The Changing Face of Learning and Development in India

By Shefali Anand October 22, 2021
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​Organizations in India have had to revamp their approaches to numerous aspects of the workplace as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Employee training is no exception. That process is continuing to evolve, said HR experts speaking at the recent SHRM Tech 21 India conference.

"Learning and development [L&D] strategy today is revisiting questions around learning what, learning how, learning when and how much," said Sampada Inamdar, vice president and group learning head at Anand Group India, an automotive components manufacturer in Pune.

These questions need to be asked not just so organizations can cope with changes that are happening today, she said, but also to prepare for impending changes in the form of new regulations and technologies.

"So the way we dance, the way we walk, the way we talk—huge change is coming there," Inamdar said.

Some companies have used pandemic-related disruptions as an opportunity to step back and analyze what skills their employees have versus what is needed for the future, and have prepared training modules accordingly.

At Societe Generale Global Solution Center, an India-based development center for the French bank, the company conducted a strategic workforce planning exercise to understand what roles their 12,000 employees currently fill and how those roles will change as the banking industry evolves. With more consumers now banking digitally rather than visiting a bank branch, many banking roles already have disappeared.

"Can you imagine us preparing our workforce for that future?" said Sangeetha Gera, Bengaluru-based head of L&D and talent management for the Global Solution Center. With the workforce planning exercise, Gera said, they categorized roles into those that are sunsetting and others that are emerging, and created role-specific training as a result.

"We have very clear career paths, and in each career path we've described the roles and what qualifies you to apply for those roles," Gera said. This way, employees know what they need to learn to earn any role they aspire to and they can access relevant company training programs available through online platforms. Managers also have been trained to have career development conversations with their team members. "We went down to doing hyper-personalization," Gera said.

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Getting Personal with Technology

Many companies have adopted the practice of providing personalized training for employees via online learning courses offered by vendors, while some large companies have designed their own learning platforms. At Tata Communications, a telecom network provider, leaders wanted to create a training experience for their employees that was as intuitive and user-friendly as a consumer's experience is when using Amazon or Netflix.

"How do you build a consumer-grade experience for employees?" said Aadesh Goyal, Tata's chief human resource officer in Gurgaon, near New Delhi. With that question in mind, the company built its own digital learning platform and gave control to employees to decide when and how they wanted to complete their training. The effort has been successful, Goyal said.

For example, only 10 percent of Tata's training was offered digitally in early 2017, but by March 2020, even before the pandemic struck, 90 percent of its L&D programs were delivered digitally, Goyal said, noting that many employees would even choose to do their trainings on weekends.

"When you create a platform that is intelligent, hyper-personalized, and open and not controlled, usage just goes through the roof," he said.

Many employers have tried other approaches to make their training modules engaging. At Altisource, a real estate services provider, some training content was converted into a movie.

"It was more entertaining and therefore more likely to get [employees] engaged," said Tulika Srivastava, Bengaluru-based senior manager for Altisource's L&D program. As a result of the new format, Srivastava said, the company could compress a 24-day training program into 20 days and saved $1,000 to $1,200 per group in training costs.

Additional Skills to Impart

While most companies continue to train employees on core skills, some are also looking to instill skills that are not directly related to employees' roles. One key focus area is automation and digital savvy, even for those who are not in technology roles.

"Digital mindset and digital dexterity would be the primary area that I would say we need to focus on," said Divyesh Sindhwaad, a regional vice president at Skillsoft India, an education technology company in Mumbai.

At Anand Group, Inamdar said, the company also is seeking to instill problem-solving skills and innovation as a mindset, as well as people-influencing skills for leaders and the ability for all employees to be emotionally resilient.

Such soft or behavioral skills have taken greater importance during the pandemic as employees have been working from home (WFH) and are less connected to the organization than they were in the past. "This whole WFH thing has kept people in silos," Inamdar said. "So having those social skills and conversations is also a focus."

Companies are particularly keen on instilling such capabilities in their managers by training them how to build informal connections and engagement with their teams. "All of these are new skills that we are getting all of our managers across the pyramid to develop," Gera said.

Experts at the SHRM Tech conference agreed that employees need to accept that they have to constantly learn new skills to stay productive. Many companies now assess employees not only based on their intelligence and emotional quotient, but also their "learning quotient," which is the ability to keep learning.

"We're living in a world right now where range is important because we're asking employees to do a lot more than one task," said Nitin Rakesh, CEO of IT services firm Mphasis in New York City. 

Companies also need to do their bit in creating an environment of lifelong learning. "Organizations should look at learning as a culture. It should not just be a function or a method," Srivastava said.

Shefali Anand is a New Delhi-based journalist and former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. You can follow her on Twitter.

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