Peter Thomas, executive director at the Leasing Foundation, gives an overview of new technologies that will impact the leasing industry. This month’s focus is learning and development
“Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.” SJ Perelman, US author
In this special column, I explore one of the most important issues facing the asset finance industry – learning and development (L&D).
The importance of learning
As Thomas Piketty, in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, says: “Knowledge and skill diffusion is the key to overall productivity growth.”
Piketty is talking about the role of knowledge in global inequality but the observation is equally relevant to individuals and companies.
Learning is an important – arguably the most important – issue facing companies in any industry today. The ability to attract, develop and retain people depends on effective L&D, both for companies and whole industries. Industries that facilitate effective learning thrive; those that do not, decline.
Most industries – and asset finance is no different – are just getting to grips with the nature of modern L&D. Despite huge investments in L&D by many of the larger players in either technology or spend with providers – the corporate training and development market is worth tens of billions of dollars globally – one has to argue that it is not showing results.
What is needed is a strategically focused, whole-of-industry approach that will support companies in delivering modern, flexible, world-class learning experiences. Instead, sadly, what we have is a disconnected landscape of often outdated, inflexibly delivered content that exists independently of the modern professional’s evolving learning journey.
What can we do about this? Is it possible to achieve the transformation required? At what cost and on what timescale? Who should do it? And would the outcome be?
Learning to engage
We have recognise the pressing need for change. Study after study tells us that levels of employee engagement are falling.
This is a problem not just for older workers but for those now entering the industry – the millennials who are coming into asset finance in significant numbers. These employees will not be engaged by offering the usual benefits – salary, perks or flexible workplaces, although these are still important – but by providing learning and challenge. Studies of millennials in the workplace say that career development and learning are two times more important than benefits or salary in choosing who to work for – and who to stay working for.
We also need to recognise that a better understanding, and adoption of, technology is needed. Previous columns in this series have looked at technologies that can transform the industry and how hard it is to make sense of new developments.
L&D is now technology-driven: xAPI (software that allows learning systems to speak to each other and track learning experiences); LMS (platforms for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of learning); learning analytics (the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners, context and progress); and video (especially short-form streaming video content) are all based on digital technology.
Providers like Khan Academy, Udacity, Udemy and Coursera all have these technologies at the centre of their products. Unless we get to grips with this technology, transformation on any scale in the necessary timescale is impossible.
The learning journey
It is also essential to understand, map and help facilitate the new learning journey needed by industry professionals.
The term ‘learning journey’ itself marks a step change in our understanding of modern learning – away from the traditional ‘attend a course’ mentality that drives most industry learning, and towards a more sophisticated approach that encompasses formal and informal learning, discovery-based empowered learning that guides learners to proactively seek learning experiences, and collaborative learning that recognises that people often learn better together than alone.
No longer is learning one person reading a book – or a webpage or content in an app – and taking that knowledge and applying it to a problem: A large of range of people and resources can be brought to bear in an effective learning journey.
The role of mentors – supportive, critical, engaged and often more experienced professionals – in learning is especially important. Research tells us that millennials especially value working with mentors – Salesforce says 96% of young future leaders who have mentors are promoted in 18 months – so engagement with mentors is especially important for them.
More broadly though, we need to create what might be called an ‘architecture for learning’, that brings together technology, a strategic view of learning, and carefully developed and curated content that can deliver learning that is tied to the workplace and can be done flexibly – untethered from PDFs, course meeting rooms and monitors.
To appreciate the nature of what this architecture looks like, we can drill down into one example: the role of video in learning.
Videos have always been used in learning – I remember at primary school the single TV being wheeled out so we could watch the BBC – but videos are mostly too long, too boring and do not engage learners effectively.
Instead, as Craig Weiss, CEO of E-Learning 24/7, says: “I expect that people will create 90-120-second videos as their course.” This micro-learning taps into the increasingly short attentional window of the mobile generation, often summarised as TL;DR (too long; didn’t read). Learners will more readily adopt this type of learning, retain more knowledge and make better connections with their existing knowledge if content is delivered in very short bursts.
But this requires a different approach to the development of short-form video content, the platform through which it is delivered – overwhelmingly, a mobile device – a recognition of the different windows in which learning can be done (on the train, between meetings, during a conference call), and that learners will ask questions, often using messaging apps, about what they are learning. All this needs to be set in the context of possible configurations of the learning journey, and what can enable and support it.
Modern learning and development: a key challenge for the asset finance industry
Many companies in the industry see the scale of the challenge, and are making progress. Sally Parker-Palmer, head of L&D at Bibby Financial Services for example, has a clear focus on learning journey for Bibby’s people and understands and works with new technologies, but is frustrated by the lack of a whole-of-industry approach that would benefit both Bibby and the wider asset finance industry.
That is why, over the coming months, The Leasing Foundation is starting the design process for a learning architecture in the form of what we are calling the Certified Asset Finance Professional.
What we have learned – and talked about since the foundation’s first education consultation that led to the Leasing Foundation Future Leaders programme and the MA in Leasing and Asset Finance – is that what people learn needs to be set in the context of a learning journey, and that this journey should be visible and externally recognised.
The Certified Asset Finance Professional is a way of allowing industry professionals to surface their formal and informal learning experiences as a personal journey – whether they are learning on company-internal courses, industry-based courses, programmes like the MA, or informal learning experiences and contributions to industry development – through a transparent, flexible and evolving industry-led framework.
Those who see value in becoming a Certified Asset Finance Professional will be able to apply to have their qualifications, experience and broader learning recognised and be given guidance on a possible future learning journey.
The programme will be transparently designed with the involvement of companies and professionals in the industry, and managed by The Leasing Foundation on behalf of the industry. As the programme gains recognition, we will be able to diffuse new approaches to learning, new technologies and new kinds of content into the industry and so deliver the much-needed transformation.
The Certified Asset Finance Professional programme is now entering its first stage of design with the aim of a launch in 2018. If you, or your company, are interested in playing a part in what we think will be a powerful engine of industry change, please contact me.