A few years ago, I used to work in the IT industry as a Project Manager. My role was to manage the team. It was my dream job at that time. But the truth was that I was a people manager. I did no real work. Honestly, I had very little idea on what my team exactly did.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was more and more of an administrator than contributing in any real way to the team and the organization. A series of career moves, mostly out of serendipity, I found myself in the Learning and Development space. And discovered that it is my passion. And over the years, continue to build my skills, bit by bit – and yet remain ‘hands-on’ simply because there is no other way to get better at what you do than by doing it.
So, from the point where I should have been happy ‘managing people in IT’ to the point where I became ‘hands-on in LnD’ is the story of the IT and the LnD industry – where the delivery part of IT is facing a crisis. The IT industry today does not want pure people managers. They want people with hands on experience. At 15-20 years of work experience – that was unheard of some years ago!
Cut to the LnD (Learning and Development) space. The LnD world is going through a similar crisis, if you will. There is a shortage of people who have relevant skills. Today the industry has a plethora of program managers – coordinators. Their primary job is that of a middleman – to connect those who need training to those who deliver training. (Some of them are also gatekeepers and do very important things, like manage the training budget and write stringent rules and play god on training nominations.)
Like in the technology delivery some years ago, when software engineers came of age when they stopped coding, the coming of age of a learning and development professional is that they no longer need to create content, design and deliver solid learning enablement programs. They zoom in and zoom out of meetings – organize meetings with vendors/learning partners and have check in meetings with business partners – relationship management. And yes, many of the vendors are hands on – they have to be (indeed, many of those passionate about learning go independent so that they can continue to work on what they love to work on instead of filling out meaningless spreadsheets). The vendors work with the business and come up with an engagement or a program and the LnD manager then basks in reflected glory and maybe gets an award or two.
While working with vendors/partners is good, it is also worth asking, how much and at what levels. Because many training and learning needs go way beyond what a vendor can do – almost anything meaningful will need wholehearted internal participation and championship. And while vendors bring specific expertise, the LnD owner also needs go beyond just co-ordination. Because if this is all they do, like in the IT industry, any company will look to cut costs. And that happens at the first places where there are middlemen. Some companies are looking to outsource entire LnD departments. Others have outsourced the program management to ‘bodyshopping’ companies who supply program managers at a cheap rate. It is like a librarians job. Once books go online, a librarian is no longer needed. So too with training. Once an available list of training is created and put up, the LnD is no longer needed, because business can call up and get any training delivered at their door. And they need a thin staff for doing real work.
Do I hear you say, LnD is not just about organizing trainings? Of course. But unless LnD professionals are able to communicate this to their organizations by delivering solid, value added work, organizations will never see it that way.
Are you a real LnD professional? Are you the first person that comes to the mind of business when they think of a learning initiative? Do you always have seat on the table when there is a learning initiative? Are you able to direct the business to plug gaps in their learning portfolio? Do you give a-ha moments to your business partners? Is the level of collaboration between your HR and LnD seamless? Are you able to address gaps on your own – without always involving a vendor? Are you driving change management programs with the visceral engagement of business? (Notice, I have not mentioned training yet).
If you are, that's great, because coordinatorsaurses deserve to be extinct!