ATD 2020 State of the Industry Report


The Association for Talent Development (ATD) recently released its 2020 State of the Industry Report, which provides insights into how 283 organizations of various sizes, industries and locations are investing in learning and development. However, it’s worth noting that the data contained in this report was submitted for the 2019 fiscal or calendar year, so the pandemic’s effects on learning and development are yet to be seen. Here are the highlights.


The average organization spent $1,308 per employee for direct learning in 2019 versus $1,299 in 2018.

Employee learning continues to be a major investment area and is increasing in the organizations studied. But how are these funds being spent? ATD divides “direct learning expenditures” into three categories: internal services, learning suppliers and tuition reimbursement. The report states that

  • 66% of direct learning expenditures went toward the internal services category, which includes in-house development, delivery and administration expenses, and talent development staff salaries.
  • 24% went to learning suppliers, which includes consulting services, external content development and licenses, and non-staff trainers.
  • 10% went for tuition reimbursement.

In 2019 each employee used 34.7 hours of formal learning, up from 34.0 hours in 2018.

According to ATD, “formal learning” refers to stand-alone learning that is not embedded in on-the-job work. Formal learning hours are up almost 15% from 2012, which suggests that the amount of time employees spend on learning and development is increasing at a steady clip.

Face-to-face, instructor-led classroom learning was in freefall even before the pandemic.

When looking at total learning hours available, 40% of an organization’s hours were spent in a traditional classroom setting, down from 53% in 2018. With that said, it’s no surprise that technology-based learning methods accounted for more than half of all learning hours in 2019. Almost 20% of learning hours were used in virtual classrooms in 2019, up from just 11% in 2018. ATD estimates that 70% of organizations currently use virtual classrooms.

Content on improving managerial and supervisory skills continues to make up the largest share of content learning consumed across organizations.

ATD reports that content related to managing people—including topics like coaching direct reports, managing teams and managing performance—makes up the largest share of organizations’ learning portfolios at 14%. The remaining top content areas include:

  • Mandatory and compliance training content (13%)
  • Profession- and industry-specific content, including medical, engineering, accounting, or legal skills training (13%)
  • Interpersonal skills (10%)
  • Processes, procedures, and business practices (10%)
  • Information technology and systems (8.5%)

On-the-job learning is still an area of high commitment.

Since it’s nearly impossible to capture the number of hours employees spend learning during regular work activities, ATD measures organizational commitment to on-the-job learning instead. In 2019, 56% of the organizations surveyed emphasized on-the-job learning to a “high” or “very high” extent. Only 1% did not emphasize it at all. Knowledge sharing is a key aspect of on-the-job learning, but a separate research report found that, “while many organizations saw knowledge sharing happen within teams and departments, cross-departmental knowledge sharing was still rare.”

Staffing the talent development function: 330 to 1

The ratio of employees to talent development staff members (when adjusted for outsourced learning suppliers) fell from 350 in 2018 to 330 in 2019. However, the report notes that 2019’s employees-to-TD staff figure is still high, compared to 308 employees to TD staff members in 2017 and 297 in 2016.

The ATD 2020 State of the Industry report is free to ATD members and can be purchased by non-members.

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