HR Indaba Online tackles learning and development in a changing world

Massive disruptions in the learning space mean that HR needs to up its game.

Learning and development are critical to the success of any organisation. But there is a massive disruption taking place in this space at the moment. With the pace of change accelerating before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, learning and development practitioners need to up their game. That’s what participants heard from panellists at this year’s virtual HR Indaba Online.

Chief people officer at McDonald’s South Africa, Brigitte da Gama, said the fast food giant had to overhaul its in-house training faculty – known as Hamburger University – overnight. “In 2019, we set up an entire floor for Hamburger University, and suddenly we had to pivot to digital,” said Brigitte.

She explained how McDonald’s began converting their crew rooms, which employees had previously used for break times, to training hubs. “They are kitted out with the latest technology for anyone who needed digital learning facilities,” she said, describing the dramatic transition as worthwhile and enriching for employees.

Telecoms giant MTN had already begun its digital learning journey before the lockdown. But it also had to revamp their learning opportunities and content when the lockdown was implemented.

MTN group chief human resources officer and 2019 CHRO of the Year Award winner Paul Norman said the group put a lot of thought into gamification and how to make these interactions fun and engaging for employees. “We enabled this learning through AI and the integration of different technologies, and I think this drove up the consumption of learning. We saw over 50 percent of people engaging,” he said.

The training MTN offers is tailored to suit the business’s needs. The mobile network provider is interested in spreading its reach into fintech, and is channelling company resources towards upskilling employees to handle the new demands.

The increasing demand for skills relevant in the digital era has created a market that now offers short stints of learning at a fraction of the cost of traditional degrees. Education in this age has also become more accessible thanks to a wealth of free or relatively cheap online resources and a mushrooming of overnight e-learning institutions.

“Business schools and universities have always been the custodians of learning,” Prof Nicola Kleyn of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University in the Netherlands told the Impact Session participants. But she says their previous monopoly on education made these institutions arrogant, because their offerings are still very much product-centred, which until only recently had stood the test of time.

“Classic MBA courses absolutely have a role to play in the age of ‘deep fake,’ but we have to change how we do it and what we offer,” she said. Today’s MBA courses have to be customised to the student’s goals, she added, and the course learning outcomes need to be reconciled with practice.

She added that while bite-sized digital educational courses are appealing, they set a dangerous precedent for companies and students, both of whom need to interrogate the quality of the courses offered via popular online resources like LinkedIn Learning, Google, and Udemy.

“My concern is that people fall in love with pieces of learning that may be great and inspirational, but they may be inappropriate for the context and company,” said Nicola. She says some companies have slashed their learning budgets, favouring online cheaper training by these tech giants, without checking if these courses are relevant to the business objectives.

“The quality of what’s being offered and the link to the business is absolutely critical,” she said.