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Cobbler’s Bairns – The Learning and Development Skills Gap

Posted By: Susan Gearing

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Cobbler’s Bairns is a Scottish phrase an ex-colleague and I shared to mean doing for others what you don’t do for yourself - the cobbler’s children were the last to get new shoes.  As L&D practitioners we were talking about providing training and encouraging others to be self-directed learners when we were not receiving any training ourselves.

A number of recent studies have highlighted this exact issue.  A research report from the CIPD and Towards Maturity (L&D: Evolving Roles and Enhancing Skills, April 2015) concluded that “we need to evolve roles and enhance skills to drive organisational performance”.

In the Towards Maturity 2015-16 Benchmark Report foreword, Dave Buglass, from Tesco Bank stated:

“L&D professionals are still playing it safe; failing to fully adapt to the new world of work and learning. The technologies in use by the majority of L&D professionals are the same, possibly slightly newer models of the technologies we were all using back in 2003.”

While technology has been revolutionised over the last decade a recent WIRED article pointed out that education systems have been slow to change due to complexity and cost.  However the learning revolution is happening at home!  The trend for BYOD (bring your own device) underlines that more and more people are using new technologies for self-directed learning.

What should L&D do to keep up with the pace of change?

Towards Maturity’s research provides an insight to how top performing L&D teams are giving learners an active voice and supporting them in their learning:

Listen First

  • Involve users in design of the most effective learning approach
  • Be proactive in understanding how learners currently learn

Welcome Ideas

  • Welcome innovation and contributions from staff
  • Encourage peer-to-peer feedback
  • Use social rating systems to gather feedback

Facilitate Contribution

  • Encourage learners to collaborate in building knowledge resources, using tools such as wikis, forums, podcasts and videos
  • Encourage user generated content
  • Use learning communities

Access to Community

  • Use communities of practice and learning communities/action learning groups
  • Help staff locate in house experts when needed

Access to Content

  • Provide staff with access to job aids online or via mobile devices
  • Provide micro content of under 10 minutes where appropriate

Access to Technology

  •  Have a clear policy around Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
  •  Use a Single Sign On (SSO) process

Access to Clear Communication

  • Ensure a communication plan is in place for key stakeholders

Ensure individuals can access clear information on learning opportunities available to them

The evidence is clear – a customer/business focussed, technology enabled learning strategy drives bottom line performance and employee engagement.  If your company learning strategy does not include the top learning methods or address any of the access issues you need to consider a re-write and reconsider your approach to L&D in the workplace.

I’ve worked with many L&D professionals who would like to do all of the above but often struggle to gain approval at board room level for a different approach or the investment needed to truly embrace digital learning.  The Towards Maturity report has a clear call to action for business leaders.  Considerable business improvement can be achieved by embracing digital transformation. The pace of change requires L&D to have a much wider range of skills than ever before and businesses must invest in their L&D talent pool first if they are to have any hope of joining the top deck companies who see clear performance improvements and business benefits from their L&D activities.

A third of L&D practitioners are now sitting within the business with the rest reporting through a central HR/L&D function.  So perhaps our call of action to business leaders may become muffled through centralised functions with set HR budget processes and less focus on L&D and pure performance improvement linked to business results.  Is L&D a business activity or an HR function?  The success of the 70-20-10 approach would suggest that the majority of activity takes place on the job and perhaps the L&D function should be on the front line to support the learners where they do the majority of their learning.

Ignore the learning and development skills gap at your peril.  Organisations must do something about this or the headlines will be dominated with much wider skill gaps and economic woes as educational institutions and businesses fail to meet the needs of the consumer and suffer commercially as a result.  

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