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Industry experts warn: HR must help ‘C’ level executives to develop to stay competitive


A team of industry experts from the HR, learning and IT sectors came together last month to discuss the impact that the right training programme can have in creating excellence in an unstable economic climate. The event, hosted by Thomson/NETg, a Thomson Learning company, was held to explore what steps organisations should take to develop and motivate their staff during the current economic downturn. The panel was in unanimous agreement that it is critical for HR to provide 'C' level executives with high level training to help attract and retain them, as well as to ensure they have the skills that will enable them to position their companies ahead of the competition. The panel also agreed that taking a 'blended learning' approach is key to providing a thorough and flexible training programme which equips every employee with the skills they need to survive in today's unpredictable business environment.

The panel of experts included; Jennifer Schramm, advisor on learning and development, CIPD: David Wilson, managing director of learning consultancy, elearnity; Jane Ripley, regional manager, Cardean University; Mark Horne, sales manager, major contracts division, KnowledgePool; Jane Crossman, people development consultant, Royal & SunAlliance; Louise Davis, e-Learning consultant, Royal & SunAlliance; Jean Westgarth, manager, product management infrastructure & online, Thomson/NETg; Wendy Colby, VP of marketing and communications, US, Thomson/NETg. The discussion was moderated by Jon Buttriss, director of international product management, Thomson/NETg.

"Our research clearly shows that one of the top factors that help organisations stay ahead is continuous investment in employee development," said Jennifer Schramm, advisory on learning and development, CIPD. "In times of economic instability the knowledge of your top people is extremely important, and retaining them is essential if the company is to ride out the difficulties and stay competitive. To attract and retain senior executives, and to help them to think strategically, it is critical that they are given the tools to develop both themselves and those around them."

Although the panel concluded that training 'C' level executives was the key to survival for many companies, they were quick to point out that executives at this level are often the most difficult to develop due to factors such as time or a lack of willingness to learn. This presents training and HR departments with the challenge of providing a quality programme that is flexible enough to accommodate the needs of a busy work schedule, as well as differences in age, culture and individual learning styles.

"In tough times it is easy to focus solely on survival. When making end of quarter figures is a senior executives' top priority, training can often slip off the list," said David Wilson, managing director, elearnity. "Companies need to find flexible long-term learning solutions that can adapt to changes in business priorities, and provide high quality learning opportunities for staff. This will ensure the intellectual capital of a company grows along with its balance sheet."

This issue has been raised at a time when there is much talk in the industry about blended learning and its ability to deliver a training programme that provides an answer to everyone's training needs. A true blended learning solution is one that matches the exact learning needs and preferred learning style of the individual to a range of content and training techniques - such as e-Learning (including online mentoring), instructor-led training, books and videos.

However, the panel stressed that the 'blended learning' most often presented to companies is little more than an instructor-led course lasting several days with the odd bit of e-Learning thrown in, which is not what good blended learning should be about. This view is in-line with Thomson/NETg's 'intelligent learning' strategy, which advises that organisations take a prescriptive approach to learning by delivering the exact training their staff needs in the way that they learn best, while also supporting the needs of the business.

"With busy and demanding work schedules which often hold staff, especially 'C' level executives, back from training, it is critical to prescribe a training programme which is flexible and suits individual needs," said Jon Buttriss, director, international product management, Thomson/NETg. "At Thomson/NETg we are currently evolving our offerings to help organisations take a holistic approach to training where each individual's learning needs are accounted for. For example, through working with organisations such as Cardean University, we can now offer senior executives access to high level qualifications, such as MBAs, which can be carried out online and are supported with mentoring. We will see the growth of this approach this year, enabling organisations to maximise every learning opportunity and stay competitive."


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