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Feature: Make Way for Chief Learning Officers


Executive meetingBoard level Chief Learning Officers are common in the US, but have yet to catch on in the UK. Is this an area where Britain needs to catch up? Mike Summers, a director at Thomson NETg, delves into what this disparity means for UK plc.

Why is it that the UK seems to be constantly trying to catch up with the US? From soaps and films to diet fads and fashions, the UK marketplace takes a lead, or at least inspiration, from across the pond. This trend also applies in the business world, when we look at corporate training and its importance to the business.

Recent research conducted by Thomson NETg revealed that only one of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies employs a Chief Learning Officer (CLO). It’s a worrying omission. CLOs drive, own, implement and review training and learning strategies in an organisation. That’s surely something that every sizeable business needs a dedicated resource to be doing every day.

Does it matter that the UK has not embraced the CLO? On first glance, probably not but compare that to a figure of 50% of US listed companies who do have a CLO. The obvious question then is why UK plc is not putting training and learning on the boardroom table?

Board level
CLOs are the tangible link between staff training and business goals. Having someone on the Board who is able to discuss training and how it maps directly back to business profitability and staff development will help highlight the important role that strategically planned training has in staff retention, motivation and productivity.

CLOs in the US are involved in spelling out training and development requirements at all staff levels, ensuring every employee has clearly defined job descriptions and a suitable career development plan. They also develop high-level metrics so that training can be reviewed for its effectiveness. And they communicate all of these elements to all levels of the business.

Maybe that’s the problem – could it be that in the UK, we can’t find people who combine skills in planning and action, commercial acumen, finance and communication, teamwork, marketing, motivation, and of course, an intensive knowledge of training and learning? That’s obviously not true – UK training managers and HR directors have these skills in spades but we are still missing a trick.

Status quo
Training is about movement and development. It involves bringing about change as part and parcel of making things better. Perhaps for too long, we’ve kept the status quo in training, trusting to tried and tested methods. Whatever the reason, we need to change the approach.

Training is no longer a one-size-fits-all methodology – there’s e-learning, blended learning, ILT and residential accelerated learning. With so much choice and hundreds of providers, UK companies need be able to review, plan and develop company skills based on both the best approach for the individual and a cost-effective approach for the company.

Whether it is through initiatives such as corporate universities or company learning councils (which are becoming increasingly popular) or an online learning strategy, one thing is clear: someone needs to have, and take, responsibility for learning.

The role
The question then is who? Should it be someone with an HR background or a training manager? Maybe it should be someone from finance who will control the cost? Or should individual departments choose the best training available for their own needs? All of them probably need a hand in it but the US seems to have found a practical way of turning strategy and theory into reality. Perhaps the answer is to think less about copying an acronym to create CLOs by title, but more about delivering the same results through strategy and deed.

Whatever the reason, the UK currently does not seem to view staff development as a strategic business factor, yet the worry of skills shortages is being documented every week in the press.

We need to listen to our US counterparts now to start to change the landscape of corporate learning and deliver the right training to the right people at the best time in their career. Perhaps then we’d talk more about the progress of UK business and individuals, thanks to a well thought out approach to training, and less about the skills drain we fear will hit in the next few years. This is a warning bell for the UK – it’s time to stop complaining and to resolve the situation with action.


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