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Learning: World of Learning Conference - Fewer resources, better results

Companies are bucking the trend of past recessions by maintaining their training budget spend. But the pressure is on for the L&D function to demonstrate its value to the business.

The two words most learning and development (L&D) professionals never want to hear are 'economic downturn'. Long has this phrase been synonymous with budget cuts and the indiscriminate slashing of planned projects. Previous recessions have not demonstrated anything else. Not, that is, until now. Research by training provider Beyond the Box recently revealed three-quarters of employers said they would maintain their training budgets, while in June, the Institute of Directors actually found 46% of firms would be increasing it. In fact, today there seems to be an acceptance in business that it is the people they employ who will take them through these difficult times.

John McNamara, chief executive at the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, and speaker at this month's World of Learning Conference, says: "We are standing on a threshold of opportunity. There is no denying the breadth and depth of this recession, but this is all the more reason why L&D professionals have to invest in skills. The measures we take now to retain, reskill and redeploy the UK workforce can speed up recovery and prepare for future growth."

One of the dominant themes for this year's conference, which takes place at Birmingham's NEC on 30 September 30 and 1 October (see below), is flexibility - how to do more for less, but not actually doing less, as Francis Marshall, managing director of Cegos UK, explains: "The downturn has created tremendous challenges for HR and L&D professionals, especially the need to be more effective with fewer resources," he says. "They must ensure the developmental needs of employees and leaders - who have seen their responsibilities widen as a result of market conditions - are also being met."

He adds: "Organisations are being rapidly reshaped. New cultures are coming into play. It is essential HR and L&D professionals work together to ensure that individuals who are transitioning to new roles have the essential new skillsets to capitalise on new business opportunities and challenges and establish new working relationships."

Other themes at the conference will be the changing priorities of HR and L&D professionals, how lines of responsibility are being redrawn, how roles are being redefined and why there is no longer a clear divide between the two. As the boundaries between HR and L&D are blurring, L&D is having to change to present a united and co-ordinated front. This forms the topic to be discussed by a panel of experts in the Future of Learning Forum, which opens the second day of the conference.

One of the panellists is ex-CIPD adviser Martyn Sloman, now visiting professor at Kingston Business School, who observes: "We are seeing increased blending of HR, technology, L&D, knowledge management and all the other areas that build business advantage for organisations. The result of this trend should be increased effectiveness. Organisations compete through their people. The systematic acquisition of relevant knowledge and skills is best achieved by leveraging the full resources of the organisation."

Iain Clements, learning management system specialist at Diageo - who will also be speaking at this year's conference - recognises the co-operation needed between the HR and L&D disciplines: "L&D (at Diageo) works with HR and line managers by understanding our business priorities and capability gaps and developing learning solutions that will deliver step changes in performance," he says. "Success comes from working in true partnership with all players. This includes L&D, HR, business leaders, line managers and employees, to ensure messages are clear and compelling and nurture a culture where people have the freedom to succeed," he states.

Another of the challenges L&D professionals must address is the ability to demonstrate the value of the L&D function to the business to ensure budgets remain in place for staff development. This is another of the areas that will be covered by the conference. Stephen Mapp, senior manager, L&D planning and analysis at Lloyds TSB, believes it is imperative L&D professionals are able to prove their worth (see ROI feature p46), and present a strong business case for continued investment: "With organisations turning the spotlight on all business costs, it's increasingly important for L&D to be able to demonstrate its role in driving business results," he says.

Every action taken by L&D professionals must address a specific business need. Laura Overton, managing director of Towards Maturity, a panellist on the Future of Learning Forum, agrees. "L&D must address the real challenges of business and deliver practical learning outcomes that are relevant for today's busy professionals. The critical skills needed for the future will be the ability to understand strategic business drivers, develop innovative learning solutions to meet those needs, be able to build commitment from all stakeholders and demonstrate value back to the business," she says.

As such, a major focus of this year's World of Learning Conference is to tackle these issues and provide a forum for HR and L&D professionals to learn the necessary skills to meet today's demands. It also considers how L&D specialists can help their businesses to continue to invest in the skills of the people. Also on the agenda are topics including enabling effective change management, the role of the line manager in delivering successful learning solutions, leadership development in a changing business environment, the use of coaching as a vital business tool, reskilling employees for new roles and driving performance improvements through learning. You cannot miss this unique opportunity to discover where your L&D strategies need to be looking to in the year ahead.


Where: Hall 18, NEC, Birmingham

When: Wednesday 30 September,10:00-17:00hrs; Thursday 1 October, 10:00-16:00hrs

What's on: Over its 17-year history, World of Learning has evolved into the 'must-attend' event for L&D professionals, as well as those responsible for human resources within their organisations. The high-level conference will be chaired by BBC news broadcaster and presenter Bill Turnbull, and features experts and leading practitioners from the likes of NHS Coventry, BBC, Marks & Spencer, British Red Cross, BT Group, Rolls-Royce, TNT UK and Sony Electronics Europe.

Alongside the conference is the World of Learning Exhibition. More than 110 learning specialists will be offering services to assist L&D professionals do their jobs better. Visitors can visit the Experiential Learning Zone, a programme of free educational seminars, and the British Institute of Learning & Development (BILD) Advice Clinic, which offers the opportunity for delegates to gain personalised advice on their learning issues. Skills workshops will also be running, as will product presentations. And don't forget the Energiser Zone, the Serious Games Zone, and the Networking Cafe.

More information: To book sessions or pre-register to visit,call +44 (0)20 8394 5171. See the programme of speakers and exhibitors at www.learnevents.com