L&D professionals have an important contribution

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Learning and development professionals have an important contribution to make in this new and difficult climate

Attracting employees and keeping those who can help the organisation to succeed are challenges for employers, and have been for some time. In a post-Brexit world, where opportunities to recruit skilled and talented workers from outside the UK may become more limited, they are likely to take on even greater urgency. Learning and development professionals have an important contribution to make in this new and difficult climate, and they need to be able to convince organisations that they can make this contribution.

It is always an important part of their role to identify current and future talent needs for the organisation and to plan to fill any gaps. This includes helping individuals to recognise their own development needs and to commit to whatever is required to address them.

This can be achieved through effective performance review – perhaps regular and informal reviews that provide supportive opportunities for feedback and development planning. If done well these can improve motivation as well as effectiveness, although achieving this is dependent on line managers developing the skills they need to provide the necessary feedback and support.

However, organisations need to do more than develop existing employees if they are to meet their talent needs. They also need to establish an image, or brand, which makes their organisation attractive to those they most want to recruit. Learning and development professionals can contribute here too by helping to create a culture in which continuous learning, growth and career development are encouraged. Once employed this same culture can motivate employees to keep developing their skills and to resist the temptation to move on.

To make these contributions, learning and development professionals need to take on a far broader role; they should also be able to contribute to organisation design and to the development of a strategic approach to managing people. This includes supporting culture change and developing leadership and competencies within the organisation that will encourage employees at all levels to go the extra mile.

Learning and development professionals need an outward focus too, so that they can scan for rapid and unpredicted changes and altered talent needs.

They need to be able to contribute on how to respond to government initiatives, and to make use of available funding to design and deliver learning opportunities. This will often be in collaboration with external organisations such as higher education institutions.

An example is the apprenticeship levy and the development of new apprenticeship standards. These are important aspects of the UK government’s support for skills development in the workplace, and their scope is by no means limited to junior employees as has traditionally been the case.

The range of competencies learning and development professionals need to make these contributions are considerable. As well as being sophisticated thinkers about organisation development and strategic planning and implementation, they need to be able to generate new ideas and insights in response to complex, changeable and often ambiguous contexts. This means that they themselves must be consummate learners, able to practise reflective and collaborative learning and to demonstrate to others the value of these approaches. This way they can model the behaviours all members of the organisation need to practise. And they can contribute to the development of a culture of learning, and an organisation rich in the talents it needs to be successful.

Eileen Arney is teaching director for postgraduate programmes at the Open University Business School and author of Learning for Organisation Development

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