Interview with Mr Ben Lyon: Director, Head of ATTF Services at the House of Training, Luxembourg

All organizations and workers especially after COVID 19 have to be agile and adaptable to changes, which means that agile learning is becoming extremely important. What is agile learning? How can institutions develop an agile learning culture?

At the House of Training (ATTF) we absolutely agree with the need to work in increasingly adaptive and agile ways and put simply, this year has given us little choice! Well before the pandemic however, the House of Training had already been training its own staff actively to understand what this means to understand its systems and to use the methods behind it. Agile learning adopts essentially the same methods as those that are applied to projects in other areas, such as in industry and software development. In these projects, iterations are used in the development and roll out of the training, whilst firmly anchoring this in an applied context. The positioning of the trainer also differs in agile learning, as they move away from being “lecturers” to “supporters” or “guides” to people’s own learning, in a setting that is often practical, experiential and hands on.

This all adds up to being something very different to traditional training which in itself can represent one of the biggest obstacles to institutions wishing to develop an agile learning culture. At the House of Training (ATTF), we urge institutions who wish to take the step (and especially those people involved centrally in any process of change) to find out for themselves first-hand what “agile” means both to them and how this could be applied to the place in which they lead or work. For this reason, the House of Training ATTF has made available, for the first time this year, its agile fundamentals, “mindset” and latterly also online certification courses to its partner countries (of which Egypt is one). These courses have proven immediately popular which may pave the way to potentially more detailed training in the future.  

What is your advice to all HR professionals & leaders to achieve an effective Learning & Development strategy to develop the competencies of their staff & leaders?

All over the world, much learning is taking place that is ineffective simply because it is poorly aligned for the purpose it is set out to serve or outdated. In today’s fast moving economies, leaders are expected to invest learning effort and resources into training with impact and to genuinely develop their staff. At the House of Training (ATTF) we have therefore adopted an approach based squarely upon the identification of job profiles central to each industry sector and have identified the competences required to perform them. It is specifically these job related competences that we seek to help companies build and to guide participants towards the appropriate courses for them, in their own professional context.

Any L&D strategy following the COVID pandemic would be incomplete without a significant digital learning component to it. The speed at which this area has been moving is staggering but it is not too late to be part of this too if you wish to. The pandemic has forced people to revisit their opinions about digital learning and the learning curve for learning providers has been steep. Many, including the House of Training are finding themselves now capable of doing things online that they could not even start to imagine at the start of the year. This area will however continue to move fast and become more sophisticated, so if a company has ambitions in this respect, it will need to board the train before it definitively leaves the station.         

Why should leaders consider their staffs’ training & development as a top priority for business success? What are the main behaviors of good leaders as per your point of view?

When just a few clicks on a phone can be made to consult balances or conduct diverse financial transactions, few could argue that a rapid change and digitalization of our world is not taking place. We suspect that even fewer banking customers today would prefer to take the time to travel to and stand in line, in a traditional branch of a bank to conduct the same activities that they can do on their phone. But whilst these realities are all around us and whilst many companies continue to proclaim that their people are their greatest asset, not all have been willing or able to invest in staff development and to move with today’s increasingly tech driven, global times. Where will these new skills come from if they do not come from the existing workforce? To be sustainable and not fall into obsolescence companies must understand, if only for their own survival, how to embrace digitalization and technology. For this very reason, it needs to be a top priority.

In this context, Leaders must take the time to understand the challenges to be able to navigate some complicated waters to be able to offer companies and staff a place in the tomorrow’s world. Leaders must invest time in their own development in order to keep their skills up to date and to learn new skills. When specifically speaking about behaviours, we have seen that this also means developing soft skills. Leaders who are able to go out of their comfort zones to acquire new skills, “coach” not “command” their staff and are humble enough to challenge their own beliefs, are qualities that we believe will assist leaders to work with their people towards new successes.     

COVID 19 has obliged all training & learning institutes to adopt a blended learning approach and to be oriented more towards virtual and e-learning courses? How do you assess this step’s impact on the learners in terms of benefits & challenges?

For the ATTF activities of the House of Training, where travel by its experts to partner countries or by participants to Luxembourg, was considered fundamental to our activity, the pandemic came as an enormous shock. After having first postponed our courses to later in the year, reality struck in April that travel in 2020 was becoming increasingly unlikely and that by just pushing out our courses we were actually creating an even bigger operational problem to deliver all our programmes, later in the year. Since the 13th March, 100% of our training activity has been carried out in virtual classrooms or via e-Learning and we expect to continue this way through the 1st semester and into the second semester of 2021.

In this context, we are not yet speaking about blended learning, however we see this as an extremely interesting development for our work. Blended learning can be used to facilitate the transfer of many theoretical aspects of our courses upfront and / or “invert” our courses by having participants work on preparation, examples or case studies, prior to any travel.  Both participants and trainers can then “hit the ground running” with genuine discussion, a focus on applied aspects and interactive group work when the class finally meets with its trainer.

In terms of challenges and benefits for learners, they are still adjusting to this new style of learning. We know that they miss many of the trappings of face- to-face courses and we are still learning to love the technology for providing courses remotely and the complications it can bring. Learners are however appreciating many aspects and giving us some highly positive feedback: learning objectives continue to be met; our manageable-sized virtual classes still provide for interaction and having our experts broadcast into the comfort of their own homes has increased the accessibility of our courses, to many more participants than in the past.      

The rise of automation is changing the future of jobs and means that the employees of the future will need to acquire multiple different “Human Skills”? From your point of view, what are the top skills needed to be included in all training programs coping with the labor market future needs?

The digitalisation and automation of our jobs is happening now and has been going on for some time. For countries with production costs that are high relative to other counties, the focus has been placed increasingly upon the higher value added aspects of business processes, aspects that can only be done locally, intellectual activities and services. These activities typically involve not just technical skill to perform but also the ability to work with people. Where there are people and where people want to do better, there must be development of interpersonal skills and good communication.

In the training programmes that the House of Training offers to its local work force, the centre of gravity has been gradually shifting to a point where, soft skills are commanding centre stage. These competences find their place in many of our programmes and range from self-understanding and discovery, to interpersonal skills of all kinds, coaching, organizational skills and creativity development, to name just a few. These skills are also actively taught within specific contexts, such as back to work programmes.   

Regardless of the training delivery channel type (face-to-face or online), How can we tap into both the internal motivations of all workers as well as their personal psychologies to enhance the training experience?

Whilst solid preparation and the quality of a trainer (through their communication skills and awareness of trainee needs) can greatly enhance any session, regardless of the delivery channel, I immediately think of models that seek to explain people’s motivation such as the ABC self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000 and others based on similar roots). Of the three key parts in this (ABC) model: Autonomy, Belonging and Competence, there is not one that cannot be influenced by training: A – activities that increase your ability for self-determination and to pursue ones’ chosen path; B-activities that enhance our ability to interact and be connected to others in society and

C-activities that enhance our competence and mastery of the work we do and to better control the outcomes of what we do, are all very significant drivers of motivation. These things, if placed in context of the realities of today, where linear career paths with a single employer are a thing of the past and where psychologists worry openly about the fall in perceived “meaning” for confined workers under COVID, I remain confident that training will remain a very important industry with enormous opportunity for adding value!

Describe ATTF and EBI’s long-term partnership in few words.

The relationship between the House of Training (ATTF) and the EBI in Egypt can be described like the pyramids, long standing and impressive! Since the ATTF’s first visit to Egypt in 2003, the relationship has been built upon goodwill, strong common understanding, mutual respect and concern for the work we do together. The House of Training, who provides the “ATTF” services that are funded by the Luxembourg government, relies heavily on the competence of its local partners to carry out its work, which is to work as a partner to transfer knowledge and experience in banking and financial services, to the financial sectors of the countries that it deals with. The EBI has been a proactive partner over all these years in the specification of training needs, the selection of the groups to be trained and for carrying out all the operational aspects required to make this vibrant relationship work. The EBI is the the partner of choice for us in the country, from whom we also have much to learn.

What is ATTF’s impression on the Egyptian participation?

Egyptian participants are very welcome participants in our courses and represent a cross section of its society. They are typically well educated, modest (but proud of their banks and country!) and open to integrate in our multinational groups. Whilst the morning traffic in Cairo has been known to impact start times, participants are conscientious, curious and demanding of new knowledge, through which we are pleased to sense the growing modernization and strong drive for competency from within its banking industry.    

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