Learning Conversation with Peter Hall from Westpac Learning

Jeevan: It is my pleasure to be speaking to Peter Hall, who is the Head of Group Learning at Westpac Group. Peter Hall has held senior L&D leadership positions with St George and IAG. Peter has worked in large and complex organizations which should make for a very interesting Learning Conversation. Peter, thank you very much for participating in Learning Conversations.

Peter: Thank you.

Jeevan: To kick off, I’d like to know how did you get into L&D? Was it something that you were trained for or is it something that you fell into?

Peter: I started in learning and development quite a long time working at a bank branch in New Zealand. I have always been interested in learning and mentioned that to my manager. One day I get a call asking me if I would be interested in the position of a senior training officer.

I did that role for two or three and then I was transferred back into the business, which is actually not a bad model in corporate learning. I then took a conscious decision to look for a learning role because I really like learning. So, I can’t remember being any grand plan, I think it is like a lot of things you fall into and become passionate about.

Jeevan: Peter, you mentioned you liked learning? What aspects of learning do you like?

Peter: It is the power of helping our people develop capability, the value that it brings in helping them do their jobs and what they can achieve. So, it’s really that.

Jeevan: It has been a long journey and you have worked for a lot of organizations in different roles in HR and Learning. What are the current challenges faced by learning professional in the Westpac group and banking industry in the general which is feeling the continued impact of the GFC?

Peter: I think, certainly in financial services, the market conditions are creating challenges, in our ability to really deliver learning to drive capability that’s linked to our strategy and our business goals. We are now under greater scrutiny to deliver learning quicker and qualify the outcomes as never before.

We should be focusing on evaluating the learning we deliver. In my experience, however business leaders do not always have the interest in evaluation, which is the opposite of what you actually think. They are keen to move on to the next business initiative. So part the challenge is to educate business leaders about how they get value from the money they spend on learning.

The other challenges are the need to send the message that formal learning only part of the learning that employees needs and the need to develop capability of the L&D function. Personally I have spent a lot of time driving the transfer of learning to workplace through my team.

Jeevan: Do you have any concerns that the need to deliver learning quicker with less money may impact the quality of learning?

Peter: I think, we need to be clear about we are trying to achieve and also recognizing that there are some trade-offs. If you cannot invest in learning as before, then more of the accountability rests in the individual and their manager than maybe in the past.

I think, we can challenge the way we do things and be clever about it. Now, I’ve spent a lot of time not only in this role but in the previous roles talking about doing things differently, simply and doing them well rather than getting really fancy in designing our learning.For example, culturally, the expectation is when you attend a workshop you get to go home early. So, rather than being seen as part of our job, it’s almost like a reward. We still, in some ways, haven’t made much progress beyond where learning was often delivered as a reward.

Jeevan: Peter, do you have any thoughts about the effectiveness or otherwise of the use of technology enabled learning and the challenges that it imposes on the L&D professionals?

Peter: Many learning professionals need better understanding of how technology can enrich the learning even in face to face workshops, so that we don’t just keep on replicating what we’ve done in the past.

The other challenge with technology is that many organisations and certainly in financial services, the use of online learning predominantly for compliance learning. I think the opportunity to use online learning, in a whole lot of different ways has been untapped. For example online simulations and social networking offers opportunities to extend the use of online learning to soft skills and business acumen (non compliance).

Jeevan: I had the opportunity of attending your keynote speech at the AITD conference about the role of L&D in skilling the workforce in Australia to be more productive to compete in the international market. What are your views on this?

Peter: As learning professionals, particularly in corporate learning, we tend to focus on what you are doing in your particular space rather than doing it in the context of Australia or in terms of global marketplace and how we fit in to the rest of the world.

I think, there are huge opportunities for learning professionals to recognize and contribute to building the capability of the Australian workforce. When you look at the productivity numbers for Australia, most of the global studies is dropping or is static. This may come to bite us once the resources boom is over. We can also contribute the reskilling the workforce so that they have job opportunities in the future. I think it is our accountability as learning people is to really see how we fit in to this bigger picture of building the competence of the Australian workforce and productivity.

Jeevan: Well, thank you Peter, very much for your time. So, it’s been a pleasure, you know, talking to you.

Peter: Thanks.

Peter Hall’s Keynote presentation here Running to Stand Still – The Challenge of Remaining Relevant

Please note that the blog posts are the personal views and opinions of the contributors and not necessarily the views of the organisations they work for.

Register for our capability development webinar discussion on “Making Evaluation Work” on 29th Sept 2011, 12 pm to 1 pm, Sydney Time.

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