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Interview of the month: Dr Javier Bajer, The Talent Foundation

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The Talent Foundation was launched on March 20th of this year to "provide pragmatic and innovative answers for the development of Talent in the world of work".

The Foundation, which is a not-for-profit, independent organisation operating globally, is funded by a broad spectrum of supporters ranging from voluntary sector organisations like the RSA and the Campaign for Learning, to major corporations including Spring and Andersen Consulting.

TrainingZONE spoke to the Foundation's CEO, Dr Javier Bajer, whose wide range of experience covers change management, human performance, learning strategies and psychology. He has been a Senior Executive with Andersen Consulting for the last 12 years.

Dr Bajer, thanks for agreeing to talk to TrainingZONE today.

TrainingZONE: The Talent Foundation has been working on a `priming to learn' strategy - can you tell us about this?

Dr Bajer: The Talent Foundation has been working on this for a year now. The strategy is focussed on learning for work and the reasons why it fails. There are a number of problems that organisations want to fix through training - innovation, productivity, for example, but they aren't getting anywhere. The problem is that training is being `poured onto' people. To use an analogy, if you pour paint onto a wall, you need to prepare the wall first, or the paint will peel or fade. The conversation about learning is usually about the paint and not the wall, but you need to prime the wall (i.e. the learner) first if you want the learning to succeed.

TrainingZONE: What does priming to learn mean?

Dr Bajer: There are three stages involved in learning:

  • First layer - this concerns emotional readiness to learn, which won't happen without self-esteem, confidence and motivation
  • Second layer - this involves competence to learn - learning to learn and learning styles
  • Third layer - the goal layer which concerns the general direction the organisation is moving in and places the training in context

There are also two types of learning in the workplace:
  • Disposable learning - relating to knowing about processes or products - for example, BT staff are required to learn about 300 products a year - an important type of learning, but it doesn't develop people further
  • Permanent learning - underlying skills such as leadership skills and people skills

For example, in call centres such as BT's, the skills involved in delivering good customer service are permanent. In a study based on data from the US, it was found that around 80 percent of investment in learning is investment into disposable learning. However, any cause for complaint from employees or organisations is never related to levels of disposable skills, it's always permanent skills - for instance, problems with giving good customer service.

TrainingZONE: How can employers be persuaded to take permanent skills seriously? Will it be job market forces that dictate to them in the end?

Dr Bajer: Even in a jobs market with high attrition and high mobility, permanent skills are important. What is already happening is that employers have been putting a larger proportion of investment into permanent skills for those they consider their best performers, however, on temporary staff, they continue to provide quick fix for disposable skills.

The e-Talent Declaration we launched in March with 20 top companies (including BT, BA, Waitrose and Andersen Consulting) recognises that talent is the key to maintaining a business advantage. There was a unanimous view that permanent skills need to be invested in, but it will be interesting to see in the next 5-10 years whether this will actually happen within organisations.

TrainingZONE: Do you believe that given the right circumstances everyone will want to learn?

Dr Bajer: When there are the right circumstances, yes, but you need to define what the circumstances are - both emotional and environmental circumstances need to be right. We've been working on a project (released on Monday 22 May) on emotional intelligence and its effect on learning. It's been found that people with high emotional intelligence are better learners, and we're interested to see whether this capability can be developed. Working with several organisations, what we found was that a study group reporting on their own attitudes to learning reported levels of confidence and self-esteem three times higher than a control group.

The Talent Foundation is about to start a project with a large call centre. We'll send employees on a `priming' course on the first layer to develop readiness to learn, then will give them learning to learn skills on second layer, and finally will give them direction on third layer, and will be working with the LSE to measure performance results. Hopefully the results from the project will tell us whether all the things we are talking about can be measured or not -we'll be publishing these once they're available.

TrainingZONE: We read that the Talent Foundation has commissioned some research into learning styles. Formal "off-the-shelf" training courses are unlikely to take into account the learning styles of the participants - is this something you think can be easily taken account of when designing courses?

Dr Bajer: Yes, but there is a cost-benefit conversion to be made. In my other job as an executive with Andersen Consulting I have designed solutions that cover more than one learning style. One client I have worked with is a large government organisation with 100,000 employees - obviously those people have lots of different learning styles. The solution was to use an intelligent training package - as learners go through the tool, they must chose from one of six virtual coaches. The coaches all have different profiles - different ages and personalities, for example. The tool will be more holistic depending on the style you chose. For example, you would always be given an example if you are a pragmatic learner, a conceptual model if you're a theorist. Creating a model of designing training that takes learning styles into account will be the difference between learning happening and not happening, especially on-line.

TrainingZONE: E-learning is a hot topic at the moment, isn't it?

Dr Bajer: Yes, but there is a lot of hot air about e-learning. I strongly believe that putting something on the net doesn't make it e-learning - it's wrong to believe that learning will happen because of accessibility. Business simulation is the way forward

TrainingZONE: A recent survey conducted by the Talent Foundation revealed that a majority of employees believe that less than half of their talent is used at work. Do you think employers would agree?

Dr Bajer: Employers weren't questioned on this occasion but it definitely doesn't correspond with what employers think. Employers believe that there is a war for talent, in that they need to go out and recruit new people to undertake new tasks, but actually it's not the existing employees that are at fault, because people feel their talents are not being developed. It's actually an internal war for organisations.

TrainingZONE: Maybe organisations need to employ some lateral thinking in making the most of employees' talents?

Dr Bajer: Yes - there's definitely a well-rehearsed opinion within organisations that training doesn't work. Often the first thought is to recruit rather than train an existing employee for a job. What happens is that those who have already benefited from learning may go from strength to strength, but those who are not ready to learn to get worse. There is a need to be more inclusive, by talking in terms of developed talent and undeveloped talent.

TrainingZONE: That fits with recent reports highlighting the gap between London's haves and have-nots - ( see our earlier story). The government has launched a number of initiatives aimed at training the long-term unemployed for work, hasn't it?

Dr Bajer: Yes, but the question for the government is whether they can fix the problem by concentrating on offering training in computer skills, which are disposable rather than permanent skills. By focussing on technical skills for unemployed people, the danger is that by the time someone has mastered the software it may be out of date and of no use to them in a job. Returning to the priming to learn strategy, they are starting from the top rather than the bottom, and are ignoring the importance of competence to learn. It will be interesting to measure the results!

TrainingZONE: How can TrainingZONE members support the work of the Talent Foundation?

Dr Bajer: They can keep in touch with us on our website www.talentfoundation.org - we've just re-launched the site with a new look and feel, and more functionality. We aim to update the site on an ongoing basis - there will be downloadable tools available, and most will be free for public access, although we will charge for some things to help fund our research. It'll definitely be a useful resource for trainers. We'd also like them to get in contact if there's something they'd like to contribute to the debate - we may also be looking for organisations to get involved with the research we're doing.

To contact the Talent Foundation, e-mail [email protected]

Dr Bajer will be chairing the International Quality & Productivity Center's conference on 'Launching and Managing a Corporate University: Developing a model to run training like a business' at the Cafe Royal, London from 19-21 September 2000.

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