There are very real concerns in the sector that learning and development professionals and departments are being pushed into a different shape, and out of board-level decision-making processes. It can appear that we have no control on this, but is that true? The fear within the industry that L&D will shrink beyond a vanishing point shows that we need to fight to justify the impact we make on businesses.
As Europe’s number one managed learning service provider, Knowledgepool (part of Capita Learning Services) represents some of the world’s biggest employers and has an incredibly diverse client base, from banking to bread-making. This is why we are perfectly placed to ask this question, and why in 2016 Capita is investing in a new, extensive globalisation study. After a series of events and market research, the investigation will give definitive insight into the challenges, changes and other factors that will shape learning and development over the coming years.
In the course of this research, we will be asking TJ readers, senior learning professionals, and heads of HR for their views, as well as practitioners from over 6000 training providers with which Capita partners. The study will also use the opinions of C-suite leaders such as chief operating officers and chief finance officers who do not work in L&D but feel its impact on organisations.
The insight we receive from the research will give answers on what is shaping the HR and learning services for the UK’s largest employers. Here are some of the emerging themes.
This recently came up in a discussion with the head of L&D for a large supermarket chain. The company had always had a centralised function, and had been criticised for being too slow to act. By the time learning programmes had been sign-off, the situation had changed. Agility is increasingly important as leaner operations mean that there are often fewer people working in departments, meaning that fewer learners can be taken out of operations for learning and development opportunities. How can we tackle that reduced access to learning?
Companies and employees across the board need to be aware of budgets. These were slashed in 2008 and we hoped at the time that this was the limit, but in fact it is even closer to the bone now. The funding hasn’t bounced back since, and there has been not so much talk of ‘rebuilding’, as ‘reshaping’, which often means losing employees. Is this the industry’s fault for failing to articulate, in business language, the value that L&D brings to organisations? Perhaps we need to try harder to “prove it or lose it”, showing the true return on an investment in good learning.
To implement all the exciting developments like mobile learning, bring your own device, social learning and social interactivity, you need to have the technology available to run them. Many companies are running on Internet browsers that can’t support this. Organisations that have large IT infrastructure and a big user base don’t have the available funds to justify the cost of updating to cutting-edge learning platforms. Some of the most exciting and flexible learning solutions, therefore, they simply can’t afford to access. How can we shape L&D to include those hundreds of thousands of users? Accessibility to learning is an important subject, and I’m not averse to recommending printed workbooks in some appropriate circumstances – such as for learners in remote countries with a lack of Internet connection.
Diversity is not just about ethnicity and gender. Diversity of language is an issue in the learner population in the UK alone, where English may not be the first language. Diversity of working environment is a factor too: e-learning can work fine for those in an office environment, but where does that leave the employees on the shop floor, or who spend much of their time on the road? Diversity of expectation exists between different individuals, for example, the baby boomer generation might be happy not to undertake learning until they have to, but millennials tend to look for much more frequent access to learning, sometimes themselves on a weekly basis: “What have I learned today?”
Especially in the current political landscape, with the Brexit vote looming, companies are holding their breath. Risk averse, they are waiting to know some of the unknown before investing, which is understandable. What they do need to think about is their readiness, as whatever direction the political landscape goes, they need to be prepared to lead, jump ahead of the game and take advantage of the situation. They already need to be training.
There are also growing concerns among many employers about the work-readiness of people coming out of education aged 16-19. The style of learning in work is unfamiliar after years of academia. If they aren’t following the same style they did in school, college and university, are they prepared for the more informal learning that we in L&D are promoting? There is a disconnection between the education system and requirements of the workplace. For example, what would be called collaboration in work would be seen as ‘cheating’ in school. The pen and paper environment isn’t representative of the real world, where people need to get used to learning out loud, as well as asking for and getting feedback. Should L&D professionals have more influence over education policy? After all, you spend more time learning as an adult than you do as a non-adult.
Millennials are a very large generation, who don’t necessarily come from the countries they are now living in. Fresh and vibrant, they want to be educated, amused, valued, appreciated and listened to. They are one of the most different and transformative generations we have seen in decades.
We used to talk about the ‘sheep dip’, a reference to everybody undergoing the same training. However, we shouldn’t treat every learning generation the same way. Millennials want to learn, but they also don’t need to be taught certain things such as political correctness and environmental responsibility. They already get it.
So what’s next? While the research is under way, we can think about becoming learners again ourselves by watching and listening. It’s important to give other people the space and opportunity to learn, and remember that learning doesn’t always require a teacher in the room.
We’d be interested in hearing what you as practitioners have to say about what’s driving the future of L&D. If you’d like to discuss it with us and a panel of senior L&D directors, then apply to join us on Thursday 26th May from 16:30 to 20.00 at The Hospital Club in Covent Garden – apply for the event here.