Learning & Development practitioners should accelerate their own learning journeys

CHRO webinar explores the importance of reinventing learning and development beyond Covid-19.

CHRO South Africa on Wednesday hosted a webinar in partnership with Milpark Education about the importance of re-inventing learning and development (L&D) – a process that has been accelerated at many organisations by the global Covid-19 lockdowns.

Given that delivering an entirely online L&D offering requires new competencies, the webinar’s panel of experts delved into the subject of how practitioners themselves are having to urgently acquire new skills while simultaneously ensuring their organisations are meeting their current learning needs.

Moderated by Dr Jane Usher, head of department at Milpark Business School, the discussion explored the demands placed upon L&D practitioners in the current climate, investigating the opportunities that exist within this new educational ecosystem.

“It's very obvious that L&D skills, as we know them, are no longer going to be relevant,” said Linda van der Loo, an independent learning consultant with Blue Pebble Consulting, who has over 25 years of experience and expertise in enabling digital learning experiences. Linda said L&D practitioners needed to focus on building their own capabilities by filling skills and knowledge gaps.

“Develop your own private learning pathway in which, for example, you can say, ‘Today I'm going to work on my own lifelong learning habit and read about data or future readiness by reading a World Economic Forum report.’”

Vassilis Theocharides, the senior regional manager for the Association for Talent Development (atd), provided an overview of what leading organisations are doing in the learning space, explaining that, contrary to popular belief, companies were not cutting L&D spend during these times.

Vas said that, at atd, employees are allowed to learn during working hours. This does not only apply to academic learning but can apply to everything from riding a bike to learning a new language.

“And we are allowed to take 40 working hours to learn these things. The reason we have this is to encourage a culture of learning,” he said, adding that once a culture of learning is embedded within individuals, it becomes easier to steer them towards learning that is aligned with the business strategy.

“You need to have empathy and allow people to destress while learning so that it can be a positive experience."

Training budgets will remain

To go about shaping a learning culture across your entire organisation, Linda said it was crucial to use data as the primary benchmark.

“Check if people are making use of your LMS. Which courses are they taking? Which courses are they struggling with or not completing? Because if you don't know what your data is telling you, you're not going to be able to give your culture any direction,” she said.

She added that she isn’t convinced training budgets would be the first to be cut in the current environment. While cost-cutting is a reality that every organisation has to come to terms with, L&D practitioners need to shift their mindsets to focus optimising whatever training spend they do have at their disposal.

Vas agreed, saying a lot of major corporations understand that it is not wise to cut back on skills development. While budget cuts may be necessary, there has to be a culture of learning in order to remain competitive. As an example, he referred to a Russian Bank which, in order to increase its own competitiveness, identified skills and capability gaps and implemented virtual training initiatives throughout the pandemic. And that was just to help them be competitive in their own market. To compete in Europe, those training efforts would have to be enhanced significantly.

Regarding the type of skills that were needed during these times, Vas said interpersonal skills, “often wrongly called the soft skills” were critical as these are needed to build effective organisational team cultures of trust and engagement.

“You need to up your emotional intelligence game. I read a recent survey that said 45 percent of workers in the US are going through emotional challenges right now.”

Following the panel discussion, the audience posed questions to the panel and ultimately left the event with a thorough understanding of how L&D has evolved under Covid-19, and how this is shaping the future of corporate training.