The Learning & Development Podcast: The Impact Of COVID-19 On L&D with Sukh Pabial

Kiren Kahlon
Kiren Kahlon
April 27, 2021
The Learning & Development Podcast: The Impact Of COVID-19 On L&D with Sukh Pabial

The Learning & Development podcast is hosted by our Chief Learning Officer David James. Featuring L&D leaders from across the globe, each conversation focuses on hot topics in the profession. This transcript is from the conversation between David and Sukh Pabial on the impact of COVID-19 – and subsequent restrictions – on L&D.

Listen to episode 68 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

David James: Welcome to the Learning & Development Podcast. I’m David James from Looop. In each episode, I chat with guests about what lights them up in the world of people development. In this episode, I’m speaking with Sukh Pabial, who’s conducted some interesting research about the impact of COVID-19 on L&D. Before we get into it, if you’re enjoying this podcast, please do give us a five-star rating on your podcast app of choice, which will help others to find us. Thank you if you’ve done so already. Now, let’s get into it.

David: Sukh, welcome back to the Learning & Development Podcast.

Sukhvinder Pabial: Thank you very much.

David: I know you’ve recently undertaken some research to understand the impact of COVID-19 and its subsequent restrictions on L&D. What did this research uncover?

85% of Organisations Have Moved Their Learning Online as a Result of the Impact of COVID-19

Sukhvinder: Yes, it was a really interesting piece to have a look at. Just to give you an overview as to the sample size and what we were working with, we had about 155 people respond to the survey. The majority of those were in-house professionals, so about 73%. We had a really good geographical spread. There were at least 24 countries, mainly from the UK, and mainly from the US, that responded, but lots of other countries like Australia, New Zealand, France, India. We had some really interesting responses from right across the piece.

Some of the main things that were picked up out of that were, or rather the questions focused around, how did your delivery methods change? What did you have to do differently as a result of the impact of COVID-19? Unsurprisingly, 85% of organisations moved their learning offerings to the virtual format. I’m a bit surprised it’s not higher than that. I would have expected everyone to just make that shift. There’s a question there about what happened to the other 15% that didn’t make that shift to virtual? I reckon we’ll get into that in a bit. That’s what the overall finding is, that 85% shifted to virtual.

David: Yes, and as you say that there could be many reasons, whether that be some vendors just weren’t set up. Vendors may have responded and said, “We’re not set up actually for a virtual offering because what we offer is far more interactive” or the like, or it could be other areas that perhaps where L&D was pulled because they didn’t have the technology infrastructure. With furlough, and the fact that plenty of organisations where the whole operation is put on hold so maybe the investment wasn’t there to be had. What your thoughts on whether that was on–

Sukhvinder: Yes, I think that’s really interesting. There’s a couple of other things. I think you’re right, the impact of furlough is probably not to be laughed at. Clearly, people weren’t able to access learning in a normal way. They could still access learning, because they were still allowed to do that on the furlough scheme, but if your main way of delivering is in person and you haven’t made that shift to virtual, that’s left a huge population who just can’t access ongoing skills development or professional development in some way because the suppliers or vendors in the market haven’t been able to do that.

I think you’re right about the infrastructure piece. If again, the main focus was on, “We do things in person, and we don’t do things digitally or virtually”. It’s a big shift. It’s a huge shift then to be able to understand, “Well, how do I take that change?” I think also, partly, I reckon within the first few months of the pandemic hit in the UK from March through to probably May, there’s probably some skepticism about how long this would last for. I think many people thought, “Oh, by August, we’ll be okay.” It kind of was, but we weren’t returning back to normal either. I think there’s a couple of those things. Yes. It’s a good one to just try and unpack a bit.

David: Of course, the research wouldn’t have shown one uniform approach, perhaps more of a scale. A uniform approach as you just described was going to be everybody marching towards digital. Then, you’ve already discussed that the 15% who you said they weren’t, perhaps they were either holding out for things to return to normal or didn’t have the infrastructure or the capability to do so, but of course, there’s going to be some kind of scale. What did that scale look like in the responses that you listed?

Sukhvinder: Yes, I think it’s really interesting. We asked questions more around, “How did you have to adapt your digital learning skills and your virtual training and facilitation skills?” We separated them out in that way because, as you discuss on the podcast a lot, digital learning is different. It is a different format of providing content resources that people are very used to because of smartphones, because of apps on their phone, tablets, and computers and what have you, which is different to, “Can you deliver a one-hour virtual training session which is an engaging interactive session?”

That scale of stuff was quite interesting, where about 44% of people already had digital learning skills, which is actually more than I thought it might be. 36% already had virtual training and facilitation skills. In terms of the shift then, another 21% had to learn digital learning skills. That takes it up to about 65% of people having developed digital learning capability. Then another 49% had to learn virtual training and facilitation skills. That takes that up to about just shy of about 85% of people who developed the capability to deliver virtually and facilitate virtually as well.

I think that’s interesting. Clearly, people have recognised that this shift is significant, that they may have lacked the skills around how to do digital learning creation, content creation, as well as how to deliver virtually, because the in-person experience, delivering it virtually is a whole other thing. I think it was an interesting finding coming out from that.

More L&D Teams Have Been Reshaping Their Wellbeing Offering, Support for Managers and Support for Remote Working

Remote workspace

David: Hearing in conversations I’ve had over the last 12 months on the podcast, it’s been interesting to discuss the shift, from whether that be towards an agile mindset, which I discussed with Sarah Allen at AXA UK.

Pretty much everybody who pivoted from their existing L&D strategy or tactical plan of delivery of their content to one that was much more focused on the pressing concerns or the priorities of their organisation moving quickly to supporting people with remote working, and supporting managers with remote management, a focus on well-being, so those pivots were aligned to what was a matter of urgency being experienced by vast numbers of people, certainly it’s a contrast to what we were doing previously, which was providing programmes and content as and when it was required, but not really knowing what the urgency was and really not perhaps even recognising the urgency ourselves.

I’m sure you’ve heard on the podcast, about there being a real urgency around supporting new managers that I think that we were reluctant to fully acknowledge because we didn’t have the capacity, so us believing that if you attend at some time in the future, then it will still be of huge benefit, it didn’t really help the poor people that have been promoted into a position that they weren’t capable of. They perhaps were not fully informed of and therefore capable and so we absolved ourselves of responsibility. Then, with the same old mantras as we’ve previously done, we say, “Oh, yes, but we can’t do our job without line managers.” I’ve got my own opinion about this. I’m going to stick my ore out there.

I think “our solutions” are so insubstantial that we require so much support from elsewhere and they’re so fragile and largely ineffective that we need so much more support from others to make them a modicum of effectiveness. Whereas really, what we’ve seen in recent months is Learning & Development with a clear mandate to support an organisation and its individuals to adapt and be given a crucial role in order to provide that support. Have I been fair or unfair? Are you going to sit on the fence?

Sukhvinder: I love it. Oh, you know me. I don’t sit on the fence. I’ll get stuck into this with you. I think you’ve raised some interesting points there about the highly urgent and relevant needs that most organisations face. The key things were the very things you mentioned. How do we support people working from home when for the majority of people, they’ve never had to do that? How do we support managers in managing a remote workforce? When again, normally, you see them face to face and you don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re remote, on a full-time permanent indefinite basis, and the clear impact that there was on well-being.

Across all of those, we saw that 55% of L&D increase their well-being offering. 59% increased the support for managers and helping them to manage their remote workers, and 53% increased support for working from home and supporting people to adapt well. Some really nice strong figures there, really nice strong figures about the clear need. It was such a clear need about how to support people who were in a situation they couldn’t have known they were ever going to need to be in, and so the response was there. That’s really good to see. I think to your point of what does this say about programmes that we’ve traditionally led or designed before, I think you’re spot on.

One, did we ever really understand what the proper needs were? This is where the learning needs analysis really fails as a tool because the learning needs analysis ,even if you avoid the, “Here’s a list of things, can you choose from this?” Even if you go down the road of, “What are the things that are stuck that you need to fix?” People will just give you a shopping list. They don’t really know what’s going on. This is where other skills then become important around performance consultancy, and actually just consultation. It is just really understanding, “What’s going on for you? How can we help support that?”

Having that conversation several times over, being able to draw in what are the common themes and then what’s the specific stuff? What’s the real need that’s actually stopping you? What’s the stuff that is getting in the way of you being effective and performing well? A generic open management development programme might be needed right across the organisation, but, in and of itself, it will be ineffective because you’re not addressing the need that they have for the performance management of their team. That’s a different thing compared to, “Are we able to develop their coaching capability? Are we able to give them skills on how to have difficult conversations?”

Yes, they’re important things, but they need to be really, highly relevant in the context of what they’re trying to solve for. We’ve seen here from the last year that L&D can be responsive, and it can be highly supportive towards an organisation in making sure that it remains effective and that people are performing in a good way. I’m not convinced that we’ve had that same focus. It’s been a real focus that we’ve had in the last year.

Listen to episode 68 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

The Pandemic has Radically Shifted how we Think About L&D

David: Yes. It’s focusing on that period of adaptation. There was a burning platform, apologies for the cliche there. I think everyone would understand. There was a clear reason to pivot, to put everything else down that we were working on that perhaps wasn’t urgent, that was what we would have deemed important, but it wasn’t urgent in the context of which people are expected to perform, both individuals and managers, with the responsibilities of their teams. You capitalise on the genuine concern of people who didn’t know how to perform at that level. All of a sudden, engagement isn’t an issue, because people really do need that help.

We’re seeing a level of engagement and also a swiftness in our response. Many things that we believed about our profession that we weren’t able to address, the pressing concerns of everybody in our organisation, that we aren’t able to move quickly, that things are faster– or too expensive as well because of the way that we’ve purchased Learning & Development solutions previously, and that digital-only ever really supplemented face to face.

All of that had to go out the window. We had to suspend those beliefs and actually hustle to get real results. I think that within that hustle has been the real learning for our profession, but that leads me on to my next question because there hasn’t just been a tactical response or a switch to a different delivery mechanism. There has been an emotional response to this as well as people have identity wrapped up in what they do in Learning & Development and how they add value as well as the care and consideration they apply to their approach and their toolkit. Did that come out at all in the research?

Sukhvinder: Yes, it’s a great question. It didn’t come out directly. We didn’t really ask any questions around what was the emotional impact on how this has affected you, your thinking, the way that you’ve approached your design or anything like that. I think we’re right to look at this from an objective perspective. I think what we’ve experienced over this last year, especially with all of this shift, is particularly within the vendor space but also the consultant space as well, is you’ve got a lot of people who understand that there’s a shift that needs to happen.

The reluctance to go there has been huge, because the main efforts are around, “I deliver in person, that’s my skill set. Although I may have had to make the shift to virtual, I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it,” and it’s been a real lift and shift approach. “I’m just going to take what I did in person, I’ll just do the same thing and I’ll just do it digitally or virtually.” What we end up finding, and we hear this a lot through different means, is that it’s so ineffective because they’re not taking into account the way that we learn.

Actually, the science of learning isn’t enacted. It’s more about the performance of learning which tends to come more from the trainers and the facilitators than it does the actual research in this space.

David: What we’ve got to address there is the cult of personality. Look, I’m just going to cut straight through here. If people believe that they have what it takes for people to not just understand concepts within a training room, but to understand their applicability within their roles, transfer that and then to permanently sustain a different level of performance because of the personality and the style of the training, you’ve got to challenge that ego. It’s not true.

I’ve been in training rooms where I see the phrase on LinkedIn and I’ve heard it when learning development professionals say, “I love to see people develop,” and I always challenge that. I said, “No, no. What you’re doing is you’re seeing somebody understand a concept or relate that to their situation, you’re not watching them develop.” What we’ve done is we’ve over-egged that and I wonder whether our egos got in the way there.

A lot of what we believe about what we do in the impact that we have, even though we do caveat at the end of training sessions that nothing will happen if you don’t transfer, if you don’t make the change. Again, talking about the fragility and the ineffectiveness of a lot of what is actually delivered.

What we’ve had to do is go back to the basics and I think that fundamentally what digital gives us the opportunity to do, and what I think a lot of L&D leaders have done, is re-look at the value of Learning & Development and ask questions as to what is it that people are now expected to do during this period of enormous disruption, and how is it that L&D can help to guide and support that, and how do we then use smart technology in order to do that rather than putting the cart before the horse, which is often, “Of course, it’s going to be a programme. It’s likely to be something we’ve got already, and we can supplement that with some e-learning or some content that we’ve already got.”

I always say it’s looking for problems to solve with the solution that you bought before you understood the problem. There’s all sorts of inherent misconceptions within that. I don’t know again whether that came out in the research or your interpretation of it?

Sukhvinder: Well, in the open comments section, we had a lot of people comment on– because we asked questions around how is this going to affect the ongoing perception of L&D? A lot of people commented on things like, “It’s actually made us more relevant, because we’ve been able to provide solutions at the point of need.” People have said, “We’ve made the shift to digital because we were forced to, but it was a long time coming.” Others were saying that they’ve had to go through an upskilling programme themselves.

As awful as the pandemic has been from a health perspective, from an L&D organisation perspective, it’s been the catalyst we probably needed to radically shift how we think about L&D at all. I think that’s maybe also something that this study can really help support with, decision-making in L&D. You were talking there about the procurement side, about the programme design side of stuff, a lot of these things are steeped in old practice. I have to buy a programme. It has to look like this. The programme must be two to three days long. It has to have all of these– Hold on. What are we solving there? We’re not solving a problem. We’re just buying something so that the procurement person can say, “Yes, that looks like something that we can sign off on,” as opposed to, “Wait, there’s discovery that needs to happen. There’s genuine understanding and a real need here at play.”

Coming back to the thing around the agile methodology, how do we take an iterative approach to design thinking and to product development because that’s where solutions come from? It’s not a typical approach. I think this also gets a light shone in a very uncomfortable way for a lot of people in that, “I have this solution. Can I come and sell it into your organisation?” Yes, you probably can try, but if it’s not solving a real problem, then why would I buy it?

I think this is a problem of many vendors in the space at the minute, particularly vendors for, not the tech solutions necessarily, that’s a whole other thing, more so on the people development side of stuff is, you’ve got many players in the market. What they’re doing is they’re developing their own version of whatever the programme is, thinking it’s got some value to it. It probably does in some way, but does it solve the organisational need? That’s a whole other question because the organisational need is often about a system and what L&D aren’t often tackling is we’re not tackling the system, we’re just tackling, “Oh, you’ve got a management development requirement. I’ve got a programme for you.”

As opposed to, “What is the system of management in the organisation and how are we enabling our managers to do things in a great way, independent of L&D, independent of HR, that they can get on and do it themselves?” That’s not even L&D– It is L&D, but it’s not typical traditional L&D, it’s where we need to move towards. That’s where I think some of the research that we’ve been carrying out, to really start to drive some of that. It gives an impetus to be able to say, “Yes, we should have made the shift a long time ago. We’ve got data now to be able to support why we should make that shift and what we can potentially achieve.”

Organisations Will Shift to More Modern Ways of Practice But Many Will Still be Stuck Holding Onto Traditional Ways of Delivery

Modern vs traditional thinking

David: As you said earlier, people say that this has allowed them to make the shift that they wanted to make previously, I suppose, both from an efficacy perspective in their organisation, but also from a professional capability perspective for them as individuals. Now, I’m going to ask you, Sukh, to stand on that term, that research, and offer us an opinion, because I’d like to know what you think about how L&D will permanently change as a result of COVID, and both the restrictions placed on us as professionals and the expectations of those we work for and support in our organisations.

Sukhvinder: I love the question. I don’t think L&D is going to change radically. I think we are guilty of holding onto traditional ways of delivery. We’re still experiencing that now. Even though we’ve just gone through all this with how we’ve had to shift to digital and virtual, and that there’s better ways to be able to think. I think once the restrictions are lifted, there are going to be a whole load of very happy trainers and facilitators out there and consultants saying, “Let’s get back into that classroom environment because that’s where I do my best work. We can bring people together.” It’s going back to old practice.

I think we’re going to have a real problem there in trying to shift that. At the same time, you’re going to have business leaders and managers who are also going to be thinking the same thing. “We can now come back into the office, which means we can bring people back together in a meeting room. Let’s get some training going because that’s where we know we can, or we think we add value to our teams. We give them engagement. We give them investment and we do that by bringing them into a place.”

I’m unconvinced that we are going to see large-scale change. I think that there is going to be some, and we probably have seen some of that already. I think there are some organisations who will take this in a very positive way, and they’ll really grab it by the horns and completely look at how are they delivering digitally? How are they doing things in a way which helps people at the point of need as opposed to a schedule on a calendar somewhere? I think the other main problem we’re going to be facing is vendors who are still focused on event-based learning. Even if quite a lot of vendors have had to shift from being in-person to virtual, pretty much all of the solutions are still, “I can deliver a workshop for you. I can deliver a webinar for you.” That’s still a schedule. It’s still a calendar of events.

As opposed to, “Here’s the content that we can make available,” and pathways of learning, or curriculums of learning, or wherever it needs to be, however we phrase it. I’m not convinced that we’re going to see such a shift to more modern ways of practice. I think that once the restrictions come and we can get back into regular living, wherever that starts to look like, we’re going to see just a return back to old practice. I would hate to see a return to the much old practice.

I think some of this also, what we haven’t done is we haven’t really questioned what’s the purpose of the different things that we do? When we bring people together, why do we bring people together? What do people do incredibly well when they’re brought back together? How can people learn digitally in a really powerful way? How does development happen in the organisation when you’re not driving that development? There’s some fundamental questions there, which I don’t think we’ve really been answering over this whole period.

David: I think you’ve got a point. The lure of getting things back to normal, the expectations of stakeholders and employees, the clamor to get people together, and L&D’s inability to truly analyse, or unwillingness to truly analyse performance and their inability to challenge will lead down that path. It’s so funny. This is an old trope, the old, “We want a seat at the table,” but we are completely incapable of having a conversation about outcomes with our stakeholders in a way that will help them to achieve the outcomes that they’re looking for. It’s much more around, “Yes, we can provide that thing that you’ve just asked me for.” Of course, that’s administration. That’s not strategic leadership.

You don’t invite your administrators to the board table. They might take some notes and they might help with some coordination, but they certainly aren’t there to help influence decisions where decisions are made. I think that, personally, there will be change, but that the change is happening on the edges. I think that those L&D leaders who have grasped the mantle and have seen this as an opportunity to now bring about real change in their organisation, to help people with what the real priorities are, that had their voices heard where they could make a critical difference, are still there and will stay there.

I also think that there are people who are, on the vendor side, who have looked at this and have seen the opportunity beyond what’s usually delivered, beyond the engaging, interactive e-learning that people of the same mind can’t possibly resist because it’s so entertaining. All of that rubbish, I think has been challenged on a fundamental level because of being left to their own devices and not given any other training as an option. A lot of that stuff is still ignored because it doesn’t solve the problem. It still treats adults like children and that all they need is flashing lights, something entertaining in order to distract them long enough.

Then going back to what you were saying before. Once we’ve got their attention, we use pseudoscience to pedal beliefs or exacerbate beliefs that we have around our ability to transform behavior and sustain that over a period of time, which of course is mythology rather than too much else. On the edges, there are people looking and thinking, we’ve only got to look at what Microsoft are doing with Viva and saying, ‘We’ve got to integrate learning into work. This is going to happen where this is at work.”

Of course, where we’ve been with Looop for quite some time, about eradicating the administration of a lot of Learning & Development, to automate it so that you can get closer, faster, and smarter to the work and the concerns that people are having. All of this is happening along the edges, while everyone else is going paper over the cracks, which is it’s boom time for LMSs and LXPs and content providers because that’s all you’ve got. Because without analysis, anything will do, but I think that we will see a rise and it will come from the edges.

My own personal view is unless L&D are investing in their own digital capability, then either smart technology will replace a lot of those roles, or a new skill set is going to be expected and brought into Learning & Development, which I’m seeing a lot, and replacing the old skill sets because regardless of the investment, we just can’t prove the effectiveness of what is delivered and offered.

Sukhvinder: I think it’s a really nice bit of thinking there from you. Just to highlight that with an example, if I look at MURAL and/or Miro as digital tools, these are really, really great digital collaboration tools which allow for asynchronous working and synchronous working. People can work on things at the same time, or they can work on things independently of each other, developed for collaborative purposes, not developed by L&D. These aren’t L&D products but what they’ve really highlighted is that you can bring people together in a virtual format and have a really great collaborative designing experience.

Traditionally, people would say, “I have to have them in a room to do that, though. You have to be able to use the wall. I’ve got to have my post-its up, I’ve got up my posters. They’re going to have their pens out. We’re going to do all sorts of really great interactive stuff.” Digitally, it’s all there, and these tools are incredibly powerful.

What it does though, I think this comes to the pseudoscience thing, it highlights that the skills of many in the L&D space are still focused on, like you say, it’s the ego stuff. “If I’m not the one who’s driving that development or that kind of collaborative experience then I’m going to lose my job.” I don’t think that’s the right equation. There’s tools and things being developed out there, which are already in play. We don’t have to wait for the new technology to come around. We can make really good use of the tech that is already available.

Listen to episode 68 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

L&D Needs to be Equipped to Deliver the Skills of the Future

David: I’d like to get your opinion there, Sukh, if we extrapolate this out beyond the end of restrictions and the impact of COVID. The UK Industrial Skills Council report on the skills gap and the match of the skills required in the workplace in 2030. Considering I had a long conversation with Simon Gibson on the podcast a few episodes back. It’s believed now that 80% of the workforce for 2030 are already in the workforce right now and we already see a skills gap, but there’s going to be a real urgency and a palpable deficit in skills around basics of digital, around leadership and management, around STEM.

Surprisingly, or not unsurprisingly, in teaching and training, it’s believed that there is going to be a deficit of around 800,000 people. Now, there is a massive difference between teaching and training. You might look at some corporate classrooms and not think that there is, but the role of teaching isn’t to prepare people for work. This has been an ongoing conversation for many, many years, but academia isn’t preparing people for work. They’re preparing people for life.

The role lands with Learning & Development, or not, if Learning & Development still want to palm it off to anybody else because of the fragility of the way that we’d like to deliver our solutions. Anyway, it’s a different bugbear. There is a deficit in Learning & Development, and that will grow because it is deemed that our profession is not equipped to close that skills gap. It does build on what we’ve been talking about here. Especially if L&D are drawn more to returning to old ways without challenge. What are your thoughts?

Sukhvinder: One, that’s a brutal outlook. It is in your face, L&D are not equipped to deliver the skills of the future. That is brutal because that really does call into question, “What is the value of all of these programmes that we’re putting out there?” The leadership and management market right now is already worth a ridiculous amount of money.

David: We’re talking hundreds of billions.

Sukhvinder: Yes. Just to think about the numbers there are just phenomenal. When I hear about how business schools are charging for their academics to do a standard one-week normal delivery, nine to five, five days a week, and they’re not doing anything to up-skill. It’s just delivery of content. It really calls into question some important stuff about how does L&D understand what skills are meant to look like in respect of productivity?

I don’t think we really understand productivity. I don’t think we really understand what skills development of the future looks like. To the point around STEM and digital, we know that they are underdeveloped skills and there’s a huge need for them in the next 10 years. What’s L&D’s role in that? Potentially to bring an organisation to that space and say, “How are we as an organisation going to take leadership in this space? “

There are very good ways to do that. Years gone by, it used to be through the apprenticeship schemes that you would bring in a whole new raft of people and grow them through the organisation. We know that these days, apprenticeships are less and less. They’re just not a big factor. We know that the Apprenticeship Levy, as I know Simon and you spoke about previously, is a hugely under-utilised space. It’s a bad programme. It’s not an easy one to make good use of.

Outside of that though, I think the opportunity for L&D is huge, but we really need to understand what it means to develop skills because it’s not the traditional stuff that we’re used to. It’s not about programmes of three days, four days, or what have you. It’s proper long-term-development-based thinking. We let go of that a long time ago. I don’t know if we ever were there actually. I think more so the apprenticeship providers were probably better in that space than we’ve been.

It’s a really interesting one, and I think back to, I used to do work on behalf of Ford Motor Company. They would have a raft of apprentices come through 80 to 100 a year. That was low for them. This was in the mid-2008, 2007 period. In their height, they were having hundreds of apprentices coming through programmes for them in the manufacturing space. In today’s space, I couldn’t even tell you what numbers we would need in order to be able to get to that level of digital upskilling, STEM requirements that we need within the organisations. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We really have.

David: I think what’s important knowledge as well is to acknowledge what’s got us into this mess. Things have changed and to acknowledge that the pace of change in business with technology, with everything, has been exponential in the last 10 years, but it’s going to get faster in the next 10. If we look and see what’s got us here with this skills deficit, it’s an over-reliance on programmatic and event-based learning, and also silver bullets systems, we fill with a lot of content, whether it’s tagged or not. What this comes down to is if we’re buying solutions without fully understanding the problems and the context in which people are expected to perform and where their roles are actually going, then we will find ourselves in a worse position.

What I mean by that is L&D will be in a worse position. Business will move forward without us. I think that this is where we leave ourselves open to disruption because the smarter the technology gets in order to help to understand what it is that people are trying to do, and help to plug that gap, not with generic solutions, but there’s software out there now that can write bespoke content that pulls information from a lot of different sources, so we are not far from AI running the show for us, then you’ve got to take a look and see what the value is.

I think there’s every opportunity that L&D will find themselves without a seat, not just the seat at the table, without a seat in an organisation and wonder how that passed them by. I think it is because they still expected to transform organisations 12 people at a time, or even one hour at a time, because they were far more obsessed with delivery and content, that they completely didn’t look at performance and results.

Sukhvinder: I’m completely with you on this. We’ve got a lot of learning to do in this space on how do we upskill ourselves so that we can better understand what are the products and services that an organisation is developing? How do we enable the organisation to do that better? That’s a different question to what are your learning needs, and how do we deliver on those? The day-to-day stuff are the products and services that people are invested in, the day-to-day stuff is not the learning needs stuff. That’s a meta-level of stuff, which most people just aren’t even bothered about.

Then the skill set required to do this. We’ve got the education frameworks to be able to help us. We’re just not taking advantage of them. I think that’s the problem. We’re very focused on, “I’m skilled in what I do. I don’t need to worry about what other skill sets need to be looked at.” For example, coding as an example is going to be more of a thing. Most of us in this space will need to have at least some understanding of what is the capability of coding, if not how to do coding itself because that’s just the way that the world is– We’re already there.

Several years ago, when Apple decided to let go of one of their biggest contractors, who were 60,000+ coders or engineers, that’s a huge signal as to where was the skill set already needed? What are we doing in this space? We’re delivering programmes on how to improve your communication skills and how to be more assertive. Yes, they’re good to have, but they’re not the key skills that people need to be able to be more productive.

There’s a Huge Opportunity for L&D to Have Business Conversations That Fall Outside the Bounds of Learning

David: As we look to wrap up, Sukh, I’d hate for anybody to come to the end of this and think that we’re just doom-mongering because I do still think that what people should take a look at here is that there is a huge opportunity. L&D isn’t being supplanted right now.

If we carry on the way that we are, and the skill gap continues to increase, there’s absolutely no chance that people are going to be looking and thinking, “That’s the function that’s going to turn this problem around.” But there is an opportunity if we’re willing to take it. What advice would you give to the listener if perhaps they’re a little unsettled by the conversation we’ve just had but believe that there’s cause for optimism, what advice would you give?

Sukhvinder: It’s a good question, and I apologise for the stuttering there. I think one of the things that we don’t do often enough is just talk to our own business leaders. There are people already in the organisation who will be able to point you towards, “This is what we need to do.” If you are looking to develop more understanding of, “What are the actual needs of the organisation?” Talk to people who are already there. They can tell you readily what their problems are. You don’t have to go on a course, you don’t have to go on a programme, you don’t have to go through some deep up-skilling in these areas.

Honestly, it’s just about going to the marketing director and saying, “What’s your plan for the next year? How are we going to bring people to this organisation and what are we selling to them? What can we do more in that space?” Go to your product leaders or the service leaders and say, “What are your challenges over the next year? How are you planning on using the workforce to get through that? What is it that you need from me and L&D to be able to help you to achieve that?” These are ready conversations that you can have, tomorrow, the day after, and they will yield such insight that you’ll automatically find yourself involved in a different level of conversation.

Then, there are programmes out there to help you to think about, “If I want to go through professional development,” seek them out. There’s some good stuff out there about performance consulting, about business partnering. Go learn about those types of skills because they are good skills to have.

David: Yes, have business conversations, and don’t be afraid to have conversations that fall outside the bounds of learning, that are far more into the gritty day-to-day of what it is that people are expected to do. Stay close to where people are expected to adapt. Capitalise on genuine concern rather than necessarily trying to generate it. Thanks very much, Sukh. If people wish to follow your work or connect with you, how can they do so?

Sukhvinder: Happy for anyone to do that. You can find me on LinkedIn, Sukhvinder Pabial. You can hit me up on my website,, or you can catch me over on Twitter, @sukhpabial.

David: Wonderful. We’ll put the links in the show notes. All that’s left for me to say is thank you very much, Sukh, for being a guest on The Learning & Development Podcast.

Sukhvinder: Thank you for having me back. Appreciate it.

David: It seems our profession’s made progress in incredibly challenging circumstances in recent months, but that the lure of events over outcomes may be just around the corner. Let’s stay mindful of conversations we need to have around performance and results before seeking solutions. Whether that be back in classrooms, or with the next shiny new platform, there will be no substitute for developing our own capability where we go. If you’d like to get in touch with me, perhaps to suggest topics you’d like to hear discussed, you can tweet me @DavidInLearning and connect on LinkedIn, for which you’ll find the links in the show notes. Goodbye for now.

Listen to episode 68 of the Learning & Development podcast here or book a free demo to find out more about the future of L&D.

About Sukh Pabial

Sukhvinder (Sukh) Pabial is a senior Learning & Organisational Development leader who, as CLO of Challenging Frontiers, actively works to progress the thinking and practice of L&D. Sukh’s interests lie in L&D strategy and consultation, innovation in business, positive psychology and emotional intelligence.

Sukh is an occupational psychologist by education, and has extensively studied the fields of positive psychology and emotional intelligence.

Connect with Sukh on Twitter and LinkedIn

Connect with David on LinkedIn and Twitter

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