The learning continuum: HR’s role in future-proofing the workforce

HR leaders from Beam Suntory, CapitaLand Group, Citi, Crestron Electronics, LEWIS Asia Pacific, L’Oréal, McDonald’s, and Y&R Asia reveal to Jerene Ang how their organisations approach lifelong learning.
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.

In such an ever-changing world, Jennifer Wu, vice-president of talent and operations at LEWIS Asia Pacific, says: “It is our role as HR to facilitate a learning mindset within the organisation and cultivate a passion for knowledge that will lead to employee development by ensuring that adequate resources and channels are in place, and more importantly, on an individual level, they are inspired to take proactive measures towards constant improvement and development.”

She points out the need for learning to evolve with the new and emerging technologies that employees engage with in their personal lives.

New mediums such as social media allow employees to access more information in bite-sized pieces, inadvertently, shortening attention spans. This means lengthy information no longer resonates, she observes.

“This doesn’t only apply to Millennials, but every worker in today’s digital workplace,” she says. “We need to keep this in mind, and ensure that lifelong learning is presented in an accessible and engaging way to stimulate employee participation and uptake. This could be in the form of bite-sized video modules they can access on the go and utilising communicative technologies such as video calls to encourage learning and mentoring within the organisation.”

With that in mind, what should be the top considerations for HR and L&D leaders when selecting training programmes for employees?

To answer that question, Atul Gaur, HR director at L’Oréal, says: “First, we question if it accelerates development with regards to the current or future role. Next, the fit with the strategic focus areas of the organisation. Last, we look at the likely impact beyond skill development (for example, network, visibility, engagement).”

As for LEWIS’ Wu, her top criteria is the relevance and effectiveness of training programmes; the digestibility of training materials and availability on appropriate platforms; as well as adaptable content.

Similarly, William Manfredi, head of global talent at Y&R Asia, says: “Content, accessibility and format are the three main factors.”

He explains the need to be relevant and provide real value to the individual and organisation. The training should be accessible to complement and not conflict with working schedules; at the same time, the format should bring about a positive impact and should allow the learning to be put into practice following the training.

Differing slightly from the previous two leaders, Joshua Lee, HR director for Asia Pacific at Crestron Electronics, says other considerations are trainers who understand the company culture and ecosystem, and impactful programmes that meet the needs of employees.

“We believe the best trainers are already among us. We try our best to mobilise internal trainers who understand our unique culture and ecosystem as this usually means the skills they impart are naturally more applicable to those attending the session,” he says.

With these considerations in mind, Human Resources spoke to HR leaders from Beam Suntory, CapitaLand, Citi, LEWIS, and McDonald’s to find out how their organisations approach lifelong learning.

Beam Suntory: Aligning strategic workforce planning with L&D
For the premium spirits company, the top considerations for selecting training programmes are applicability, alignment with strategy and culture/values, engaging and inspiring for employees, and relevance.

Ilja Rijnen, Emerging Asia HR director for Beam Suntory, explains: “Learning needs to have a focus so it not only helps the individual grow, but also helps the organisation deliver its strategy. An important output of a great strategic L&D plan is how to keep the individual in an organisation relevant once they have joined your workforce.”

Against the backdrop of innovation in the region, he says the best way to approach learning is to start with good strategic workforce planning and make sure the growth strategy is translated into the L&D plan.

“It means, with your MD and head of functions, you start translating the next three to five years of strategy into a future state and tangible outcomes – what does it mean for our workforce, its development/capability, structure, set-up, culture and more,” he says.

“Then, translate that back into the here and now – what are the current supply/demands on our workforce and what will we need to grow over the next (few) years. Look at that year by year in order to get to the workforce that is needed to sustain growth and deliver the strategy.”

In line with that, he reveals Beam Suntory’s increased focus on the full alignment of its strategic workforce planning with the company’s growth and development plans.

This entails ensuring the strategy is top-down translated and understood; people’s goals are bottom-up and aligned to the strategy; and people have identified their critical development need to overcome, to help them deliver on their goals.

This alignment helps the business better understand where to focus in terms of who to develop and the capability areas to invest in.

After identifying the areas of development, the company makes use of a combination of learning methods to deliver the relevant training.

Knowing that most learning unconsciously takes place while people are on the job, the firm makes use of the 70-20-10 principle.

“We follow the 70-20-10 principle and ensure that our 10% is highly applicable in the day-to-day work settings. Further we take real-life examples and business cases into the 10%, he says.

“We also invest a lot of time in the mentoring/coaching of our people (20%). This in particular helps create better and more mature leadership, and alignment in our ways of working across this group globally.”

Asked about technology’s impact on employee education and how much is done online, he says most of Beam Suntory’s mandatory training is done online. This includes topics such as compliance, harassment, travel bookings, policy understanding, and more.

On the benefits of such an approach, he says: “This makes it possible to track progress and attendance.” For any additional training, topic areas will be considered.

“Usually pre-work, such as tests and questionnaires, can easily be done online. For trainings on leadership and social skills, we still deliver it face to face.”

CapitaLand Group: Elevating employees’ skill sets
CapitaLand recognises that a company is only as successful as its people. In line with that, Tan Seng Chai, group chief people officer at CapitaLand Group, says: “Guided by our credo of, ‘Building people. Building communities’, we have an integrated human capital strategy to recruit, develop and motivate employees.”

The real estate company invests in staff by providing structured training at its training institutes, job rotations and overseas exchange programmes.

Programmes offered include those at the CapitaLand Institute of Management and Business (CLIMB) which help employees continually grow and develop their personal and professional capacities; as well as those at the Ascott Centre for Excellence, the global hospitality training centre of The Ascott – CapitaLand’s wholly owned serviced residence – where staff can learn best practices from around the world.

“Given the scale of our business across more than 150 cities in over 30 countries, staff can pick up valuable skills and knowledge across functions, business units and geographies,” he says.

“At least 95% of our employees are required to attend at least one learning event per year. The average number of training hours completed by each employee in 2017 was more than 59 hours, well above our target of 40 hours per year.”

Apart from the programmes above, last year CapitaLand inked a SG$10 million partnership with Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB). The result of this partnership was a programme called CapitaLand ELEVATE which aims to upskill CapitaLand’s staff and develop technology enablers for the company to seize opportunities to build real estate of the future.

“The programme will focus on developing our employees in areas such as data analytics, digital marketing and digital product management. It will also explore new technologies that will enable us to create people-centric products, services and experiences.”

Additionally, CapitaLand recently implemented a series of fireside chats where industry experts are invited to share insights on topics and trends especially on developments in the industry as well as the global technology scene.

“Through these discussions, we seek to inculcate a deeper spirit of lifelong learning and help equip staff with the know-how to navigate a constantly changing world with innovative topics ranging from mobile payments, change management, design and architecture, to the future of real estate.”

Guests from previous fireside chats include world-renowned architect Bjarke Ingels; Paul Cobban, chief data and transformation officer at DBS; Wolfgang Baier, chief executive officer at Luxasia; and Greg Stone, head of digital services – Australasia, ARUP.

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, says: “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,” he says.

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 says.

Some recent examples of learning and development programmes Citi has rolled out include a series of future-compatible skills-based 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.

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 career by providing a single gateway for all they need to develop, learn and grow. It provides access to performance management, mobility and recruitment, 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 says.

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,” he says. “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 reveals, 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.

LEWIS: Bringing learning to the boardroom
Oftentimes, when it comes to continuing education and lifelong learning, the key target population are mid to junior-level employees. Jennifer Wu, vice-president of talent and operations at LEWIS Asia Pacific, points out: “Organisations tend to forget that the senior leadership team are the very ones that are impacting other employees at every level of the organisation, as well as its future leaders.

“If they are not constantly evolving and keeping ahead of the curve, they will not be able to impart that same knowledge and attitude towards learning to other employees as well.”

With that in mind, the global communications agency recently introduced the LEWIS advisory board, a round-table with invitees from all backgrounds – ranging from politics, economics, art and business – who come together to discuss key geopolitical and economic issues that are currently trending and making a global impact.

“The senior leadership team is invited to attend this round-table to gain an understanding from key leaders in the respective fields,” she says.

Apart from helping broaden the senior leadership team’s perspectives on the various fields, another consideration is retention.

“Once employees feel they are no longer learning or developing in their relevance, they will eventually leave. This holds true for the leaders of an organisation as well. Equipping the leadership team is thus an effective retention tool – both in terms of retaining an organisation’s leadership talent as well as other members of the organisation.”

In terms of communications to stakeholders, what makes this initiative different is it requires both external and internal communications.

Externally, the round table is communicated as an opportunity for business leaders to exchange their insights with like-minded peers across industries.

Internally, the senior leadership team is told the advisory board is an opportunity for them to look beyond the communications industry and their day-to-day work to gain a broadened awareness and perspective of what is happening in the “real world” and what other industries are contending with.

“This also helps increase their relevance to the international clients they work with, with a more in-depth understanding of the geopolitical and economic issues they face.”

Every new programme implementation comes with its own set of challenges. For the LEWIS Advisory Board, this comes in the form of scheduling and facilitation.

“Bringing together influential business leaders is a challenging task! People travel and diaries fill up very quickly. It is necessary to plan early and carefully to facilitate such a session. This is not something that happens regularly, so we ensure that such sessions are beneficial for all parties involved by setting relevant conversation themes and discussion topics, and ensuring it is facilitated well.”

On the people impact of the initiative, Wu observes the greatest outcome is the increased motivation of the senior leadership team.

“The LEWIS Advisory Board provides them a platform to get inspired and to expand their personal goals and objectives,” she says.

“Renewed in thought and inspired by these sessions, our senior leadership team is equipped to lead its offices and teams even better, and motivate the employees they lead.

“Fundamentally, this facilitates a constantly thriving organisation. Individual employees across all levels of the business find themselves learning and this ensures a sustainable culture of productivity and growth.”

McDonald’s: Serving up relevant skill sets
In the current age of structural shifts and digital disruption, adoption of new technology is crucial and has a big impact on fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s.

Lynn Hong, director of human resources at McDonald’s Singapore, says: “At McDonald’s Singapore, a majority of our outlets are already equipped with self-ordering kiosks.

“Our crew and managers are trained to utilise these technological advancements in order to better serve our customers as we move towards being a modern and progressive brand. We have always believed in investing in our employees by providing them with learning and development opportunities.”

At McDonald’s, employees undergo structured, continuous training and development at different stages of their career such as on-the-job training and management development.

All new restaurant employees receive on-the-job training to master fundamental operational skills necessary to run the different stations in each restaurant.

Whereas management development is a rigorous programme targeted at restaurant managers and is focused on shift management, systems management, restaurant leadership, and business leadership.

“The objective of the programme is to train managers to think strategically and lead by example as they run their respective restaurants.”

Aside from the internal courses, the global fast-food chain prioritises the workforce skills qualifications diploma in food services for its managers as part of their continuous education journey.

“McDonald’s Singapore is an Approved Training Organisation accredited by Spring Singapore, and our position allows us to deliver a full suite of certificates in the food services industry for our employees,” she says.

“To date, about 700 of our employees have graduated from the programme with either diplomas or certificates.”


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