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Learning and development in the fourth industrial revolution

Paul Dempsey (pictured), global head of learning and development at SThree, discusses how learning and development is changing with evolving workplace cultures

Happiness, morality and purpose are becoming more important to people than high salaries and other financial rewards in the workplace. And as businesses adapt to these changing priorities, learning and development (L&D) teams across the world are transforming the way they operate.

For a lot of people, particularly in the ‘Gen Y’ group, they’ve lived through a few large recessions and they’ve seen the impact that irresponsible business practices can have on society. Other macro factors like climate change are meaning people are starting to really connect with purpose and what’s important to them and society.

Many of us also know that we could end up working until we’re 75, and that has created a shift where people are thinking ‘if I’m doing this forever, I have to love what I’m doing’. People want to feel they’re doing a good job, while adding value and doing the right things. This therefore creates a shift from ‘a job for life’ to rebuilding new skills through several careers in a lifetime.

The reality is that the best, most talented people stay in jobs, not because of the company or a certain product, but because they feel connected to the purpose, their manager, their team and their work. So, fundamentally learning and development (L&D) has to be tied to those values, while producing highly engaged employees who want to stay with the company and who can perform to their maximum capabilities.

But to do that, businesses have to keep up with the times by bringing their L&D practices, systems and programmes in line with the fourth industrial revolution. We need to leverage technology as a scalable platform for learning and connecting people.

Making L&D work in the fourth industrial revolution

People want to see a pathway for how they can develop their careers while doing purposeful and valuable work in a company. So, businesses need to be able to show that, while empowering individuals to buy into their own development.

The old days of classroom courses and Encarta-style libraries are ending, and systems can now be used to create scalable ways that people can take control of their development while connecting with each other to share knowledge and skills. While e-learning still has a place, even that is being challenged by new ways of learning and developing, such as using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and external industry forums as tools. Digital L&D platforms need to compete with the likes of Google and YouTube – creating unique selling points becomes a great challenge for L&D. Companies also have to help managers show their people that they have bright futures in the business, while offering guidance on how to develop and grow teams.

The other aspect is being able to tailor L&D to a specific business or market. At SThree, we have the challenge of preparing our teams to work in the very niche markets that we operate in. From an L&D perspective, we provide a strong foundation that allows our people more time and capacity to develop into very specialist recruiters.

It’s about bringing process, system, market and business knowledge together with quicker, more agile training approaches. It’s also about letting people learn by putting techniques and skills into practice so they become confident more quickly and can work competently with the experts we have in the business and the specialist clients and STEM candidates we serve.

The future of L&D

I’m optimistic about how L&D will work in the fourth industrial revolution. L&D teams will continue to drive and deliver business strategies and engage employees around those. They will continue to work with businesses to enable performance, operational improvement and general delivery of whatever their product or services are. And then they will play a major part in translating that into how employees work.

The L&D journey for employees will become more about connecting, networking and giving people opportunities to develop and learn because it’s not just as linear as helping the business hit targets and keeping people engaged in the job. It is about planning and working towards the long-term. Importantly, L&D teams will continue to shape skilled leaders who take ownership of their development and have the capability to implement what they have learned. Technology will act as a great partner in achieving these goals.

The fourth industrial revolution offers exciting opportunities for L&D, businesses and employees. It’s up to everyone to make sure they make the most of those opportunities. Optimism and vision will always win over fear.

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