Developing a Learning Culture

Chief Learning Officer (CLO): Job Description, Trends, and Salaries

What is a Chief Learning Officer (CLO)?

Chief Learning Officer, also known as CLO, oversees the learning and development of a company’s employees at an organizational level. Their job is to create and implement comprehensive training plans that cover everything from onboarding new staff to providing updated training on new technologies and methodologies.

Rather than working with young minds in a classroom setting, a CLO is focused on educating and molding the minds of a company’s employees through both online and in-person training initiatives. They take a holistic approach to train, understanding that learning should be an ongoing process that spans the entire length of an employee’s tenure with the organization.

From onboarding new staff to updated training as technology or methods change, a CLO considers training from a holistic point of view with an understanding that their staff should never stop learning.

Together with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), the CLO disseminates knowledge and information to the learner through technology, social media, and in person. And, as always, it’s the person in a top C-level leadership position who is responsible for bringing it all in, at, or under budget.

The first CLO ever (on record) is Steve Kerr, hired in 1990 by Jack Welch to oversee General Electric’s (GE) learning and development.

The actual job title came about in a rather curious manner. According to this USC interview, it was originally suggested that Kerr be given the title Chief Education Officer. Kerr approached Welch and joked, “I’m going to be CEO just like you.” Welch responded with a laugh, “There’s only one of those at GE! You can be Chief Learning Officer.” Because the position/title was created on the spot, Kerr ended up creating  his own job description.

What Does a CLO Do?

Chief Learning Officers typically have the following job responsibilities:

  • The entire information management scope of the company
  • Forming, implementing , and overseeing curriculum
  • Making decisions on learning management systems (LMS) and other eLearning tools
  • Selecting and hiring employees
  • Ensuring employees have a smooth onboarding process 
  • Crafting a learning strategy for the organization (or making changes to current learning strategy). 

If we look at CLO statistics, about 90 percent of CLOs have spent time in the corporate world. They have 18 years of experience on average. As with most C-Level positions, the role requires an individual with vast practical experience at multiple levels in an organization and industry.

In order to be able to strategically think through a comprehensive training plan for an organization, a CLO has to be intimately familiar with what different levels of staff need to know and when they need to know it—as well as what obstacles staff may face and how to resolve those challenges. 

We often refer to a three-legged stool as the “CLO Throne.” The use of technology to drive information (the first two legs of the stool)—eLearning, mLearning, and/or tablet-based learning—intersects with social media, the third leg in today’s learning stool. Increasingly, learning takes place on demand, incorporates gamification and social learning, and learners increasingly bring their own devices (BYOD).

The learning landscape remains in a constant state of flux with the rate of change ever-increasing—and the CLO must keep up with it all while overcoming the challenge of introducing older learners to new forms of learning.

What Makes a Stellar CLO?

A great CLO doesn’t see the organization in parts but in its entirety. They help form an atmosphere where employees are at peace with each other, happy to learn from one another, and collaborate. Every employee is treated as a key part of the organization. 

Here are some traits that make for a successful CLO:

  • Culturally educated. A CLO needs to plan for people from different generations, nationalities, personalities, and languages. 
  • Emotionally intelligent. CLOs need to be open to your employees and willing to learn from their perspectives. 
  • Understanding and empathetic. CLOs quickly understand why an employee acted the way they did. 
  • Futuristic. CLOs should have goals that will help the company in the long term. 
  • Enthusiastic enough to fire up others with your passion. 

We’ve done considerable research into the current working of CLOs and their locations. We’re excited to see how the role develops in the future. Check out the statistics below to understand how CLOs shape their organization. 

Successful CLOs You Might Know About

1. Lou Tedrick, Verizon, Vice President of Global Learning and Development, 2021 CLO of the Year

2. Sydney Savion, Cityblock Health, 2020 CLO of the Year (oversaw the development of 250,000 U.S. military officers)

3. James Woolsey, President at Defense Acquisition University, 2019 CLO of the Year

Female Representation 

In the United States, about 38 % of the Chief Learning Officers identify as female. While the male-identified population is bigger, at 57.5%, it is still a promising number. 

 Educations-oriented positions often have over-representation of female-identified employees. In fact, 76% of private school teachers were women. That  high representation in education carries over to the CLO position. After pouring over 1,550 CLO profiles on LinkedIn, we found the gender results to be both surprising and refreshing: 45% of CLOs identify as female, which is a number considerably higher than male/female breakdowns in the C-suite.

CLOs in Fortune 50 Companies

Some of the Fortune 50 companies that employ official CLOs are Citigroup, Bank of America, HP, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, GE, Hess, and Caterpillar. When we expand the list to Fortune 500, there are a few more notable companies, including: Cisco, New York Life Insurance, American Express, CHS, Nike, AIG, McDonald’s, Merck, General Mills, and Mastercard.

Growth in the Industry

About $92.3 billion was spent on corporate training in 2021 in the US alone, up from $87.6 billion in 2018. While that’s not a large increase, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the general investment trend in the industry. While some expenditures were reduced, others were increased considerably. What is clear is that the CLO position isn’t going anywhere. 

Chief Learning Officer (CLO) Salary estimates the average yearly salary of a CLO to be $124k per year.

By Payscale’s estimate, the base salary for a CLO is between $96k  to $215K. The bonus scale also ranges from $5K  to $47K. If CLOs have shares in the company, from profit sharing, they might get anything from $4K to $28K. As such, the total pay is estimated from $100K to $243K. Obviously it varies by location, with larger metro areas like San Francisco and New York reaching higher salary numbers. 

How is the Salary Affected by Experience?

If we go by the Payscale database, a CLO’s career goes through four phases. For the first four years, the base salary might be around $122K, 5 to 9 years, it’s $140K. 10 to 19+ years would bump that salary to $160K. 

What Industries Have the Most CLOs?

There isn’t anything surprising about the industries CLOs are prevalent in. In most cases, their previous stints have been in HR or education. There are some management consultants too. CLOs self-reported these numbers on LinkedIn. 

How Do You Become a CLO?

The CLO journey is a bit murky. The position is still a relatively new one, with plenty of companies that don’t have the role yet. However, if we take a look at the experience of other CLOs:

  • 18 years spent in the corporate world, in fields relevant to the industry (10 years at a minimum) 
  • Bachelor or master’s degree in HR preferred, with other education management and training experience 
  • Any kind of Corporate Officer position such as CIO, CEO, CMO, or CCO
  • Completing any educational program meant to train Chief Learning Officers- PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program from The University of Pennsylvania, George Mason University School of Business’ four-month CLO training program, Curriculum and Instruction from The University of Virginia

For a business to be sustainable in the long run, the employees have to continuously grow their technical and soft skills. Knowledge is valuable to these employees, and the only way they can ensure they will continue to climb the corporate ladder is to continuously increase their skill set. 

All of this becomes possible because CLOs are there to guide them along their career path. The presence of a Chief Learning Officer sends a clear message that the company is invested in their employees and is willing to provide them with the tools to shape the future.