'What's your headline?': Redefining the role of L&D teams in a changing learning landscape

'What's your headline?': Redefining the role of L&D teams in a changing learning landscape

When employees don't understand the 'why' to learn, they can't know 'what' they want to learn – this thus pushes us to rethink our approach to learning, as we learnt in sessions from Learning and Development Asia 2023, Malaysia. Event report by Priya Sunil.

With inputs by Aditi Sharma Kalra.

In today’s learning landscape, businesses are scaling up their training programmes to address the skills disruption, and to bridge labour market gaps.

This shift has brought to light the need for effective reskilling and upskilling strategies in order to maximise business performance and achieve industry transformation, and in this midst, L&D leaders face pressure to align learning with business goals and demonstrate immediate ROI, especially in an uncertain economy.

Against this backdrop, Human Resources Online returned with the seventh annual edition of its flagship L&D conference, Learning and Development Asia, in Malaysia on 20-21 September 2023, bringing together close to 120 leading learning practitioners, CHROs, CLOs, and thought leaders from the L&D community.

Under the roof of Le Méridien Petaling Jaya, we deep dived into how leaders across industries are tapping into underutilised talent pools, leveraging advance technologies to build personalised learning journeys, the role of L&D teams in elevating their people to the next level, and more.

Highlights and key learnings derived from some of the sessions are shared below:

Kickstarting the conference was a session on identifying ways to build a future-ready workforce in Malaysia – for one speaker, this involves leveraging TVET programmes to unlock the power of underutilised talent

Delving deeper, he shared about his organisation's transformative talent journey. The story started as it embarked on transformation last year – where one of the key pillars is reskilling, upskilling and L&D.

Identifying this pillar as a priority came about because of a real business need to cultivate talent across all business lines that the organisation is currently invested in, or potentially plans to grow. Shortage of local talent in several lines, such as elderly care pushed the agenda towards TVET programmes, which groom talent from scratch.

This programme, which started out grooming talent for just one business line, is now producing surplus talent that is contributing to UOA's business agenda of growth.

In his role as a head of HR & learning leader, the leader swore by the importance of keeping the business stakeholders close, in terms of communication as well as solutioning. It goes beyond the quarterly business reviews, he says, wherein as the HR leader, you have to have your ears close to the ground in terms of the real challenges each business group is trying to solve, and how talent strategies can support that.

Next up, several speakers across panel discussions, fireside chats, and case study sessions reaffirmed the need for new and emerging skills amidst times of change – be it in the industry, or in the talent landscape and economy as a whole.

First, one leader pointed out the fragmentation of industries such as banking – one which used to be universal, but now sees new terms such as 'modular banking' emerging. With such changes, a few emerging challenges include:

  • Digital security – this is no longer the realm of tech or data.
  • Systemic risks that came from the fact that regulation has become a lot more difficult, because there is no one particular entity to regulate (platforms, for e.g., are particularly difficult to regulate).

This, the leader noted, brings out the questions: "If we step back and think about it, do we have the infrastructure, and the ethical model to govern technology? And would that ethical model be predicated by company culture? How does ethics looks like in the US vs ASEAN countries? Do we have a categorical imperative to govern technology? If technology makes a decision, who will be responsible for it?"

"This is a growing emerging risk that we take – and therefore, we need knowledge, capability, and capacity to decode some of this stuff."

Thus, as further highlighted in the session, the first step is to identify what skills to develop, and the second step is to develop the courseware and content around it.

Additionally, some organisations focus on getting their employees to understand the 'why' of learning instead of training or guiding them on what to learn. "That comes from building a culture. A culture where we are never good enough, there is always a mountain to scale, a new depth for us to reach – what do we have to do in order to get there?"

This further begs the question: How do we help our people? As the leader shared, it starts with helping them at the stage of assessment. "There is no right or wrong answer, the answers are different – we should be more interested in ‘why’ people answer a certain way. The origination is key – when people are in, how do you inculcate this thinking ability or reasoning (it does not have to be logical, it has to be cognitive, it can be emotional as well)."

Ultimately, he highlights, learning can be measured by the outcome – the time that you put in, the passion – all things which can’t be measured, and not by numbers. "Try to regulate and modulate some of the factors which impact the outcome. What is the outcome you measure? It could be a business outcome, systemic outcome or a measure of culture."

In that vein, the session concluded on a point that learning is not a cost; rather, it is an investment, wherein the return may not be immediately quantifiable. That said, it will be so in areas such as, you get better at attracting and retaining talent, better customer satisfaction, and closure in technical competencies.

Continuing the conversation on skills, was a case study that explored the most important skill leaders & learning teams need to drive the skills agenda in times of change.

"Technical, functional skills are still important today, but the skills that will be important in the next five to 10 years are the skills that will give us that competitive edge.

"So, we need to open up our minds to the skills that will go above and beyond our technical skills," our speaker for the session stressed.

"When we are faced with change, what empowers us is how we view it. If we react to change the way we are habitually programmed to react to it, we become victims in the situation.

"It is thus important for L&D practitioners to frame this for our people – how can they stop and look at things from a different perspective? How can they stop and think about what the change is?", he continued.

In other words, people – and learning – leaders need to help the workforce see things from a different perspective, and question the norm; and that, the leader noted, is the most important skill for leaders.

On a similar theme, one leader raised the question: "What’s your headline?" As he shared, that's one question we as leaders need to always reflect on. "Are we going to be seen as an organisation that is continuously backward? Or do we want to be the one that is forward-thinking in our mindset?"

This brought the focus to the role of the learning partner – as without them, "we are just doing things the reactive way, not the proactive way" when we try to bring the organsation forward. 

This learning partner is one who, today, would not only need to possess the technical acumen of L&D, but would also need to have leadership skills, and know how to manage relationships and their stakeholders. They also need business acumen, technology acumen, to be future ready, to possess a learner-centric mindset, and to have data judgement.

Importantly, he also drew the link between L&D teams and contributing to the overall business objectives: "You can’t deliver purpose in isolation – L&D must be connected to the business outcome," he stressed. Essentially, it's time to take shared ownership of the learning culture, and of capability building in the organisation.

"Ultimately, you need to remember that whatever you do, it has to lead to achieving business success. [And] when employees can tie their learning to a bigger purpose, they will be more engaged and motivated to learn."

Some of the other key learnings at #LDAsiaMY 2023:

  • The role of L&D in supporting the sustainability agenda in the company – after knowing the ‘why’, we can explore the ‘how’. The ‘how’ is about:
    • Understanding the big picture of the company, why we want to drive this sustainability agenda in the first place. 
    • How L&D can support sustainability:
      • Drive awareness
      • Encourage adoption
      • L&D teams act as drivers/subject matter experts.
  • Building essential skills for the future workforce, while striking a delicate balance between the ever-evolving demand and supply dynamics within the job market:
    • HR must lead and take charge of the upskilling journey – and collaboration is key here. In that vein, some of the top skills to equip the workforce with today are: Critical thinking skills; creative thinking skills; analytical thinking, and communication skills.
  • Leaders today must look into fostering a data-literate culture among employees. What does the funnel of data literacy look like? As uncovered, it goes through the stages of:
    1. Data confusion
    2. Data understanding
    3. Descriptive
    4. Diagnostic
      • The key to every journey, it was affirmed, is to get your workforce from a state of data confusion to a state of data understanding.

Human Resources Online would like to thank all speakers, moderators, panellists, Leadership Exchange facilitators, and attendees for being valuable contributors to this event.

We would also like to extend our gratitude to our sponsors & partners for making this conference possible:


Hong Bao Media

Mango Training
National University of Singapore (NUS)

Pigeonhole Live

Lead image: Human Resources Online

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