Learning and Development(L&D) is a niche area, which requires a different skill set than what is required to be a typical HR professional.
Becoming an L&D professional should be a carefully thought out career decision. From my extensive experience as an Associate L&OD Director at Mindtree, let me shed light into the common questions that most people have regarding this domain.
L&D Careers – Options & Opportunities
Qualifications Required For An L&D
Qualification is the wrong word to use. I would say the word skill set would be more appropriate when you talk about what can progress an L&D’s career. I’m not a major propagator of qualifications. So from a skill standpoint, one of the key differentiating factors is that in L&D domain, the learning agility is very high. I use the term learning agility here to denote quick learning, ability to grasp different topics, the ability to think design. Creativity and ability to connect with audience across age groups and profession. They also need to be very quick in terms of understanding content, and making sense out of it.
Different Opportunities For L&D Professionals
There is an equal amount of opportunities for L&D professionals, be in the IT, non IT, product-based or service-based companies. If you are comparing the difference between IT vs Non IT companies, the key difference is that L&D professionals in the IT companies are more comfortable in using and leveraging technology to meet their objectives. In terms of knowledge, both are equally equipped.
The growth trajectory for L&D professionals are the same in both product-based companies and service-based companies. What happens is that in service-based companies, the focus is much higher in terms of putting learning processes and systems in place. Whereas in product based companies, the focus is more on profitability, business and things like that.
How Can L&D Become A Business Enabling Function
L&D can surely move up in the value chain and become a business enabling function. This is because today knowledge has become a commodity. Everybody’s offering courses. But, what are the right courses? How will you identify the right course provider? As technology is changing at a very fast pace, if you know just one technology, it will not help you sustain for five years. So, there is also a need for you to upgrade yourself very quickly. Now, there may be multiple channels to upgrade yourself, but you need the right authentic channel to upgrade a certain skill and somebody has to guide you the right direction. This is one of the reasons L&D is definitely moving up the value chain in terms of driving a business strategy because L&D is about skilling talent to run the business.
The Impact Of Technology On L&D
L&D domain has undergone a lot of changes with the emergence of new technologies like artificial intelligence, IoT, machine learning and the like. Gamification of learning, simulation based learning are some new innovations that we can see today. There are other numerous ways in which technology has entered L&D. A common example is the way information is readily available at our fingertips today. For instance, If I really want to know what are the best ways of conducting a team meeting, I can just go through a few YouTube videos, and immediately get equipped. Technology has made knowledge as a free commodity, the basic knowledge is going to be free. A decade back, vendors were charging 30,000 rupees for a program on how to communicate effectively. Come today, nobody can make that much money as this information is already available in the open market.
In this digital era, L&D’s need not necessarily know every new technology. However, there is a need for them to appreciate technology. For instance, L&D professionals should understand what are the new technologies and how they can aid their particular organization. They cannot be completely oblivious to what is happening in the technology space because if you need a system to drive your learning programs or to drive your content, you need to know what sort of platform you would need, and what technology you should work on.
Speaking of technology, I want to highlight what Massive Open Online Courses(MOOCs) would mean to the L&D industry as a whole. Sure, MOOCs will definitely will have an impact, but it does not mean that the L&D as an industry would not exist. It’s a knowledge space and there’s lots to do here actually. So, MOOCS will play a role in in terms of accessibility of the courses and all that. But you will always need a coach, a guide to further guide you. Learner will always need facilitator led programs, especially facilitators who can bring experience to the table and create experiential learning.
Advice to L&D Professional
Learning and Development is an area where you need to specialize. If you are in it only for one or two years, you don’t pick anything except some operational stuff. If you really have a passion for this field, stick on for a longer time. If you’re getting into this space, you need to be very clear that you want to specialize in this and be passionate about it. I can give you an analogy. It is like wanting to become a teacher in your life. You don’t suddenly decide to become a teacher at the age of 50. Even if you become a teacher at the age of 50, you must have been thinking of becoming a teacher for a long time before that. The idea of teaching must have excited you. You must have been passionate about it. Such is the case for L&D. You need to be very clear that you want to take that career path and you must also be aware that it is going to come with limited options. It’s going to be very specific niche area. Two or three years will not give you any knowledge. You have to spend a considerable amount of time, at least five, six years to be a solid L&D professional.
Entrepreneurial Options For L&D professionals
L&D leaders have solid entrepreneurial option where they can start their own learning consulting forms, consult on designing programs, designing content, developing content, reviewing and co-curating content. There are a gamut of options for L&D managers who are keen on exploring the entrepreneurial side. However, they need to be aware that there are too many in the market. They need to know their differentiating factors. This is because everybody thinks that after certain years of experience in the industry, they can do a learning program. It’s not that easy. It is about understanding the context, having the flair for design and things like that. So it completely depends on the L&D manager to position themselves very differently in the market.
Change in L&D Domain In Future
The experience of being in L&D is different in different organizations. I come from an organization where L&D has always been important. A decade back, L&D professionals had the general perception that their job is to get a vendor to do a training program. Today, there is a marked change from that. Organizations are not looking for mere coordinators, instead, they want people with a deeper understanding of various topics.
In the coming years, you can see L&D professionals leveraging technology to a great deal. They will start using technology to reach a larger audience and to make learning more experiential.
I have answered the common questions that most people/L&D professionals have about the L&D domain. In conclusion I would like to highlight two skills that are indispensable for: the ability to think design and storytelling.
If you think I haven’t covered any topic/would like to get answers to any particular question on L&D domain, comment below.