Is Learning and Development Finally Coming Home?

Posted January 10th, 2008

Recent developments in America suggest that learning and development could be resurrected from the dark, dusty recesses of human resources into a bright new future.

Ever since 1994 and the merger between the Institute of Training and Development and the Institute of Personnel Management to form what in 2000 became the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, there has been no argument about which area was the dominant one. Factors concerning the development of employee skills seemingly became secondary to the rising importance of Human Resource Management.

I was recently provided a glaring example of this by an acquaintance in a senior learning and development role at one of the largest organisations in the UK. With a sad, but knowing look in his eye he presented me with the yearly objectives for the HR department. Not one of them related to employee development in any way. When you consider that the company employ over five hundred people in roles that are directly related to learning this is truly amazing, although hardly isolated.

Most HR Directors will argue that they’ve always had one eye on the learning needs of the workforce, but with all due respect to diversity laws, this is a two-eyed job. In the same way that sales is the only department of an organisation that generates revenue, learning and development is the only area where we can expect the process of developing our workforce to be the uppermost concern.

Learning and development is increasingly noted as the most important factor of HR. Driving up the skills of the workforce and ensuring that employees have the necessary skills to perform the role and, perhaps more importantly, the skills to progress throughout the business is becoming a no-brainer when compared to the often bureaucratic functions of HR, which serve to ensure the business is ‘ticking over’ and doesn’t get embroiled in any legal issues.

Another colleague of mine who owns a recruitment consultancy highlighted the importance of learning and development from the prospective employee’s point of view recently. Often before the subject of money is raised, the first concern of the individual is, ‘What development can I expect?’ and so it should be. In fact when discussing the value of development, there are two key viewpoints we should take into account.

The employee – understands more than ever the value of their own development. Often requires a business to fill the gaps in their education and provide hands on experience in a real environment. Realises that to succeed in the business world they must gather as many skills as possible.

The employer – understands the value of a continually skilled workforce. Knows that if the business is to succeed then it needs an educated and motivated team behind it. A team willing to challenge current thinking and hungry for success.

So, businesses that ignore the value of learning and development do so at their peril.

This isn’t a knew theory, but somehow we thought we could achieve it through an HR department that in all fairness cannot possibly be expected to manage the important role it has to play in overseeing the needs of the workforce and still rise to the vast challenge that development presents.

The good news is that in America there seems to be a turning tide. Many of the large organisations there are developing the role of Chief Learning Officer (CLO), whose role on the board of directors has been provided at the expense of the HR Director who may well have applied for the new position of Head of HR, which reports to, you guessed it, the CLO.

The CLO is skilled in all aspects of learning and development, with a key focus on; coaching, training, motivation and project management, which shows an obvious leaning towards the development of the workforce in order to drive the success of the business. In my mind this is the correct focus and ensures that the organisation is focused on continuous improvement rather than fighting fires.

Although the UK has yet to put in place many CLO’s (currently five in the FTSE 100), there is little doubt that we are likely to follow suit. After all, it was the US that brought HRM to us all those years ago!

Andrew Wood is the Managing Director of Trainer Bubble Ltd. who design and develop training resources and course materials for download from their website. Visit them at to access a wealth of resources including a large section of free material.


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