Discovery SA's Trevor Kunda on the current state and future of L&D

Trevor says South Africa's entire learning and development ecosystem is outdated.

Discovery South Africa head of leadership development and training Trevor Kunda has always been passionate about understanding what it takes to groom leaders of the future.  For while there is unanimous agreement regarding the need for ongoing learning based on evolving work demands and skills requirements of the future, details around the optimal format and content of such learning remains a conundrum. Whether it be through LinkedIn, Youtube, the Khan Academy or other multimedia platforms, the world of information is available 24/7 to anyone with a smartphone, and the commodification of knowledge has meant that virtually anyone can become an expert at anything. This presents a very specific challenge to learning within an organisational context. But Trevor says there is no need to be locked into a particular platform or technology provider. 

The much bigger question, he says, is around qualifications and accreditations. He believes that it is all well and good to have employees upskilling themselves to the nth degree. However, if employers are still basing their recruitment criteria on certificates and degrees, there’s still going to be a problem.

Says Trevor: “I have been speaking to a couple of my peers to ask how we get over the problem of qualifications and accreditations. Because it is a framework that was designed for solving problems of the 70s and 80s but the world has changed quite drastically since then and the regulatory frameworks in corporate and government are yet to reflect that change.

“We need to ask 'why'. Why the need for badges? Why the need for certification?” Certification just for certification’s sake doesn’t serve any need. It makes sense to require certifications in areas like IT where people communicate competency in Python programming language, for example, because that is an area that is ever-evolving and requires people to remain up to date. But in most other fields, qualifications are less important because there is less certainty as to what the skills that will actually be required are.”

The continuing obsession with academic qualifications from tertiary institutions, Trevor says, is based on how they are incentivised. The fact that digital learning, by and large, is not recognised by Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), who pay grants and rebates to employees that invest in skills development, is a major challenge.

“We are part of the Bank SETA and Insurance SETA and our L&D expenditure on digital platforms does not generate rebates and grants that arise when spending is directed towards traditional and frankly outdated forms and training,” says Trevor.

He feels that the entire training and development ecosystem will have to catch up to the evolution taking place in this space, to deliver adequate recognition and support for those who are ready and willing to upskill themselves in unconventional ways and who, indeed, are the agile and adaptable individuals the future workforce needs.  

It’s not about getting a promotion

Ster-Kinekor head of L&D Sifikle Zondi says it would be irresponsible for corporate organisations and learning institutions to persist with current learning framework.

“The way in which we currently deliver learning is no longer relevant. If you are an employee or business leader and your learning interventions require you to attend classes or complete some kind of curriculum on an assigned learner management systems or online course, your organisation is going to get left behind very quickly,” says Sifikile. 

“It’s an approach that still ascribes to the notion that people only engage in learning because they have an expectation that it will result in a promotion and/or higher salary but that’s not going to be the case for much longer. In the future, individuals will not be motivated to learn based on recognition. They will be motivated by the need to complete their knowledge in a particular field in order to be able to deliver more value.”

Uberisation of learning

MTN iLearn is a leading local case study on how to approach the Future World of Work in so far as it encapsulates and breeds a culture of lifelong learning, which MTN head of global learning and development Imran Cassim says it is no longer a nicety but a necessity. Through their platform, MTN has introduced gamification through which users choose how to consume the learning material, whether it’s in the form of video or an article, and also earn also badges for completing the content to eventually become an expert in a particular area. Once they are recognised as an expert then other people can reach out to them for support based on that ‘expertise.’

Speaking at the Davos of Human Capital 2019 event hosted by Duke CE, he said the platform was tantamount to the ‘uberisation’ of learning.

“It’s very easy to get a platform and shove a tone of content in there and tell employees to go crazy but that’s not useful. When you first log in to MTN iLearn, it asks you what your interests are. You can say you are interested in leadership, agile or SCRUM, whatever, and then it asks you what your career interests are. Thereafter, instead of you having to go and look for it, content that is tailor-made for you is delivered to you using the same elastic algorithm that powers platforms like Netflix and Facebook. And the more it learns about you the more it sends you content that you will enjoy in the format that you enjoy it most,” said Imran

“If you like to read, it sends you more articles, if you like to watch it sends more video and if you like to listen it sends you more audio. We build data analytics into it so that we can garner insights into what employees are enjoying and consuming most. Our next objective is to create a plugin for Google whereby the first page of results that show up in a search will come from content that is already in our platform. So we will be driving traffic into our platform so that we can garner even more insights into people’s interests can create better learner journeys based on those insights.”