It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: The L&D manager has to decide which training to approve for a knowledge-hungry team of career-minded professionals in the company, a mixture of experienced and junior staff with a range of different specialties. They have each come with a shopping list of training courses with a bewildering list of different course titles. Unfortunately, the L&D manager – while highly skilled in learning and development – has no experience in the industry and has a difficult time deciding which courses are suitable for each individual. Unable to analyze the content of the courses, the path of least resistance is to approve only courses where the title appears to match the employee’s job title. Sometimes, not one of the courses the employees have asked for is approved; instead, they are sent on the worse course of all – one to learn what they already know. It happens, especially in developed markets, where employee skill sets are already high and meticulous auditing of the training function is the norm. In developing markets, by contrast, courses focused on the core area of business are still a useful way of knowledge transfer from developed markets, and the problem rarely occurs.

The solution to this problem is obvious: Make sure L&D professionals have a thorough understanding of the industry in which they work. Whether they are on the buy or the sell side, knowledge of the industry will help them deliver value and garner a positive individual reputation. For the buyer, it means easily cutting through the nightmare scenario above, being able to appreciate the benefit of training courses that deliver skills that sit well alongside, reinforce and develop employees’ existing skill sets. Everyone benefits: The company as a whole upskills, no money is wasted on unnecessary training, the employees feel properly appreciated, and the training department develops a good reputation with employees and training providers alike. On the sell side, it means that L&D professionals are able to present a suite of training courses with confidence to customers, not focusing only on what they have asked but being able to identify other, related training courses and explain why the client will benefit.

If the solution is so obvious, why doesn’t it happen? A quick look at the suggested resumé for an L&D professional shows the answer immediately. This area of work is “open to all graduates of degrees,” but business, HR and psychology backgrounds are helpful. As to skills, hiring managers emphasize interpersonal abilities, planning, budgeting, reporting and organizational abilities, problem-solving, and timekeeping. Clearly, this emphasis is part of a concerted effort to promote the alleged easy interoperability of L&D professionals between industries. It is also intended to develop a unified L&D professional culture – an L&D industry.

Undoubtedly, this approach is also aimed at taking advantage of the steady accumulation of time and resource management required in both the private and public sector for rising training requirements in organizations. The average spend in finance firms reported by Deloitte was estimated at £1,443 per employee in 2015, while after recovering from the recession, training hours per employee may now have broken the 20-hour ceiling. The clear implication of the suppression of industry-specific requirements is that training and development as an expertise in itself – which it is – suffices across all industries. Proposed training for L&D professionals fits with this kind of misguided approach, with critical thinking, active listening, and communication and management as suggested training courses. But many employees would willingly swap this kind of expertise in their training manager for a solid technical understanding of the industry in which they work.

There are some vague suggestions on some L&D websites that general courses in accounting, statistics and business might be helpful for L&D managers in these areas, but this training is only a first step. The next step is to go industry-specific. Blended learning and online learning opportunities, as well as, in larger firms, the existence of internal learning suites with a huge range of available courses, make this training more easy than ever before. The workforce itself will always be a ready source of advice on which courses to take. As L&D professionals, we are running out of excuses not to know our industries from top to bottom.

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