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Learn, unlearn and relearn: Future-proofing your workforce

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HR leaders from Maybank, TIME dotCom, Citi and Digi reveal to Jerene Ang how their organisations approach lifelong learning.

Case studies featured:

  • Nora Abd Manaf, group chief human capital officer/group EXCO, Maybank
  • Wan Ezrin, chief people officer at TIME dotCom
  • Jorge Osorio, chief human resources officer at Citi Singapore
  • Lydia Low, HR business partner for the marketing and business division, Digi

In today’s ever-changing world, there is a demand for new skill sets every year. For organisations to survive in the long term, it is imperative they ensure staff  remain future-ready and embrace a culture of lifelong learning.

Specifically in Malaysia, Nora Abd Manaf, group chief human capital officer/group EXCO, Maybank, observed: “There is a high degree of acknowledgement on the need for lifelong learning, especially in today’s VUCA environment. This is an opinion I formed based on the different forums and committees that I participate in or chair. There is indeed widespread agreement that a critical 4.0 skill is the skill to learn, unlearn and relearn.”

She noted progressive organisations have begun to strengthen their internal capability for learning to ensure their organisation’s continued viability and survival, adding that in the past year, many organisations have released their plans for upskilling their workforce and the creation of a workplace that supports learning.

Having established the importance of learning, what are the top considerations HR and L&D leaders have when selecting training programmes for employees?

To answer that question, Wan Ezrin, chief people officer at TIME dotCom, said: “The first would be, how relevant the programme is with respect to business needs and if it will add value in the long run. The second is, which employee would be the best to send for the training, and if they will be able to maximise the learning experience.

“And last, but not least, the training that provides the best value for money. This does not mean that we should always go for the cheapest solution, but we want the best value out of every dollar we spend on development.”

As for Maybank’s Nora, taking into consideration IR4.0 and the rapid technological advancements, her top considerations are immediate impact, sustainability and integrated.

She explained: “Today, key customer expectations include impact and time. In that line, we have to ensure it’s always about action learning and always using design-thinking approaches. It’s all about immediate applicability as well as improving on the go; where we need to see and experience the immediate impact, only then can we figure out the other drivers to ensure the success of the programme.”

When it comes to sustainability, she added: “The programme must have an embedded support mechanism for habit forming.”

As for being integrated, she noted the programme needs to clearly establish how it will develop skills employees need to operate in an open-platform, and collaborate with the organisation’s internal and external ecosystem.

With these considerations in mind, Human Resources spoke to HR leaders from Maybank, TIMEdotCom, Citi and Digi to find out how their organisations approach lifelong learning.

Maybank: Accounting for ‘FutureReady’ digital skills

Today, the banking industry faces rapid changes and intense competition from new and non-traditional organisations. This requires organisations to embrace new ways of thinking to continuously be a leader in the business.

For Maybank, this means positioning itself as the “digital bank of choice”. In line with that objective, the bank launched the Maybank FutureReady digital upskilling programme in February 2018.

Nora Abd Manaf, group chief human capital officer/group EXCO, Maybank, said: “We are committed to be actively involved in how the organisation, the organisation’s new businesses, new job creation, new ways of working, new services, etc, unfolds. The workforce can only be part of the solution if they are digital-literate.”

Hence, the bank’s FutureReady upskilling programme targets to upskill employees in areas of digital awareness, data-driven decision making, human-centred design, agile methods, future communications, as well as ethics and governance in a digital world.

The workforce can only be part of the solution if they are digital-literate.
- Nora Abd Manaf, group chief human capital officer/group EXCO, Maybank

“In view of the continuous rapid changes as the norm, we have specifically called the upskilling programme ‘FutureReady’ because our staff will need to be prepared continuously learn new skills on their own,” she said.

“Our vision is to have proactive learners who are continuously keeping themselves equipped and updated to be innovative and competitive.”

The FutureReady upskilling programme is mandatory for all employees in Maybank, including those at the highest level – the Group Executive Committee (EXCO). It has been communicated through various channels and innovative methods.

“We created a short and catchy quiz titled “Am I FutureReady?” and publicised this via our internal communications channel and engaged our staff via this quiz. Within two days of launching the quiz, we had over 4,000 staff completing the quiz and subsequently over 90% of staff in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines within two months,” she said.

Through the quiz, the bank was able to identify areas of focus in increasing the workforce’s digital literacy.

Maybank also took proactive steps to engage union representatives upfront and solicit their feedback on how improvements could be made to the learning materials of the programme. This was done via a quarterly dialogue session.

For line managers, Maybank developed a unique experiential learning format called the FutureReady Labs where managers are trained to be facilitators of learning in their respective teams and departments.

“Essentially, the FutureReady Lab is a dialogue and problem-solving session to learn as a team, which can be an efficient and effective means to do mass upskilling,” Nora said.

Every new programme implementation comes with its own set of challenges. For this programme, Maybank faced two key challenges during implementation – speed of execution as well as changing staff mindset.

The first challenge came when the team realised the programme had to be launched within three weeks after approval from top management for it to benefit from a full-year of implementation and outcomes within the year itself.

On how the team mitigated the challenge, Nora revealed: “We successfully undertook the challenge by assembling a cross-functional team to undergo a five-day scrum session. From there, we internally curated our e-learnings and lab sessions.”

The second challenge was influencing the mindset of staff to accept the idea of upskilling themselves in new areas that were challenging and obscure, and to do it with a great sense of urgency.

“To address this, the support from our group CEO and EXCO team was essential,” she emphasised.

Maybank’s group EXCO not only deliberated on the programmes needed, but also conducted various communication sessions with staff . During these sessions, the sense of urgency was relayed, along with the reason why upskilling was of paramount importance for employees, as well as how it helps them, and the bank, stay relevant.

“As a result of this concerted effort by our top management team, we have achieved over 90% completion rates on our e-learnings in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines within 2.5 months,” she said.

“The challenges were nothing we had not anticipated and thankfully we were able to mitigate them. In fact, the process we went through brought on more benefits that we had hoped for! I personally think challenges will only make the team grow innovatively as well as put our core values to the test.”

As of April 2018, the programme has seen outstanding results with more than 20,000 of Maybank’s staff acquiring higher digital awareness via completing e-learning. On top of that, more than 800 of the bank’s managers have acquired the skills to create a learning culture within their teams.

To expatiate on the results of the programme, Nora said: “We trained the 800-plus managers across Malaysia on how to conduct FutureReady Lab sessions to immediately enable further internalisation and application of learning. Subsequently, these managers have conducted FutureReady Lab sessions for over 3,500 staff . So we see the cascading effect of equipping managers with the skills to facilitate continuous learning in
their teams.

“Additionally, our employees are embracing the need to upskill themselves. Over 12,000 staff have been enrolling in various FutureReady lab sessions to learn more about the various FutureReady skill areas. This is a positive sign that learning is indeed at the top of their minds besides their day-to-day jobs.”

TIME dotCom: Blending technology with the human touch

Last year, TIME dotCom realised employees were eager to learn, but hampered by timing. Hence, the telecommunications company decided to move towards blended learning – a combination of e-learning and face-to-face training.

Wan Ezrin, chief people officer at TIMEdotCom, elaborated: “For example, the course they want to go on isn’t available when they have time to go for training. So we decided to leverage on e-learning to help democratise the learning experience.

“That said, we don’t want to go 100% one-learning because that will just dehumanise the whole experience.”

TIME dotCom designs and develops everything in-house and has a range of programmes from leadership and soft skills to regulatory and technical subjects. Th is way, there are no barriers related to costs.

He added: “We have also standardised our “formal learning days” which serves as a strong guide to the minimum number of days an employee should be allowed to go for development.”

The new programmes were communicated through town halls and regular internal communication. “We use emails and our internal social media to let people know about what’s going on and what is available. As a result you get the domino effect that is represented by two groups of employees. First the ‘champions’ will see the value and opportunity and go for it, then the ‘followers’ will follow because they don’t want to be left behind. These two groups make up the majority,” he said.

People feel odd when they try something new – so that meant lots of FAQs and answering questions on how to go about blended learning.
- Wan Ezrin, chief people officer at TIMEdotCom

As with all new initiatives, there are hurdles to overcome. “People feel odd when they try something new – so that meant lots of FAQs and answering questions on how to go about blended learning. This is still happening today and we know this will continuously occur.”

Another difficulty that has to be overcome is to ensure employees continuously participate in training.

He elaborated: “After a while, people tend to take for granted that something is there for the taking. So we need to send promos and reminders to encourage people to participate.”

One way TIME dotCom has done this is through the performance management process where a percentage is allocated to “personal challenge”.

“This makes it possible for employees to score their ‘personal challenge’ points through going for an approved development initiative,” he said.

As TIME dotCom only started institutionalising development solutions in 2017, the initiatives are still in their relatively early days. “There is still a lot of work to do, but we are seeing the impact in different parts of the organisation and in various levels and locations.”

One example he shared was of managers who were subconsciously treating their employees disrespectfully. After going for development, they see their mistake and go back to work as better people and managers.

“There’s no doubt old habits die hard, but it is easier to kill habits when one is aware of them,” he said.

Another example was of maximising the use of software for work.

“Some people spend a long time doing a certain job because they don’t know of a faster way to go about it. But after learning about the tools they can use, they are able to quickly cut the time spent fumbling around the computer keyboard by half.”

Citi: Empowering staff to take charge

At banking major Citi, digitisation is seen as a positive disrupter to business. Jorge Osorio, chief human resources officer at Citi Singapore, said: “It enables seamless lifelong learning journeys by allowing us to discover new opportunities like never before. It also helps us innovate and reimagine our business to better serve our clients.”

Technology (hardware) aside, the bank believed mindsets, organisational structures, operating models and talent skill sets needed to change.

“As one of the largest banking employers in Singapore, Citi is deeply committed to preparing today’s workforce for tomorrow’s economy,” Osorio said.

In line with that, the bank’s HR team works closely with client-facing colleagues from the business to discuss evolving business needs and collectively identify areas of development to bridge the skills gap.

“We also encourage our employees to take an active role in managing their careers and we continuously roll out new career and learning development programmes to help them acquire forward compatible skills,” he said.

Some recent examples of learning development programmes Citi has rolled out include a series of future-compatible, skillsbased training programmes accredited by the Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore; the Citi For You – My Career platform; and the soon to be launched Degreed platform.

We continuously roll out new career and learning development programmes to help them acquire forward compatible skills.
- Jorge Osorio, chief human resources officer at Citi Singapore

In March 2018, Citi was one of the first banks in Singapore to launch a series of future compatible skills-based training programmes accredited by the Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore for its employees.

“About 1,600 banking employees, from the frontline to operational and managerial roles, are being trained in areas such as cybersecurity and customer journey design to ensure they have cross-functional skills to stay relevant as job functions evolve.”

On April 30, Citi launched a new My Career experience on Citi For You (CFY) – its internal platform – consisting of features to support and inform employees about their work, career and life.

The new My Career experience aims to empower employees to own their own career by providing a single gateway for all they need to develop, learn and grow.

It provides access to performance management, mobility anrecruitment, onboarding, regional career sites, and Degreed – all of which have been transformed to support employees in a new way that is accessible and easy to navigate.

“As part of this new initiative, we will also be introducing a monthly ‘expert talks’ series anchoring on themes surrounding career development, industry trends and future compatible skills,” Osorio said.

In the coming months, Citi will be launching Degreed, a new platform accessible via CFY My Career.

“Through Degreed, employees can access resources from Udemy for Business, GetAbstract, HMM, Khan academy, Ted, edX and more.

The platform enables employees to quickly and easily discover, share and track all kinds of learning resources from courses, videos to articles.”

The best part about Degreed, he revealed, is it learns about the user over time and will provide suggestions on their daily learning feeds as well as recommendations from other colleagues in the user’s network.

Digi: Bringing learning to the frontline

As a company in the rapidly changing telecommunications industry, for Digi, it is a must to shift quickly towards being a digital player to compete with new digital players and stay relevant.

Hence, Lydia Low, HR business partner for the marketing and business division at Digi, said: “At Digi, we have been embedding the digital ambition into our conversations and town hall sharing since 2016.

“We have digital days to show our employees what the future will be like and what Digi’s role will be in a digital world. We show them what it means for an employee when a telco moves into the digital world and becomes a digital provider.”

Low believes these conversations help drive awareness among employees on the importance of lifelong learning and keeping themselves relevant for the digital transformation Digi is embarking on.

With that understanding in place across the organisation, the telco then provides learning platforms to accelerate learning with topics guided by the business road map.

“Taking into account our digital ambition, for the retail front-liners, it’s no longer only about selling a product, it’s about educating and showing customers how to use the products on their mobile apps.”

Training them alone is not enough. Low said: “The store itself has to transform. It’s also about providing them the right work environment and tools for them to apply what they have learned.”

In line with that, Digi removed all counters from its stores to enable retail front-liners to interact with customers.

Staff are also provided tablets to help customers sign up to the products.

Seeing that most of our retail staff are very savvy with Facebook and are active on our closed group, we decided to use Facebook Live and it worked so we continued using it.
- Lydia Low, HR business partner for the marketing and business division at Digi

Additionally, for Digi’s front-liners who are scattered across the country, the typical face-to-face formal training is a challenge to orchestrate and can be disruptive to store operations.

Hence, in late 2016 to 2017, when the retail and L&D teams needed to roll out a programme to the front-liners, they came up with a new innovative way to conduct training.

“We were time and resource constrained. How do we train people while accommodating their work schedules and our store operations? Seeing that most of our retail staff are very savvy with Facebook and are active on our closed group, we decided to use Facebook Live and it worked so we continued using it.” The trainings are conducted in the mornings for 15-30 minutes before the store opens. Store heads are informed about the training dates beforehand.

The store heads will then log in to the group at the same time and project the Facebook Live stream to the TV that Digi has in its stores.

“We try and find ways like that to make learning as relevant to employees, in this case retail employees, without disrupting business and taking them away from the store. It works for the stores because we just have to agree on the timing before the store opens and ensure everyone is there on time.”

Speaking about the results of the initiative, she said: “We notice employees in retail prefer this method of interaction. It makes training more relevant for them and you can see that employees are very engaged.

“We also post interactive video clips on the retail Facebook community page, depicting role plays and learning activities to continuously engage them.”

Apart from Facebook as a training platform, she revealed the company collaborated with its device partners to provide digital learning through mobile apps, enabling front-liners to enhance their digital experience as they learn. At the same time, retail front-liners can keep abreast with the latest Digi product knowledge through an online retail learning portal.

“Digi has also invested heavily in global learning platforms such as Lynda, Udacity and Coursera. This helps us truly democratise learning. In the past, it would have been unthinkable to send a whole lot of our frontliners to some of the top business schools in the world for training.

“But now some of the best researchers, trainers and professors are available through mobile learning so our employees can learn on their own time.”

She noted these opportunities empower front-liners to not only get better in their current jobs, but also acquire capabilities that can help them transition to other jobs that are increasing in demand.

“We have our people in full control of their learning journey and career development. And it is their ownership of this freedom to learn that will see them giving their best to our customers and business,” Low concluded.



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