job training programs (1). This massive jobs training initiative helped to establish a corporate culture of training and development that has continued to the present, with increasingly diverse training methods.
In the 1980s, several instructional innovations were introduced, including the Instructional Systems Design (ISD) model, on-the-job training, and the use of videos and simulations. When personal computers became prevalent in the 1990s, companies quickly adopted computer-based training, including electronic performance support (EPS) systems that provide on-the-job access to integrated information. The 2000s brought widespread access to the internet and elaborate e-learning systems.
Today’s corporations have discovered that it’s no longer just about what employees need to know, but also when, where and how the development experience enables performance. EPS systems are migrating to mobile devices where a multitude of apps provide “just-in-time” information and recommendations to workers – especially field workers – in a variety of industries.
Companies are also turning to cognitive solutions, such as artificial intelligence (AI) software to keep pace with the rapidly changing skills required for today’s workforce. AI systems can process unstructured information similar to humans. These systems understand language patterns and sensory inputs, including text, pictures and auditory cues. Because of these capabilities, AI-based software can deliver individualized content adjusted to employee needs and preferences – encouraging an employee’s continuous development.