It will definitely be an event to be remembered for some 60 trainers and HR practitioners who attended the public forum organized by the Malaysian Association of Professional Speakers (MAPS). The business landscape in Malaysia has somewhat accustom itself to the norms of 'election mode' for almost 10 years now. However the recent developments in the oil price, the introduction and later scuppering of TPPA and the reduced spending of consumers has brought new considerations to the equation.
This is VUCA in its true sense. As the old adage within the training fraternity goes, "training budget will be the first thing to go". However in order to walk the talk, MAPS decided that as speakers and trainers who advise others, we too shall hear out to our own cliché to find the silver lining amongst the dark clouds.
The guest panelists of the forum were the Chief Executive of the Human Resource Development Fund Malaysia (HRDF), Dato' CM Vignaesvaran; CEO of Leaderonomics, Roshan Thiran the GM of Organization Development at Sunway Berhad, Debbie Wang. The idea was to get the views of three parties - HRDF, training provider and client; and discover the possible actions that trainers can take to create opportunities within the present landscape.
MAPS decided that as speakers and trainers who advise others, we too shall hear out to our own cliché to find the silver lining amongst the dark clouds.
Fruitful would be a gross understatement of the value of information that was gathered from the session. We appreciated the sheer honesty of the panel members who shared the brutal facts as well as their willingness to state their expectations and best practices. The following are the key learnings gathered from the panel discussion presented from the point of view of the moderator.
Dato' Vignaesvaran stated the outlook for 2017 will not be so different from 2016. He also stated that they do not see the conditions heading any further south from where it is at the present moment. As far as Sunway Bhd was concerned, their diverse portfolio of industries and investments have helped them to weather the uncertainties. Roshan revealed that 2016 was indeed challenging whereby Leaderonomics witnessed an increase in client base but a reduction in spending or quantity of jobs from existing clients. The reduction of this opportunity pie forced many players to drop their price to get their share. He opined that 2017 would be tougher.
However Leaderonomics embarked into other avenues to distribute content. Right from mobile apps, radio, case studies and other distribution channels to establish their presence and relevance. He terms these efforts as 'long-term bets'. There are tonnes of case studies and researched content from the US and Europe of successful business and business leaders. However the similar data are not vividly available in the local scene. Some 2 years ago Leaderonomics embarked on a project with Harvard Business School and another organization to study the science of business leader. The idea was to generate similar data within the context of this region.
Content still seems to be a key milestone in establishing expertise. The lack of local data is forcing us to refer to case studies from elsewhere. With the development of the world massively shifting to Asia, having localized content will bring a new competitive edge to a training provider. However these efforts requires a significant resource allocation. It is both time and money consuming activity; but it seems to be the necessary inconvenience to establish a long-term relevance in the industry
Malaysian trainers still have a long way to go compared to their counterparts in other developed countries.
This is not the case with Malaysian training companies that are focused to just run training and collect their fees. There is also a poor performance tracking system within the local landscape. Training companies are not showing an interest to develop their ability to track learners' improvement and later convert that into business outcomes for their clients.Malaysian trainers still have a long way to go compared to their counterparts in other developed countries. This is more evident in the field of technical training where past training methodologies still overshadow any innovative approaches. Dato' Vignaesvaran shared that technical training overseas have adopted a more technology centered approach such as augmented reality. He maintained that the training companies from the US, Europe and even Russia have incorporated R&D for their training methodologies.
The reverse is the case with their counterparts where they are innovative in exploring different media or learning aids and are able to document the progress of the learners. He also admitted that perhaps he has not met the right trainers yet who are embarking on these efforts. This could be true for soft skills training but looking at the bulk of technical training being related to HRDF claims, his observation may not be an exaggeration of the reality.
On the soft skills area, judging for the content perspective that HRDF have access to, they are almost the same as what was covered about 15 years ago. There are little efforts to customize the content for the present situation.
Having discussed the lack of proactive effort to innovate and track learners' progress, could there be a possibility that this phenomenon is in fact caused by the lack of interest or demand from the end user. With most L&D professionals just clocking training hours as their KPI, the absence of pushing for more innovative approach may have caused trainers to not raise their own standards. This is further observable when trainers propose a performance tracking plan but unable to get the buy-in or commitment from the end user for an effective roll-out.
In principle Debbie Wang agreed that many HR professionals lack the relevant competency for L&D. Due to business urgency, the quick fix method becomes a default choice. The situation here calls for the efforts of all parties. Training providers, L&D professionals and learners must be committed to make this work. While this is true, the waiting game has to end and someone must take the proactive approach to get the ball rolling. Here is where trainers can play a role by introducing innovation even when the needs are not apparent yet.
This approach of creating the innovation in learning and later educating the market has been the bedrock of technological progress. Steve Jobs and Apple build the products that the consumers did not know they need and today cannot live without it. The same goes to 3M's Post-It Notes.
The focus should be to be effective, exciting and relevant for the client.
The buzzword today is 'micro learning'. A recent article written by Roshan 'Why Classroom Training May Become Obsolete And A Waste Of Time' also highlighted this. Here is where learning involves a few hours in the evening instead of the whole day.
Roshan shares that the first thing to do is to change the way training companies think. And that means to figure out ways around the constraints of the client. The focus should be to be effective, exciting and relevant for the client. Simply put; be effective for the client with the limited budget that they have, be exciting to keep the learners engaged and be relevant by balancing the needs of both the client and our business.It seems like a neat idea; building case studies, mobile learning and byte sized interactions. The question is will the economic factors support these attempts? How can smaller training companies capitalize on technologies like mobile learning and introduce innovative learning? Contrary to the popular beliefs, innovation is a shift in thinking before investment.
This is where trainer's expertise is required. Flexibility should be the name of the game. The ability to be agile will define our relevance. Thus if the client has a time constrain, we may propose shorter training between 6.00pm - 8.00pm over a few weeks. Yes, this may not fit our traditional model... but then innovation never respected tradition. Many fixations of thoughts that we have, is a product of our own assumptions.
In fact, mobile apps or Learning Management Systems (LMS) may not be as expensive as the top 10 hits that we search on Google. Leaderonomics started with a question; "How can we get a LMS that companies need to only pay a thousand dollars without individual user license?" To their surprise within a few months several foreign universities who were willing to make an offer contacted them. The bottom-line here is that, we do not know of our options until we shift our thinking as trainers.
Trainers are fond of providing advice for their clients on paradigm shifts; thinking without a box, differentiate of fade into obscurity and several other one-liners. Perhaps here is an opportunity for us as trainers to put our money where our mouth is, for us to walk the talk, for this is where the rubber meets the road.
HRDF's primary responsibility is to up-skill the ability of individuals for their future. Through this objective the overall quality of the workforce will continue to improve and that helps the employers in the long run. Thus any effort from the training companies to track the performance of individuals will be greatly appreciated. This does not require an exorbitant investment but an additional effort and to ask the honest question; "How are our training impacting the learners?"
Dato' Vignaesvaran pointed that HRDF receives many training proposals from local training providers. They claim that the programs are cutting edge and are able to improve the learners' career. Sadly none are able to back their claims with hard results or even willing to take up the challenge to track their performance. He also indicated that HRDF is heading in the direction where sometime in the future, only partial fee will be paid and the rest of the fee will come after presenting the evidence of the individual's progress. On the part of HRDF, they simply want proof that the training is effective through measurable targets.
On the other hand, HRDF has become the subject of blame by the employers and employer's association. They claim that the training offered by HRDF is not effective. Their assertions include trainers are not good, lack of understanding of the industry and not able to deliver the actual business needs. There is a possible disconnect here between the employers and training providers that are caused by the HR & L&D professionals as discussed earlier. This is where the role of L&D is either not played well or the senior management of the organization is not realizing the strategic role of L&D.
Another challenge for HRDF is provide answers to the government on the productivity improvement. The spending of RM600 Million needs to be justified in terms of empirical improvement. This pressure somewhat has resulted in the changes that HRDF has introduced in the last 2 years.
Debbie insisted that trainers should not wait for the clients to request for measurement of performance. Instead trainers must make a standard practice to offer measurements as a further proof to convince their clients on why a particular training is relevant to the business outcome. The data trainers gather will become a solid proof for them to write their own case studies.
L&D and HR has to be more courageous and outrageous in their role.
It is clear that L&D and HR has to be more courageous and outrageous in their role. While many forums, articles, conferences and Jack Welch have been drumming the tune of HR being a strategic partner; the real sense of it has yet to be noticed in any of the Malaysian companies. Debbie describes that many organizations have still not seen HR as a strategic partner. Part of this lies in the lack of aggressiveness by HR professionals to see themselves as partners in strategy and build the guts to voice ideas and influence the board.
Here is where training providers can help. By providing an easy and cost effective way to measure outcomes, they are able to help HR to see the value of data and provide the relevant data that L&D will not be able to obtain on their own accord. That effort will enable HR to play a more strategic role. It may even mean reducing the cost of measuring results because the overall outcome will only serve in the best interest of the training provider in staying relevant for that client in the long run.
The vision is to push the current 2.4% to 50% of HRDF funds for certification program in the next 5 years.
There is a noticeable trend in HRDF where the government grants and pool fund have been favouring certification programs. There have been concerns among trainers if a day will come where the utilization of levy will be for certification programs only. This question was posed to Dato' Vignaesvaran and he did confirm that it may become the inevitable eventuality within HRDF.
Having said that, the current percentage of certification programs stands at 2.4% of the total levy used. 97.6% are still for non-certification programs. Therefore the number is still small. HRDF has a vision and is rather hopeful that the present figure will be pushed to 50% in the next 5 years. However the utilization of government grant and pool fund have been strictly designated for certification programs only. This should be regarded as a wake up call for training companies in Malaysia and one that we should not hit the snooze button.
On the part of the certification, he reiterated that the buyer industry would be left to decide on the relevance of a certification. Thus a company can issue the certification provided that it is evident that their certification is regarded as a valid standard in the market. Examples of this are the certification programs offered by SKF Bearings, SAP, Cisco or Microsoft. Another factor is that the program is famous enough that the clients are willing to accept it as a valid certification. A good example of this would be the 7 Habits program of Stephen Covey.
There was some confusion in the past. Some training providers dashed to relevant government agencies that are authorized to review standards such as MQA or universities to have their programs certified. All these efforts will be useless if the industry do not see the benefit in the program.
Roshan shared that training providers must become experts in solving problems. The current paradigm seems to be pushing a preset solution under the pretext of certification. This may be one avenue to skill development. Be that as it may, there is another dimension to training where trainers are problem solvers. If we are able to define and provide a solution that will help the organization move forward, then we have created our own playing field.
Listening to this view, it may seem that not having a certification program may not be the end of the world. In fact there are still avenues of development where a trainer's expertise will be needed to solve business problems or technical problems that will not come from a certification nature.
This requires us to think of what the end goal is for the client and what can we do to help. By not being bounded by any system or structure, we are able to provide a myriad of solutions that can be employed. This is similar to what Grab and Uber did to the taxi industry. They defined the outcome people wanted accurately. Later they provided an avenue for them to access this solution beyond the traditional boundaries of system and methodology.
One danger to look out for is being stuck within our system. Some of us invested a considerable amount to be licensed under a program. This can be a coaching system, a profiling tool or a development methodology. As a result, we tend to rely solely on the process and unintentionally force our own blind spots. An example shared was on Lean Manufacturing that was originally created for improving manufacturing process. This has been repackaged as Lean Manufacturing for the Service Sector without considering the real need of the client and if Lean methodology is the solution for their current condition.
Hearing from the views of all of them, there is one striking conclusion that can be made. The VUCA world is going to be creating multiple 'accidental opportunities' for training companies. These are windows of possibilities that will be missed by the masses who stick to traditional way or better... transform in the traditional way. Agility, curiosity and willingness to crack the mould will roll the red carpet to possibilities. It also appears that experience alone may not make us relevant anymore. Which spells good news to the younger generation of trainers stepping into this industry. The Malaysian Association of Professional Speakers (MAPS) is committed to help this transformation. Working hand-in hand with trainers, HRDF and engaging the clients to help one another to raise the bar of the industry and the productivity of the nation. The future will be exciting.