Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result. Plus, don’t miss our infographic, “5 Tips for Turning 2020 Disarray Into 2021 Direction: Insights From Learning Leaders,” which shares insights from the series.

Few in the human resources (HR) industry could have predicted that 2020 would include record-high U.S. unemployment figures and a mass exodus from offices to remote work environments. It left HR teams scrambling to adapt, often adjusting or even abandoning their typical processes to serve their employees.

In 2021, organizations will still need to reconcile with an unusual labor market and a sincere desire for company-wide connection and growth. Employees want to improve their skills, while employers want to hire and promote top talent and deploy the best technology to succeed in the current climate. With these challenges in mind, here are four trends shaping the HR industry’s preparation for the 2021 talent landscape:

1. Employers Will Direct More Attention Toward Talent Retention

With the massive move to a remote environment, employees navigated the unfamiliarity of interacting and connecting with each other virtually, and the remote lifestyle changed how valued employees felt by their employers. Naturally, employers wanting their people to succeed and working to hold onto top talent were concerned about the possibility of seeing decreased employee satisfaction last year.

This year, employers will direct their attention toward retaining top-performing employees. Despite being in a remote environment for the foreseeable future, employers still have options for devoting more conscious efforts at retention. For example, shaping internal advancement opportunities around skills can present a stronger opportunity for high performers than a new role at another organization. Companies have to invest more heavily into discovering their employees’ skills, and then developing their organizational chart, to harness talent and increase employee satisfaction.

2. Learning and Development Will Have a Greater Impact on Company Culture

A company focused on establishing a culture of retention should also understand how to help its employees learn and develop. Learning and development (L&D) has come a long way; gone are the days when a L&D program consisted of an annual video and a quiz on security practices.

Now, not only are L&D opportunities a highly valued employee perk, but employees and employers can both benefit from them. However, it’s important to understand that their value is limited to employees’ ability to provide verifiable proof of competence and achieve some mileage out of their new skills.

As 2021 unfolds, companies will pioneer ways to tie learning programs to employer-sponsored badges. These badges could arise from a company’s in-house or third-party training program that offers a digital credential as the final recognition. The most important element of such an initiative is for organizations to show they take learning and development seriously and are committed to each employee’s growth.

3. Skills-based Hiring Will Increase the Talent Pool and Build a More Diverse Workforce

Managers tasked with handling external hires or internal role changes have often relied heavily on proxies as stand-ins for an employee’s supposed competence. Using college degrees and years of experience as justification for talent decisions continued through 2020, but this strategy narrowed the talent pool and prevented highly qualified candidates from even showing up on a hiring manager’s radar.

Managers should set aside the traditional resume checklist and, instead, consider the skills an ideal employee would possess to succeed within a role — and then look for candidates through that lens. In-the-field experience, coupled with the right credentials, can demonstrate a skill set equal to or beyond a college degree alone. By adopting a skills-based approach, managers can identify qualified candidates that their traditional methods would likely have missed.

4. Companies Will Adopt a Common Language for Skilling Initiatives

Last year, many organizations invested even more deeply in upskilling and reskilling initiatives to fill internal gaps, which surfaced another common challenge: Company leaders find it difficult to identify and verify the competencies their employees have. A lack of agreement on what constitutes “competency” makes comparing two employees’ skills a futile exercise, creating an obstacle for leaders attempting to map skills across business functions.

In 2021, companies should adopt a common language to equalize skills and simplify the verification process by using digital credentials as their source of truth. Once leaders agree on what “competency” means, employees can show they meet or even exceed expectations on competency with verified digital badges. Then, companies can trust employees to accomplish their goals and will project greater confidence in their talent decisions, because they can rely on data to make decisions.

2020 threw some curveballs, but HR teams’ adaptations to those challenges will prepare them for what 2021 has to offer. Companies should continue to focus on these four key trends to help ensure that they make the best human capital decisions possible, using verified data to build lasting workforce strategies.