TJ interviews: AkzoNobel’s Carin de Weme

TJ talks to Carin de Weme about how to build an international L&D ecosystem.

What do some organisations need to think about when modernising their learning and development strategy? Is it difficult creating a one-way L&D path for organisations which are international?

Cultural differences that prevail across today’s global workforces means that taking the ‘my way or the highway’ approach simply won’t cut it. For L&D to be relevant and available to everyone, it’s vital to cater for the cultural norms and preferences that predominate in different territories.

For us, that meant modernising our online learning strategy to ensure that L&D is truly inclusive and targeted at the goals, needs and aspirations of individuals everywhere. To realise this vision, we initiated a global virtual L&D hub that empowers our employees to take control of their own development.

Featuring on-demand assets and tailored content, delivered in languages and formats that work best for them, we’ve not just re-engineered our learning delivery for the digital age, we’ve also initiated a new era of people-centric L&D that’s tailored to personal priorities and learning preferences.

By democratising access to learning opportunities, we’ve made it faster and easier for employees to acquire the capabilities they need to bring their ‘best selves’ to today’s roles – and nurture the skills they’ll need for tomorrow.

Operational resilience now depends on continually re-skilling employees to perform in the ‘new normal’ business models that are emerging

The success of the new approach has generated a surge in learning engagement across the global workforce – in 2019 our employees completed 4,500 L&D sessions, but by 2020 this figure dramatically jumped with over 25,000 sessions completed.

What did you do when modernising your L&D strategy that other organisations can learn from?

Like many organisations, we wanted to address a range of contemporary L&D challenges: building skills sets for the future world of work, enabling people to pursue their career and personal development goals, building a talent pipeline, and boosting our ability to retain leadership talent.

With this in mind we took the decision to facilitate a new digital learning ecosystem that enables us to do far more than simply deliver ease of access to learning in a variety of formats.

We wanted to give employees greater control of their own learning – but for this to succeed, we needed to help them navigate the options available to them in a meaningful way that incentivised them to engage and learn.

We created self-directed learning pathways for learners, serving up curated content and personalised recommendations based on their interests, activities, and feedback from users with a similar learner profile.

In much the same way that Netflix delivers up ‘if you liked this – we think you’ll like this too’ recommendations to consumers, we created personalised and highly adaptive learning experiences built around people’s individual L&D objectives.


Almost every function of the business now has its own competency framework, linked to Percipio content, that makes it easy for employees to clearly understand their L&D pathway for both current and aspirational roles. It’s an approach that’s proved highly motivational for learners – so much so, that we’ve seen learning become a much bigger positive influence for our worldwide teams.

We embarked on an internal communication and marketing campaign which helped maximise employee adoption of the new L&D platform, this proved vital to the success of the new global L&D programme.

In less than 12 months, continuous learning has become an embedded aspect of the company’s culture – and that’s helped power impressive new heights of performance across the business.

How has learning and development changed over the past year and what would you encourage other organisations to do that are looking to implement a new L&D strategy?

As it turns out, our decision to transition to an enterprise-wide fully digital L&D platform in 2019 proved highly prescient. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our online learning strategy came into its own and we were able to seamlessly support the delivery of learning from a distance, especially with those that could not go to work and not do their job virtually.

The platform has also generated deep insights into how the L&D behaviours of our workforce have changed over the past 12 months. For example, the way our 13,500 employees consume learning is evolving fast. In 2020 we observed a dramatic 700% jump in demand for video content compared to 2019, while demand for audio books almost doubled, and viewings of book summaries more than doubled.

For other organisations looking at implementing a new L&D strategy, online learning is definitely something to consider, allowing employees to access updated content from anywhere means even they have the ability to learn at a time that is convenient to them.

For us, this helps us deliver on our broader objective of allowing people to follow their own self-directed learning journeys while utilising automated recommendations to steer their own L&D knowledge acquisition. This has clearly resonated strongly with our workforce.

In 2019, employees explored almost 23,000 courses but during 2020 they doubled their time investment in L&D activities – and in the process discovered more than 216,000 courses.

How can organisations develop their learning post-pandemic? What would you recommend based on your experience?

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how we work, and it’s changed the way we learn too. Overnight, online learning became the new norm and today’s L&D platforms make it easier than ever for employees to evaluate and engage with the career development tools at their fingertips.

The impact of the pandemic has created new opportunities for employees to devote more time to their personal learning and development, not being hindered by their geographical location when training was offered before COVID-19. This in turn has ignited a desire to further expand their skills set and enhance their capabilities for the days to come.

Post-pandemic, I believe that organisations will need to double-down on their digitised L&D approaches to prepare workers for the realities of post-COVID work roles. Operational resilience now depends on continually re-skilling employees to perform in the ‘new normal’ business models that are emerging.

To navigate these changes and maximise our organisational agility, we’re now planning to integrate our L&D content and Human Capital Management platforms to find learning in one place.

As well as enabling employees to track and manage their learning progress as part of a wider holistic employment toolkit, this will also enable us to focus more closely on aligning the needs of our people with wider organisational goals – ensuring our people are able to build the skills they need to undertake fast-evolving roles.


About the interviewee

Carin de Weme is senior global L&D adviser at AkzoNobel


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