Changing the mind-set in L&D

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 1 June 2013 in Interviews

As the CIPD celebrates its centenary year, Seun Robert-Edomi catches up with chief executive Peter Cheese

The world of content management is a "huge thing" and, with the rapid pace of change within organisations, it's imperative that L&D professionals are ready to respond.

And in a revealing interview, which outlines his aims for the future of L&D, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, calls for them to step up and take on the new role of "enablers".

While many trainers have traditionally enjoyed a high level of control over what they deliver and how they deliver it, Cheese, who is due to complete his first year at the head of the CIPD next month, is encouraging members of the profession to embrace the new roles that are emerging and the different set of skills that may be required as a result.

"It's a challenging time but it's a very exciting time to be involved in L&D. There's a lot of pressure to change - people know that they have to adjust and adapt. There are an endless number of things you can point to which show why there is a need to change," he told TJ.

"For example, this whole world of content management is a huge thing. L&D professionals now need to see themselves as enablers in addition to deliverers and strategists. Naturally, many may be scared about the role change as a lot of us have grown up in a world where we had control over content and delivery but things like curation require a completely different set of skills and we are having to learn to do this in an uncertain and rapid-paced environment.

"What's worrying is that L&D as a whole still tends to think in a very structured and traditional mind-set. There are a few who are championing change but, generally speaking, we are struggling to alter that [traditional] mind-set. If we can change this approach and adjust to the new trends, we'll get a better outcome; it's as simple as that."

Before joining the CIPD as chief executive in July 2012, Cheese held a number of consultant and non-executive roles. He spent 30 years at outsourcing company Accenture, holding executive sponsorship positions for its skills and capability programmes.

The issue of skills especially is something that concerns Cheese. Knowing how to retrain and up-skill is something that he describes as a "strategic imperative" for businesses.

"A lot of what we're looking at currently is the wider context and what is affecting the world of work and L&D. And, in my opinion, that's the challenge around skills.

"The nature of skills needed in work is changing rapidly and this points to an ever-increasing need to up-skill and retrain the workforce - and I think some organisations are lacking in this regard.

"When I talk to leaders and directors, the thing they tend to worry about most is people and skills. A lot of evidence and surveys out at the moment are backing up this opinion so it's not just us. It's in the top two or three concerns within businesses and I think this will carry on to be an issue until we stop it at the root.

"For me it's about recognising that there will always be gaps between education and work and it's about knowing how to retrain and up-skill. In fact, it's becoming a strategic imperative."

Cheese himself is a European board director with Junior Achievement Young Enterprise Europe, an organisation focused on the development of entrepreneurial, financial and employability skills in young people through business engagement in schools and universities. He believes that L&D has a massive role to play in bridging the gap between education and work and providing firms with the necessary skills and talent they are looking for.

"There is definitely momentum building in projects like apprenticeships, though it's not as fast as we would like. We have schemes like Learning to Work, which explains why taking on a young person is good for business. It's a good thing to encourage and develop. Basically, we are trying to help demystify the meaning behind apprenticeships. It's all about bringing in toolkits and best practice models," he says.

"It's again about closing that gap between education and work. We are working to educate young people and their parents about how vocational education and apprenticeships can benefit them. We have to show them that it's just as important as a university qualification and in some cases, better.

"Schools' focus is on students passing exams and then sending them to university. There is very little understanding of apprenticeships. Many schools themselves are not geared up for them and do not understand them fully. The great thing is that L&D professionals can step in and help young people on that route into work. It's all about building better careers advice and that's a huge challenge. We are trying to help employers and students at the same time - it's about understanding their needs.

"It's also about how we are thinking about vocational education and to position it so it is every bit as powerful as traditional routes through university.

"Employers can make their recruitment processes more youth friendly. Young people may be turned off by the current methods and we're trying to help them in this instance."

Despite the fact that there are currently just under a million young people out of work, there are still many entering the workplace. Cheese stressed the importance of organisations readying themselves for the changes this is bringing, and believes that adapting to them will benefit businesses as a whole, not just young people.

"The way people learn can be massively improved," he says. "We have a whole generation who have grown up with technology and we need to revisit how we educate young people just as technology is allowing us to revisit the way we train people. Employers need to be at the head of that curve. They are able to transform the way they create and deliver learning programmes, while technology is influencing the way we learn and the ways that best suit the individual.

"We can embed learning into the work processes and use the likes of tacit knowledge, which can be shared round the organisation much more effectively. This is truly the next generation of learning. A lot of this is not new but the reality is that we still have a long way to go."

So why are we still so far behind? And why has there been a lack of take-up when it comes to collaborative and technology-enabled learning? According to Cheese, there's no definitive answer.

"We are still struggling to embrace technology, especially social media, within the world of work because it is different and it is a whole new space that is emerging very rapidly and businesses are arguably playing catch-up. We have had some false starts, for example in the world of e-learning. The first bits of e-learning were disappointing to say the least and I think this coloured people's views on technology-enabled learning.

"Some businesses will regard themselves as leading edge in this field but most are fast followers. It's about recognising that the leading organisations are still in the minority and others are still experimenting and piloting - and I think that' s the right approach.

"Things are changing so quickly that you need to be careful, rather than just jumping on the bandwagon. Younger people can help guide this - a kind of reverse mentoring if you like. That would go down well in my view - and business leaders and young people are already responding well to this. To be honest, quite a few do it already; it's not really a new revelation.

"But I would say that nobody really has a fantastic answer. We need to experiment and think creatively to help try and drive different ways of learning. It's challenging but very exciting - and is obviously going against the traditional style of learning. A truly collaborative learning approach doesn't follow that model."

Getting away from traditional processes is the challenge, though, and he feels employers need to be the ones forcing the shift.

"Most of the learning within organisation is tacit knowledge and goes against traditional delivery. We will still have that but we need to embrace new methods, especially those who grew up learning in the conventional mode. We have to think about the paradigm change in regards to how we deliver learning," he says.

"One of the biggest challenges within organisations is to change the culture. The best organisations are using this stuff well because they have cultures and values which ring true with people. If those are working, you can pull the technology and enable it rather than just pushing technology and hoping it lands.

"The younger people I've spoken to express frustration about the ways of using traditional techniques. We need to explore new techniques and learn from other organisations. You can try these things out and see how it works. If we don't as L&D professionals, people will start anyway. This spreads virally so it' s not something you can necessarily control.

"And I don't think we can't stand by and do nothing. We need to help shape the new process and we need to enable learning in all its forms and help direct it. A true learning culture is part of what everyone does every day at work. We shouldn't just sit and try to control it.

"A way of helping to shape the new process is by creating more virtual learning environments. We are trying to change the way we change and you can't do this without changing the learning culture. Transformation in organisations isn't something which just happens once or twice. It's changing all the time and that requires a massive input from L&D. We're extending it beyond the traditional four walls and breaking down barriers. The free flow of knowledge and ideas is changing how we acknowledge our skills and expertise."

Being the UK's largest HR professional body, Cheese acknowledges the responsibility and pressures to do more and set the standard. He's eager for the CIPD and HR as a whole to work more closely with the L&D community rather than seeing it as just an add-on.

"Many in the L&D community think that the CIPD could do more to help and I would second that opinion.

"The view is that CIPD is HR-orientated and I do acknowledge that we as a whole business need to connect better with L&D. It's not just an HR thing. We need to keep a strong focus on the L&D agenda. We need to actively service the needs of the L&D community as it's a distinct group that doesn't receive the coverage or recognition that it should do. And there are numerous things in the pipeline to help this along. The HRD conference is a perfect example of this. We're looking forward to all the exciting projects ahead. It's time to move forward together," he concludes.


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