The way we learn is changing dramatically. In the past we would rely on formal schooling before we then entered a technical college or university for more learning. Once we entered the workforce it was up to the employer to provide further education through fairly rigid training programs or by providing simple on-the-job experience.
In many ways, we are all the product of the sheep dip approach to learning. We would all be given a quick training treatment and hopefully that was enough. It was the one-size-fits-all approach to education.
How times have changed. The rise of the digital economy is revolutionising training and organisations are keen to provide a more personalised education experience. DeakinCo.'s recent report titled Enabling the Future of Work (Skills and Strategies for Learning and Development), identified four main trends that will define learning and industry in this period of transformation: the rise of digital; the rise of human experience; the rise of "human" skills and the rise of agility.
As these trends play out across business, the learning experience inside organisations is having to change. Employees now need a continuous learning experience which ranges across a whole business and even involves "stretch experiences" where they expand their skills beyond the confines of their role.
What this has meant for learning and development (L&D) professionals is an evolution from being order takers to skills facilitators. In the past the business came to L&D departments with an idea – it might have been to fill up a call centre and train the staff within. It was about formulating a program for learning. This is changing in the digital economy.
Rather than training people to perform a task it is now more about measuring performance outcomes rather than learning outcomes. How are people performing constantly? Are they continually being brought up to speed?
In practical terms, according to the Enabling the Future of Work report, this means further developing performance-consulting skills in L&D professionals to engage with the business and uncover root causes through a consultation or investigative process. It is about empowering employees with capabilities that will help an organisation reach its goals
This could involve redesigning roles and changing an individual's skills base. Moreover, this change needs to be measurable and that is where the increasing role of data analytics comes into play as it allows us to measure what high performers do. Importantly, it is also about maximising the capabilities of existing employees.
Right now Australia's top companies are struggling with skills shortages. Changes to our visa laws may have affected our ability to source some of these skills offshore, but it is also unrealistic to make wholesale changes to workforces. Deeper domain skills are a business imperative and working with existing employees ensures those skills remain in an organisation.
Furthermore, according to DeakinCo., keeping these deeper domain skills in an organisation also ensures new employees get an understanding of a business's inner workings. Put simply: application and doing comes from on-the-job learning from others.
Bearing this in mind, building soft skill capabilities in employees is crucial to the learning experience because a more human-centred approach built around the concept of design thinking and empathy for others aids on-the-job learning. Success in building these skills helps in finding the point of need in an organisation and where it needs to build.
This represents a step change for L&D professionals because organisations now want to better understand the people resource inside an organisation. What are they capable of and are they being utilised to the best of their abilities?
In a rapidly changing world, L&D professionals now occupy a different place at the table in organisations. They are now more highly valued because business performance data can be directly correlated to how employees are trained.
It means L&D are now more connected and involved with the overall business. They are no longer an add-on or a nice to have, but playing a vital role in workplace development in the digital economy.
This article was originally published by The Australian Financial Review on 26 July 2018.