Many publications, including our own, are exploring “the future of work” in articles, research and other content. Topics like automation, artificial intelligence (AI), the gig economy and the virtual workplace take center stage in this discussion. We can’t forget, however, that central to the future of work are workers themselves. How can we make sure that our business strategies moving forward are considering employees’ needs and supporting their growth and development?

You guessed it: Learning leaders must play a role.

While emerging technologies are creating a brave new future of work, they are also supporting the future of the worker. AI is enabling coaching at scale, augmenting the personalized development approach of a professional coach; online platforms are automating some performance management tasks, freeing up managers’ time for those one-on-one conversations that are critical to performance; and remote meeting and learning platforms are enabling managers, trainers, employees and learners to communicate effectively, no matter where their offices are located.

Investors Taking Note: The “Great Awakening”

Funding for these technologies is following the demand. For example, BetterUp, a mobile coaching company, announced $103 million in growth financing for its Series C round in June, bringing its total financing to over $142 million. Fuel50, creator of a “career experience and talent mobility platform,” closed $14 million in Series B funding in August, bringing its total funding to over $18 million.

When BetterUp launched, says co-founder and CEO Alexi Robichaux, investors weren’t really interested in what it was offering. But “BetterUp is focused on the future of the worker, not just the future of work,” and investors are starting to understand this reality. “Your competitive advantage is your people,” he says, and there’s been a “great awakening” that optimizing employees through growth and development is critical to success.

From an investor’s perspective, Will Kohler, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners (which led BetterUp’s Series C), says that, while investing in “technology and tools to improve visibility into data, into decisions, into workflow” is important, “investing in people and their development” is also key. In fact, Robichaux reports that Workday has seen a 10% increase in its “managers’ ability to elevate and drive results” after implementing BetterUp’s platform.

Personalizing Career Planning

Fuel50, meanwhile, supports organizations’ employee development programs through what CEO Anne Fulton describes as a platform that combines “the simplicity of Google Maps” with personalized career pathing.

“Employees are hungry to know what their future holds,” Fulton says. “We deliver a level of transparency that helps reduce ‘skills anxiety’ for both the organization and the employee.” By enabling organizations to know which skills they’re missing and employees to know which positions and career paths might be open to them, Fuel50 helps ensure a solid talent pipeline for the future.

Based on the data Fulton provides, it works; its clients have seen employee retention improve by an average of 60% and employee engagement improve by an average of 3% to 5%. Organizations also improve their internal talent mobility; for example, IngersollBrand has improved its “internal fill rates from 37.5% to 55%” since beginning its partnership with Fuel50 in 2016.

Artificial intelligence enables these platforms to automatically make career path and training recommendations based on each employee’s career history, learning and other data. Matching employees’ skills, performance and goals to organizational opportunities improves employee engagement and retention and helps fill the talent pipeline.

“We’re not designing around compliance anymore,” Robichaux says. Instead, learning leaders are focusing on engaging learners and ensuring that they are growing. By formalizing previously informal learning processes like coaching and career planning, organizations can track not only compliance metrics but also those metrics like engagement, learning and talent mobility. Then, they can change their programs to improve them.