National Retraining Scheme: The government calling out L&D departments as failures?

I think I’d somehow missed the news regarding the National Retraining Scheme (NRS) until today.

Some further info links and my own initial thoughts quickly thrown together below:

There’s a lot to like in this, not least that a Conservative government is working with Trade Unions on such a thing.  However, previous cuts to funding are obviously part of the issue but this scheme, as an investigation of alternative models, feels like it deserves to be given a chance.  Indeed Labour’s plans for a “National Education Service” would presumably supersede this if the government changes but shares some common ideology.

A worry would be that government agendas risk further muddying the waters by making personal improvement akin to getting your bins emptied and other services, i.e. “the government should do it” rather than encouraging people to consider this themselves.  Of course, this has always been a problem and the decline of traditional manufacturing left many areas of the country with skilled labour that needed to move, re-skill or face unemployment.  Similarly this article in the FE press states an issue that has effectively existed ever since schools were created, my view here would be to advocate for apprenticeships and on-the-job learning (ironically apprentice adoption currently being damaged by the 20% off-the-job rules):

what really is a first world problem is the number of people who have been completely put off any type of learning by the time they leave school.

However, the whole scheme also poses more ‘noise’ along with T-levels, apprenticeships and the rest.  Therefore, careers and personal development advice becomes increasingly important, and messy, in this environment – the simplification of polytechnics in 1992 being rolled back somewhat into more complex ‘streams’ of people.

Considering the domination of the universities, especially since ’92, it is nice to see something being done specifically for those without a degree.  However, this counters the logic in the apprenticeship reforms, namely that those with a degree can now reskill via apprenticeships but not via the NRS.

The TES article points out “that [perceptions the] learning isn’t relevant” will be a barrier.  As most L&D departments will attest learning will only stick if the learner has opportunity to put the material into practice – therefore there is a real risk of NRS supporting people for roles that should be available but are quite possibly not.  As the article says, “employer engagement is key” – or, in other words, the employers really ought to be on top of this but the government are aware of potential rising unemployment, decreasing disposable incomes and a general failure of organisations to train and retain.

The often ignored realities of talent management (#5): Succession planning is *actually* important (aka – lessons from the Conservatives)

Like a lot of people I suspect, I’m finding myself tweeting and blogging more about political topics than I ever suspected I would. My tweet this morning:

was less about Boris or the Conservative Party or even the ridiculous idea of ‘family values’ and more about how, in less than a decade, we have seen the media totally shift from a values based approach when it comes to the suitability of a politician to be UK Prime Minister.

Concepts such as those tied up in the attacks on Miliband (values, personality, etc) will be all too familiar to those who work in organisations – especially for those who work directly in organisational design, talent and learning roles.

The argument I’d like to make here is that since 2016 we have seen, through the office of Prime Minister but particularity from the Conservative and Unionist Party (as the pipeline for PMs), a total failure of organisational design. Now, in many ways, Labour has of course been suffering the same problems, with failed bids to change the leader. Therefore, this can be seen as an example of how dysfunctional organisations (in this case political parties) can be without clear talent management.

Those who are anti-Cameron, anti-Johnson, anti-May, anti-Corbyn, etc. would of course like to shine the light on leadership and say (from a classical business studies perspective) that none of these people have sufficiently engaged their organisations, they did (or have) not bring people along through change management, etc. There have been some very good articles written on what this means for leadership in Britain, for example see this 2016 article from the New Yorker that almost entirely still applies. However, rather than leadership, I’d say the ultimate issue here is succession planning. These organisations have been allowed to lurch between extremes (such as between the left v right of parties or between different personality types). At the same time both Labour and the Conservatives have grown in terms of membership, albeit after massive drops in the 90s and 00s (as a % of voting population anyway). In effect we’ve seen the classic industry issue, a dilution of values and behaviours as organisations have changed, grown and splintered.

Look back at the 2016 leadership ‘campaign’ and it is bizarre that Boris Johnson seems to have got support from basically quitting and refusing to work with PM May. In other words, he’s now the best candidate because they’ve gone down the route of isolating any ‘remain’ elements in the party and positioning himself as internal opposition. His behaviour in an organisational context would be seen as toxic. Yet he is now supported by the same MPs who in 2016 “wouldn’t back Johnson without Gove alongside him” and who “suddenly…weren’t answering their phones or had turned them off” when Gove ‘switched’. Now Boris is seen as the ‘best of a bad bunch’ by many, if only because he is entertaining. Indeed Michael Gove really needs reminding that in 2016 he kept saying that he didn’t want to be PM, so why does he keep going for it?.

In the quarrels between Blair and Brown, the abandonment of high office by Cameron and Osborne and now the ‘internal opposition’ of Boris taking over from May we’ve seen these organisations fail with transitions. Whatever happens in the next few weeks there is a desperate need for parties to groom potential leaders better but also to cast the net beyond the ‘Westminster bubble’ so increasingly distrusted by voters. While Cameron had a long ‘apprenticeship’, serving under leaders such as Michael Howard, you suspect the two main political parties need to be much smarter if they are to survive.

So, the next time you think ‘succession planning’ is boring, too hard or just impossible (because, for example, the market changes too often or people move in and out too much to manage) just think how much of a mess your organisation could be in with no talent pipeline and no retention of organisational knowledge. Then invest in talent and knowledge management and rejoice!

Do we just have to accept there is no going back ‘to the good old days’?

On many metrics the UK has flat-lined since the 2008 financial crisis, with arguably worse to come.

This week London and other cities have seen major protests from environmentalists.  So, do we have to accept that with climate change and other socio-economic crisis there is simply no return to the optimism of the millennium?

As an 80s child I perhaps feel this stronger than other age groups – having grown up in the mostly optimistic 90s with Cool Britannia, the end of the cold war, “things can only get better” and general optimism (even encyclopedia’s were optimistic bits of fun).  Yes, we had Captain Planet, Ferngully and other media warning us of the dangers of the future but overall I suspect there was far more cultural positivity than for those growing up now.  Current school kids have been globally connected from birth yet are seeing trade wars, cold (and hot) wars, migration crises and other threats to subdue their futures.

The Iraq War increasingly feels like the political turning point that was reinforced by the ‘credit crunch’.

If the future is indeed going to be bleaker then I suspect we need to relearn to ‘make do and mend’ – in this context I’ve recently been reading a lot about Jughad design.  I’m pretty sure this concept was new to me – although it has been used in the west for at least 20 years and there are a variety of books and articles on its application away from the Indian subcontinent.

At the same time we have to remember we have come along way and their are reasons for optimism – for that I would recommend the book Abundance that I have recently finished reading.

The support staff role (again): considering the library role (again)

At a minimum, learners and teachers should collaborate with librarians to design the places, collections and services of the library.

Planning with the entire community helps to make the library a welcoming, active space for learning, research, and reflection…

It is important that librarians do not find themselves undervalued or isolated from the school community, which can happen if the system is not designed to play an active role in energizing the curriculum. Librarians should be included in planning, teaching and learning to the greatest effect, rather than being “the last people to know” what is going on in the school.

Ideal libraries: A guide for schools (International Baccalaureate)

Consider the six roles the IB has identified as archetypes of modern librarian role. Then compare L&D’s re-visioning for 70/20/10 and other changes. Here we have traditional support roles desperate for ‘a place at the top table’ as I’ve discussed before.

Added later: After working in the library area again for the first time in a while it really strikes me how much of the library discourse in on rules, regulations, security, etc. This is in part why I looked to move away from libraries originally, that the focus is too often not on the actual outcomes – in academic libraries that learning and research actually happens! In some ways this is comparable to L&D – with both having to wear more hats than they would have traditionally:

I’ve learned a lot for my current role from an excellent couple of networking groups (one a Facebook group the other a more formal site using their own version of Moodle). Neither of these sites are provided by my organisation or an L&D team, these are prime examples of informal Personal Learning Networks contributing to performance. They are point of need Q&A channels beyond what any bot could provide – as they offer advice and ideas from outside of your organisation – a combination of “how do others do this” and “help please!” Often when we think about the support services we provide we think we can do this via support resources, often we simply have no access to the people our people really need – peers outside the organisation.

What every Learning and Development professional needs to know about the International Baccalaureate (IB)

Having just recently started to work on IB programmes I have been really impressed, from a learning design perspective, with the intentions of the IB Middle Years (UK equivalent up-to GCSE) and Diploma (UK 6th form/A-Levels) qualifications.

A lot of what I have found interesting I’m going to share here – particularly for a Learning and Development (L&D) audience – as the growth of the IB has not really been recognised in my experience of the L&D profession. This might be as the IB has been historically ‘niche’ and for wealthy children in certain hubs of international business. However, there has been considerable growth in IB Schools since the year 2000 (see these slides for example). As these programmes grow in popularity (which is likely to continue with increasing globalisation) there will be potential implications in how we (companies and particularly L&D teams) encourage people to develop in the workplace…

Some Background:

IB mission statement

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

The IB Learner Profile

The IB includes a ‘learner profile’, akin to the kind of attribute/value set most L&D teams will be reinforcing at organisational levels. The profile aims to develop learners who are:

  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective

Approaches to teaching and learning (ATL)

Perhaps more directly related to learning (and development) are the ATL. These are quite complex and have become increasingly important of late (see this blog for more). In many ways the ATL and learner profile encourage the kind of reflection and self-directed, lifelong, learning that L&D teams have long pushed for. The challenge for IB teachers with the ATL can seem similar to concerns L&D has faced, as Dianne McKenzie puts it on that blog post:

Why is…[embedding the ATL] such a hard thing? Is it because it has never been a priority? Is it because content has been king, with good pedagogy and skills coming in as the poor cousin?

http://librarygrits.blogspot.com/2015/05/repackaging-skills.html

As well as my previous experience in workplace learning these issues also ring a lot of bells for those who work in higher education. Indeed skills over content was a focus of an undergraduate module I supported and presented on a while back – yet Higher Education continues to be criticised as not fit for purpose by employers and other groups.

Similarly the Ways of Knowing and wider Theory of Knowledge attempts to install what feels like a detailed consideration of learning in students (and their educators):

language
sense perception
emotion
reason
imagination
faith
intuition
memory

Ways of Knowing

At what stage to develop all of this?

Personally, I suspect I’m not alone in getting to some of this level of self-understanding (around attributes like those in the learner profile) later than the IB age range at university and beyond. Indeed a recent alumni newsletter from one of my universities summed this up nicely:

My time at university taught me that your rewards are directly proportional to the effort you put in during your studies…
have a commitment to lifelong learning – never stop reading and actively keep up-to-date with your industry, following any changes and innovations.

Richard Robinson … Managing Director of holiday villa specialist, Sun-hat Villas & Resorts

The suggestion from the IB would seem to be that successful programmes would bring this through to school levels.

Therefore as well as L&D teams, university instructional design would do well to treat IB undergrads differently. The extensive Extended Essay research project of the diploma, for example, teaches many of the skills that libraries and universities spend time on in the first year of study.

So what might IB graduates expect of L&D teams?

If IB graduates are truly reflective, they should soon realise that ‘learning is work and work is learning’. So how might the IB graduates of the future understand the role of L&D if they are (even more than people in the past) used to managing their own learning?

Well, the IB’s definition of the school library is not far removed from L&D’s desire to shift to multi-modal facilitation of performance improvement:

The IB definition of a library is designed to focus on maximising its effectiveness: “Libraries” are combinations of people, places, collections and services that aid and extend learning and teaching.

Ideal libraries: A guide for schools (International Baccalaureate)

Indeed the role of the IB library is to support many areas that L&D professionals talk about for the workplace:

1. Curating

2. Caretaking

3. Catalyzing

4. Connecting

5. Co-creating

6. Challenging

7. +1 Catering

Six practices that energize learning and inquiry, and one that tends not to (from ‘Ideal libraries’).

All of the above will sound similar to the role L&D performs in many organisations, or at least try to carve out for themselves. Indeed the +1 to avoid (Catering) relates to just doing what the organisation wishes – or the classic, much maligned, L&D ‘order taker’.

The IB programmes also encourage inquiry within students in a number of ways that L&D pros often discuss as things they try to facilitate (with mixed success) in adults:

Social and emotional learning: relating to the growth and personal development of learners, and by extension the school community.

Service learning: relating to the knowledge and wisdom gained through serving the community.

Experiential learning: relating to what is learned through experience, experimentation, and reflection upon both (specific to the Diploma Programme [DP]).

Play: relating to the use of different forms of play and games, and reflection on the process and outcomes of them (specific to the Primary Years Programme [PYP]).

Ideal libraries (again).

With regards to the above, the IB’s Ideal Libraries report considers the resource centre as a form of conduit for learning, relating to the above forms of learning in addition to the dreaded (in some L&D circles) c-word – no, not that one…this:

Curriculum: relating directly to the content teachers are responsible to facilitate, and for students to learn. Research is a form of inquiry, and commonly associated with the curriculum.

Ideal libraries (again).

Therefore, an IB graduate might actually be more demanding of L&D than a ‘traditional’ school/university graduate as they are used to personalised support and facilitation of their own development from others (primarily teachers and ‘librarians’) whilst exposed directly to learning theory and concepts in ways others may not have been.