“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” gasped Dorothy in the iconic movie, The Wizard of Oz. The same is true for HR and L&D experts who, faced with an ever-changing business terrain, are unearthing new ways to engage, reskill and upskill employees. Aditi Sharma Kalra reports.

Back in the day, most organisations had a dedicated training executive whose job was to pull data from the training needs analysis, input it into an annual training calendar, book vendors to fill those slots, reserve the conference room, and of course, make sure there was a water bottle and stationery ready for every participant on the day of the event.

Fast-forward to today and training executives have given way to comprehensive learning frameworks that pull data from every aspect of the talent life cycle to create custom learning paths; they feature a whole menu of training programmes to choose from; and are likely held outside the confines of the conference room (typically during the commute or simply on-the-job).

Oh, and T&D is now called L&D – the former having typically represented the instilling of specific and specialised skills, while the latter takes on a more well-rounded persona of all types of learning experiences.

In this feature, let’s take stock of the top trends in learning and development through the eyes of interviews from DBS Bank, Essence, MoEngage, McCann Worldgroup Singapore, Societe Generale, and Vinda Group.

Trend 1: Learning is social

“There’s a noticeable trend that 'going to HR and enrolling in a training or conference' could soon be something of the past. We learn from our social networks more than our books or classroom today,” says Malaysia-based Clayton J.C Tan, HR Director, Southeast Asia, at hygiene company, Vinda Group.

Hence, for HR and learning professionals, the role is to build a conducive ecosystem to promote self-motivated social learning for employees.

The answer, thus, lies in simple, searchable, just-in-time and bite-sized content for employees to learn while developing solutions on the job.

In line with this philosophy, banking giant DBS is out to become a learning organisation, that is, one which “stands the test of time and makes a sustainable impact in the lives of our customers, employees and communities we live in”, as Ying Yuan Ng, Chief Learning Officer at DBS Bank, puts it.

This journey began in 2009, with a strong foundation comprising intellectual assets (learning road maps); physical assets (DBS Academy – learning campus); and technological assets (DBS Learning Hub, an AI-powered online learning platform). In 2018, it started to focus on driving social and community learning in a sustainable way.

In February this year, the #Learn.Share.Teach campaign was launched to create a social learning movement. It started out by enlisting employees who were subject matter experts from across the organisation and at all levels.

They created bite-sized videos using their smartphones on technical topics such as machine learning to practical tips on presentation skills and fun facts such as best angles for selfies. These were uploaded onto the intranet and employees were encouraged to “like” and comment on these videos, knowing that recognition motivates  people to go above and beyond and reinforces positive behaviours.

“We also created two special badges (dare to share/teach back) and e-cards on our peer-to-peer online recognition platform where people can recognise colleagues who share and teach others,” Ng says.


Trend 2: Learning is on-demand

As a data and measurement-driven agency, it is imperative Essence supports its people in learning the science of distilling the salient points from vast amounts of data, and the art of storytelling to bring insights powerfully to life for clients.

Thus, at the start of this year, Essence stepped away from a white-labelled off-the-shelf learning management system and launched a custom-built platform tailored to its needs.

In tandem, it stepped up its e-learning game by investing in powerful, best-in-class authoring software for its in-house materials, and also offering the full range of Lynda.com courses to the entire workforce.

So, while in-person workshops will continue to be a key delivery mechanism, the team has recognised the need for greater availability and accessibility to learning interventions, as close as possible to the point of use of the skills or knowledge taught.

“With that in mind, we’ve invested time and resources into building our digitally accessed training curricula. That means our people can get the training they need when they need it, even if that’s on the way to work in the morning,” says Veli Aghdiran, Global Vice President, Professional Development, Essence.

Reiterating the impact of on-demand learning is California-headquartered customer engagement platform MoEngage. As a product-centric company that is growing in size, from a business perspective, the goal is to develop and retain the right talent to manage the transformation from a small team to a large organisation.

Thus, the approach involves anticipating future skills benchmarks and proactively planning programmes to ensure the team can take on current and future challenges.

Jitender Panihar, Chief People Officer at MoEngage, explains the importance of the leadership pipeline: “Many great ideas die because they are not presented well and nobody owns up to execute them. To take an idea to the next level, you have to sell it to your team first, empower your team to overcome the difficulties and see through its execution.”

To this end, the team at MoEngage designs learner-centric, bite-size programmes that allow teams to learn quickly and be actively engaged during the process. While the full-day workshops are conducted at the office, the sessions are recorded as well as broadcast live for remote teams.

On the horizon, MoEngage is in the process of setting up mechanisms and mobile apps to make it easy for its employees to access training materials. “We are building more training programmes that can be taken up on-demand so that employees can take up these programmes whenever they find the time and learn at their own pace.”

Our leaders are crucial to championing change and development, so we invest in programmes like My Lead and TASL (The Art and Science of Leadership) to prepare them for the agile, ever-evolving, integrated and digital environment.
- Ramani Amar, Talent Director at McCann Worldgroup Singapore.

Trend 3: Learning is personalised

At marketing services group, McCann, employees are constantly reskilling and upskilling – so much so that it starts from the top.

“Our leaders are crucial to championing change and development, so we invest in programmes like My Lead and TASL (The Art and Science of Leadership) to prepare them for the agile, ever-evolving, integrated and digital environment,” shares Ramani Amar, Talent Director at McCann Worldgroup Singapore.

L&D at McCann is at the core of the overall talent management strategy, with the objective of equipping employees with the knowledge and skills they need to excel in their roles to make a real and measurable impact on business performance. This is achieved by creating personalised digital learning paths for employees and it is an ongoing process of continuous coaching and mentoring support. “In the APAC region alone, we have seen a significant increase of 200% in employee training hours,” she reveals.

So, not only is personalisation imperative, but so is digitalisation.

“The most successful fast-growing companies are differentiated by one thing: digital enablement. Being flexible, on-demand, engaging and scalable, this new type of training has transformed the way individuals and organisations learn.”

Putting its money where its mouth is, McCann’s in-house digital programme has been honoured with two gold Brandon Hall Group Excellence awards in 2017. In addition, the team has clocked 3319 hours of Facebook Blueprint training.

Trend 4: Learning is business-driven

In line with the launch of its 2020 strategic plan, financial services group Societe Generale is focused on generating profitable and sustainable growth, based on a diversified and integrated banking model. “With the aim to grow, transform, deliver on costs, refocus and foster responsibility, learning and development plays a very important role as the new environment means enhancing knowledge, reskilling the workforce and shifting mindsets,” says Mukta Arya, Head of Human Resources for Southeast Asia at Societe Generale Asia Pacific.

As such, the group’s training policy has three main aims: establish a culture of responsibility through the deployment of a culture and conduct programme; introduce new and more digital ways of learning; and give employees a more proactive role in their development and employability by offering a broad range of training programmes and guidance, as a supplement to existing HR and managerial support.

What helps keep this focus laser-sharp is the fact that learning and development sits at the centre of Societe Generale’s talent management chain. L&D needs originate from the performance management process, with managers and employees mutually agreeing on them. These then feed into the strategic talent identification process, promotion process and succession planning.

“We are fully aware of the challenges of employment and of global digitisation (new skills, new business lines, new working methods, and so on) so this needs analysis helps us to be focused and invest in relevant topics for our workforce,” Arya explains. “We are committed to making this investment for all employees across the group, and for specific needs and to develop potential leaders, we do invest more.”


Trend 5: Learning is gamified

Heading back to Vinda Group’s Tan, who is passionate about social learning, he says it should be driven by providing employees simple, searchable, just-in-time and bite-sized content.

“In addition, the organisation can then build in gamified incentives to motivate learners to pick up new skills, share what they have learnt or even contribute to the growing knowledge-base,” he says, pointing to another key trend.

Vinda Group is experimenting with such incentive schemes to encourage production operators to learn new skills themselves in little modules, as well as offer themselves as coaches to those who are keen to learn.

Tan also foresees a further blurring of the line between L&D and talent management, with such regularity of just-in-time on-the-job social learning surpassing the need for classroom training. “This is coming true with the design and execution of a gamified employee career pathing plan,” he says.

In his view, the idea behind this is to have an employee visualise their career in the organisation mimicking that of a role-playing game character.

The employee should be able to clearly understand the competencies involved in their chosen career paths (or alternative paths); the gaps they are required to close to reach the next level; and where they can gain the competencies or experiences needed to close these gaps.

Among all of these varied trends we unearthed, what was common to all interviewees was their belief in softer skills becoming an imperative for all us to stay relevant and thrive in the future.

DBS Bank’s Ng summed up the three must-have soft skills aptly: The first is the ability to ‘anticipate’. When things are happening so quickly, we have to think ahead and be prepared for multiple possibilities.

“Second, the willingness to ‘self-educate’ and take ownership for learning. Learning truly happens when we want to learn rather than when we are forced to learn. Third, the capacity to ‘adapt’. In times of certainty as well as ambiguity, we have to embrace the situation as it comes and be able to adjust quickly to be effective.”

Lead photo / Clockwise: Interviewees Veli Aghdiran, Mukta Arya, Clayton J.C Tan, Ying Yuan Ng, Jitender Panihar, Ramani Amar

This feature appeared in the June-July (Singapore) and Q2 (Malaysia) edition of Human Resources magazine. Read it in the special Learning & Development edition out now!