The changing nature of human resource development


The landscape of learning and development has changed radically over recent years due to many different factors, not least shifting requirements around skills gaps and the methods used by organizations to address these. Emerging technologies in particular are playing a key role in helping to find innovative ways of helping people of all ages to develop knowledge and skills (Norman and Taylor, 2019). Although digital learning tools are not new (Benson-Armer et al, 2016) the accessibility of such learning has become much easier given the use of cloud-based material and its availability across many different devices and environments. However, to understand these more recent advances it is helpful to place them into a historical context to see not only how the nature of these learning and development activities and their deliver)' methods have changed over the years but also why. By tracing how HRD has become such an important part of organizational life we can consider the implications of this for the provision of learning and development activities when an age diverse workforce is present.

HRD, which is now recognized as a specialized field of study and practice separate from more generalist HRM activities, has its early roots in the field of training. Whilst terminology has changed over the years and definitions are often used interchangeably, this shifting focus and interpretation reflects a move away from simple training to a diverse range of developmental interventions for many different types (and age ranges) of employees. Indeed, the choice of which learning and development activities to use is huge and therefore potentially problematic. In many organizations such choices will be based on a number of factors, some highly strategic, others more operational.

In this chapter we trace these early roots of HRD to see how this specialism has developed, and consider briefly how it might support employees to ensure that they are fit for role in terms of skills and knowledge. Such a context is important in our understanding of the wide range of factors which impact on the delivery of opportunities for staff development. Some of these factors are explored further in Chapter 2. The changing nature of HRD and its efforts to secure recognition as a field of both study and practice in its own right have become rich areas for academic research as well as for the delivery of staff development. Much of the generalist HR literature focuses on the way in which that function has struggled to sit at the top table and be seen to make a sound commercial contribution to both the strategy and operation of the organization, whether private or public, or third sector. Despite best efforts, the HR function still needs to demonstrate its value and adapt to the changing needs of the workforce, as well as strengthen the capability of people managers themselves (CIPD, 2017a). Yet as we shall see in Chapter 7, increasingly there is recognition of the strategic nature of both HRD and HRM whereby these functions can support an organization in its search for optimum performance. A strong performance orientation has emerged within both functions as they have developed capability to undertake such organizational support.Yet there are still concerns being expressed about the state of HRD and its potential role (Gold, 2017). The different agendas of HRD may include organizational diversity and inclusion which arguably are critical to ensuring that staff are provided with fair opportunities for growth and development. Where an agenda of age diversity is to be pursued, this will have particular importance.


By the end of this chapter the reader should be able to:

  • • Understand the historical development of HRD against a background of social, economic, and political change
  • • Analyze briefly how some of the more recent developments in learning and development have evolved into key areas of delivery, in the current climate
  • • Consider how and why inclusion and diversity in the learning and development arena have become key areas of focus

The historical development of HRD

The early history of HRD was shaped by both historical events and the transformative contributions of many pioneering thinkers in the field (Torraco, 2016). By considering briefly these historical timelines over the past 100 years or so we can see just how far this field of study and practice has progressed. As the nature of HRD has changed over many years, its areas of emphasis have also changed, as have methods of delivering learning opportunities to an age group which continues to widen, as increased numbers of older people stay on in employment after normal retirement age.

In tracing the historical development of HRD we can identify four main periods of importance:

  • • The period up to the outbreak ofWorld War 2 (WW2)
  • • The period post-WW2 until the early 1970s
  • • The period from 1970 until the early 2000s
  • • The current period ie 2000 onwards

In the section that follows, a brief analysis of each stage of development is undertaken.

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