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Learning Technologies: The Strategic Approach to L&D


Donald Taylor, chairman of this year's Learning Technologies Conference, talks to TrainingZONE about why he feels it is vital that learning and development professionals take a more strategic approach to their work, and discusses the highlights of this year's event.

TrainingZONE:The subject of this year's conference is 'Empowering individuals for a professional workforce', can you explain the thinking behind the theme?
Donald Taylor: In the past, training was seen as something you did to individuals. It helped them a bit and it helped the organisation a bit. Modern learning and development is more focused and more important. It’s about helping individuals grow throughout their lives – both through training and other, less formal, ways. For employers, too, it’s far more important than the old training function. Increasingly the workforce needs to be highly skilled and professional. It is the only differentiator between organisations, and this is recognised in business, in the public sector, in the armed forces. Without a professional workforce you simply won’t survive. Learning Technologies is about helping Learning and Development professionals take the lead in building a workforce of professional, empowered individuals.

TrainingZONE:Who will benefit from attending the conference?
Donald Taylor: Obviously, learning and development professionals and HR managers and directors. In addition, though, we’re finding increasing numbers of directors, line managers and project managers attending. They want to ensure that their people are well skilled enough to carry through their plans, and this conference is the place to find the latest thinking on how to develop them.

TrainingZONE: There is a fantastic line up of speakers, are there any sessions that you are looking forward to in particular?
Donald Taylor: I couldn’t possibly single out one speaker over the others – it would make my life at the conference drinks party an absolute hell!

TrainingZONE: If a delegate takes away one thing from the Learning Technologies Conference - apart from the free iPOD - what would you hope that to be?
Donald Taylor: Don’t knock the free iPOD, it’s a valuable learning tool! But as well as that, I expect delegates to walk away with at least one new idea that they plan to implement after the conference. Above all, the conference has to make a practical difference to people’s working lives.

TrainingZONE: How hard has it been settling on a theme and drawing together speakers for this year's conference?
Donald Taylor: We have a fantastic set of track chairs: Laura Overton, David Wolfson, Ron Orme, Alan Bellinger, Nige Howarth and Vaughan Waller. Each is expert in their own field, and together they spark ideas of each other and come up with great ideas. In fact we had so many great ideas that the only problem was deciding which ones to drop. If we’d had space, we could have run twice as many sessions.

TrainingZONE: Many of the sessions focus on how to take a more strategic approach to learning and development. It's something we hear a lot about, but do you think that it is being understood and acted upon on any great scale?
Donald Taylor: It is vital that learning and development professionals accept the challenge to be more strategic. Vital, because while employers understand the need to develop their people more, they don’t know how, and we can show them. The current business focus on the value of human capital presents us with a tremendous window of opportunity. It is crucial we seize it. Some mentors have done it in business, such as Charles Jennings of Reuters, who is keynoting at the conference. They need to be our inspiration.

TrainingZONE: What trends do you see for training in the coming year?
Donald Taylor: There will be:
* An increase in end user IT training
* Continued growth in demand for skills management
* New standards and training programmes for training managers

TrainingZONE: There is much talk of outsourcing in training and its threat to corporate training departments. How real do you feel this threat is and what can departments/ training managers do to communicate their value better?
Donald Taylor: The threat is real. Training departments need to understand what their parent company values. Usually it is productivity of workers – providing a metric that says “for £x invested in training, you receive a multiple of x in return in productivity” will ensure the survival of training. This is difficult, but impossible, although it may require some new thinking. One of our speakers, Jonathan Kettleborough is an expert in this field. He’s on the panel ‘What skills does the ideal learning and development manager need?’ along with some other strong characters. We should get plenty of good advice, and some fireworks thrown in. There is no point going to your parent company with metrics around the department’s activity levels (number of training days run, etc). This is not talking the language of business.

TrainingZONE: What are the benefits of taking a more strategic approach to learning and development?
Donald Taylor: For the organisation, a clear sense of your organisation’s skills base, and the precise way in which it needs to be developed for the organisation to meet its goals. In fact, I don’t see how most modern organisations can operate effectively in any other way. Interestingly, I’m getting plenty of feedback now from many large organisations that agree, and want to take a strategic approach. They just don’t know how to.

For the learning and development professional, the benefits are clear: it’s a move from working in a traditionally reactive environment to contributing to an organisation’s strategy. Not only is that very satisfying, it also has more career potential, and less likelihood of being outsourced.

TrainingZONE: Finally, what piece of advice would you offer to someone starting out in training?
Donald Taylor: Three things:
* First, find someone who’s been in the industry a while, (and who is doing a good job) and ask them to mentor you. In fact, you might want more than one mentor – ideally you’d want a dyed-in-the-wool trainer, a training manager, and an outsider with a close interest in the field. Training is so intensive day-to-day that it’s easy to lose the big picture, and any sense of a career plan. These mentors will help you keep that bigger picture.
* Second, plan a career. Have an idea of where you’re going next. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably get there.
* Third – visit the Learning Technologies Conference. It will give a valuable insight into the field. And that free iPOD.

* Donald Taylor is Strategic Alliances Director for InfoBasis Ltd, the skills management technology company. a Fellow of the UK’s Institute of IT Training, and sits on the SFIA Foundation Steering Group, as well as the Skills for Business Network’s Work-Based E-Learning Virtual Advisory Network.

Learning Technologies takes place in London's Olympia 2 on 25-26 January. For more information click here.


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