• Alex Davies
  • 7 August 2015

L&D: new challenges, new approaches

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has long championed the contribution Human Resources (HR) managers make to the success of an organisation, but as its moniker "the professional body for HR and people development" suggests, its other purpose is as an advocate for the role of Learning & Development (L&D) professionals in helping employees reach their potential.

Earlier in the year, International Workplace caught up with its Chief Executive, Peter Cheese, for an exclusive interview.

In recent months the Institute has confirmed its commitment to being more relevant to L&D members; with the launch of a brand new range of L&D qualifications, the publication of a report L&D: new challenges, new approaches, which reviews the context in which L&D professionals operate, and a new ‘leaders in learning network’, which aims to create more knowledge-sharing opportunities for L&D practitioners.

Peter Cheese, who joined the CIPD as Chief Executive in July 2012, has a strong background in talent development. He was previously the Global Managing Director of Accenture's Talent and Organisation Performance Consulting Practice, as well as holding a variety of executive sponsorship positions for Accenture’s firm-wide skills and capability development programmes.

He is a former Chairman of the Institute of Leadership and Management, currently sits on the Council of City & Guilds, and is a European Board Director with Junior Achievement Young Enterprise Europe, an organisation focused on the development of entrepreneurial, financial and employability skills in young people, through business engagement in schools and universities.

Bringing together HR and L&D

The most recent CIPD annual L&D survey reports that over 60% of organisations combine the HR and L&D function. The CIPD was previously the Institute of People Management until it joined forces with the Institute of Training and Development, which brought the HR and L&D functions and membership together. Peter told us:

"When I took over this role, I was hearing from both existing members and also from senior people in the L&D profession that CIPD had lost sight of the heartland of L&D and we needed to revisit that, given our heritage.

"So it's important to re-engage with the L&D community by recognising them properly within the CIPD and focusing on their particular needs and the opportunities that the profession faces. L&D as a capability needs to become more strategic in order to keep up to date with the changing nature of work and the fact that people need to upskill on an almost continuous basis."

Meeting the skills challenge

A range of recent initiatives include the introduction of a new updated set of qualifications aimed at L&D professionals, including a Level 3 Certificate for those starting out in L&D, progressing to a Level 3 Diploma which builds on core knowledge, and intermediate Level 5 Certificate and Diplomas aimed at managers and practitioners that want to underpin their existing knowledge.

A new CIPD Leaders in Learning Network has also been created, aimed at giving those in primary learning functions in organisations – for instance, Learning & Development or Head of Talent – the opportunity to meet both online and face-to-face to promote and share ideas. This includes access to a quarterly series of Leaders in Learning events, a LinkedIn group and the chance to engage with and inform new developments from the CIPD.

According to Peter, there has been a very positive reception so far.

"When I talked to L&D leaders there was a very strong theme a couple of years ago that we really hadn't paid enough attention to that profession, and they wanted us to pay more and to provide some means of doing so.

"But it's also about how we connect to the top, it's about enablement to qualifications and how we connect with the senior people in the profession to help understand the trends and directions, share knowledge and thinking, and how to build L&D as a profession and capability more strategically.”

Peter added that L&D members have been "pleased to see us coming back all the more strongly in the L&D space, sharing our thinking and helping to build a sense of where the L&D profession is going and sustaining that momentum and direction of travel."

One of the ongoing challenges for L&D, however, is continuing economic uncertainty, where, despite a rise in the number of job vacancies (according to both the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the CIPD's own Labour Market Outlook report) pay rates remain sluggish and employers continue to show a reluctance to invest in skills training.

So how much of a danger is there of a skills shortage if employers are not encouraged to invest more in training and development, and what kind of increase in training is needed?

Says Peter:

"It's a bit of an age old challenge that whenever we've gone through tough times, unfortunately one of the first things to happen is that spending on training and development is reduced. The reason for that of course is that training is an expense and unless we can clearly articulate the value and outcome of learning and development and why it's important it is maintained, it will typically continue to suffer from the 'accountant's pen'.

"A very important part of the development of L&D is that we get much better at understanding the value and contribution we make by investing in other people, which is why there is much more focus on this, from Government to senior business leaders and others, agreeing that we do need to pay more attention to how we build our workforces and how we build up skills.

"This relates to things like loyalty and engagement, because if we're not investing in people they will likely move somewhere else. I do think there is a better understanding of those things, but we must get to a better place with L&D where we can truly understand the impact of our training and learning in terms of performance, productivity and real business outcomes."

International focus

Given the fact that the CIPD membership includes around a third of members either based abroad, or with large areas of international responsibility, it is also looking at the global needs of the profession.

"We have a large number of international students that come through our [training] centres and increasingly we're accrediting them through UK centres in the Indian sub-continent, China, South East Asia, the Middle East – those traditional places where the UK educational system is very attractive, so for all those reasons we need to grow our international presence and impact."

He explains that the CIPD has already had an office in Singapore for the last three or four years which has helped it grow its presence in South East Asia, and also has Memos of Understanding with the Hong Kong HR institute, Australian HR Institute and the New Zealand HR institute.

The Institute also has quite a big membership base in the Middle East, with 2,000 members across the gulf countries. Says Peter:

"The Middle East is a challenging region with a huge number of expats filling a huge number of roles and at the same time we know there is a need to upskill and position the indigenous workforce so that they can play their part in work."  

Does this international focus mean that CIPD plans to provide broad-based qualifications for HR professionals in international markets?

"We want to see the development of the profession internationally, and that will feed back into how we make sure the content, the knowledge, the learning, the research and the qualifications that we do take on have an increasingly international flavour and relevance," says Peter.

"There are many parts of our qualifications that will work in different countries, but there are, equally of course, some key things that will differ in different countries, like employment law, or understanding the context of the labour markets in different countries.

"That is the direction of travel for us, and while we might be able to deliver some of these qualifications for training and development in an international context, we've also got to have the delivery mechanisms and channels to do so. So where we've got physical presence, yes, we can do face to face, and we're also extending the number of international centres we accredit and work with, such as international colleges and so forth but also our ability to deliver these digitally. If we're saying people must learn to become more digital, then we need as a professional body to be more digitally enabled."

Digital delivery

Yet, despite all the emphasis on the digital delivery of L&D content, the CIPD's Learning and Development Survey 2015 showed elearning as one of the most widely used, but least effective, tools in the L&D professionals’ toolbox. However, figures also suggested it was the second most likely medium expected to grow in the next 12 months, with 59% of respondents expecting it to grow in their organisation. So what needs to be done with elearning to make it more effective?  

"I think that the harsh reality is that we have just got to innovate a lot more in elearning. A lot of our learning is not about formal learning and structured courses, it's just as much about creating a learning environment and culture which enables people to access knowledge and learning in a whole variety of different ways at the point of need, and helps them become more self-directed learners. That's the promise that digital and social media is providing in so many different contexts.

"But there is absolutely no doubt that if you look at innovative L&D, look at how digital and social media and saturated learning and blended learning and embedded learning and all those other things are really starting to have an impact, I think there is a very exciting future. I don't think it's about going backwards at all, but going forward, while recognising that there will still be a place in the right context for blended learning and face to face."

There is also the fact, he points out, that the younger generation coming into the workforce are much more digitally savvy – and expect to have access to good digital content and learning opportunities. These are the sorts of things that this generation takes for granted, he says.

"And yet, we still have a long way to go in really digitally enabling the workforce and particularly in the L&D sector. We need to learn from the younger generation – I've been talking for years about reverse mentoring, using young people to mentor older people, particularly on areas that older people are less familiar, with such as digital and social media."

Along with its renewed commitment to L&D and international focus, the CIPD is taking a more collaborative approach and working with other industry bodies including the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM).

According to Peter Cheese, creating these sorts of collaborations sends a very strong and positive message to the HR profession that they should collaborate with their colleagues in areas like finance and facilities management because people from these disciplines have a very strong interest in working with the HR profession as they too understand the role of the person in the enterprise – something that is recognised more today than it was in the past.

Explains Peter:

"We've known through research for ages about the positive impact and benefits of a well-designed workplace and FMs are just as invested in the future as we are in HR in the changing nature of the workplace; the virtual and physical.

"What's the purpose of the workplace if not to create an environment in which people will connect, learn and collaborate and share, and which is engaging and reflects the culture of the organisation? For our profession and these other professions, that is why it is good to collaborate.”

He adds:

"When we [HR] focus on the changing nature of work, the workforce and the workplace, we see the need to come together with other functions and disciplines to create a much more integrated way of thinking about the world of work which will benefit everybody. So I am excited about this stuff and I think that sharing our research, sharing our thinking and connecting our communities is a really positive thing to do."

Further information

CIPD website

Our CIPD courses