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Learning and Development: Why Investing in People is Critical to Defence Companies’ Success

By Kinexus on 31 October 2019

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Investing in people and helping grow their careers is essential to any company in Australia’s defence industry. A Learning and Development (L&D) program acts as a roadmap for people to expand knowledge, build their careers and support personal development. It’s also a way for companies to identify knowledge gaps, fill key roles and grow talent.

Jacobs saw a need to prioritise the L&D of its people, recently refreshing and rolling out an all-encompassing training program across the organisation.

We speak to Jacobs Human Resources (HR) Business Partners Fiona Brayshaw and Roma Devi as they unpack the company’s L&D program.

Tell us about your role at Jacobs.

Fiona Brayshaw: I’m the HR manager here at Jacobs. I came straight to the company after spending 20 years in the Royal Australian Navy. I initially joined in an administrative role and have now been with the company for 12 years. When I started, I was partly involved in L&D, so over time I’ve progressed into my current role.

Roma Devi: My title is HR Business Partner. I started with Jacobs in 2017 and work with Fiona managing every aspect of HR and L&D.

What does an average day at Jacobs look like for you?

Fiona: Roma and I manage our peoples’ L&D, performance management, security, office management, recruitment and benefits. As Jacobs is a global company, we also assist in rolling out of global initiatives locally. No day is the same; we get a lot of variety.

Jacobs has implemented an L&D program; can you explain what this is?

We facilitate an L&D program that runs all year. This includes conducting internal courses covering soft skills and leadership, as well as organising external training. Depending on the subject, training can be held in-house, online, or externally. Our management team has also endorsed using our own people – each with specialist skills – to run one-hour courses on a range of topics via video conference.

The L&D program is reviewed and renewed at the end of the 12 months, however, we’re constantly looking at ways we can tweak it to suit peoples’ needs.

Why did you see the need for this initiative?

Jacobs went through a period of major growth when Defence’s Capability and Sustainment Group created the Major Service Provider contracts. We realised we had to refresh our training plan to focus on professional development to retain people within the company.

Because we work so closely with the Department of Defence, we’re also in the process of assessing their requirements. For example, Defence might change its project management approach or project scheduling requirements, so we have to look at what they expect staff to be able to do and set our people up to respond appropriately to meet Defence’s needs.

What goes into running an L&D program for Jacobs staff?

First, you have to consult and get peoples’ input, then collate the ideas and information, assess what’s important, and provide feedback on why you decided not to include some elements. The plan then goes to management for approval.

Once you have the plan finalised, you need to determine the costing. You also have to consider time and peoples’ availability. It’s quite an involved process.

How do you decide what to include in the program?

We receive valuable input from people within our organisation who are working closely with our clients. We help our people set goals each year using the three “Es:” engage; elevate; and excel. By putting the onus on our staff to set their goals, they can tell us what training they would like to complete – we then use this information to build the program.

We also work with our Operations Managers across the country and ask for their suggestions on what training they think our people need. This helps to ensure training is appropriately targeted and worthwhile.

Is the training available to everyone?

While a financial cap is applied to each person, the L&D program is available to all permanent full-time and part-time employees – in fact, it’s part of the employment contract and is discussed during the recruitment process. We assess training for casuals and subcontractors on a case-by-case basis.

With regard to external courses, we also provide spaces for Defence personnel. Because we work together so closely, we share our training and development as part of the partnership. Defence is evolving; we want to help their people grow as well.

What has been the reaction to the L&D program?

It’s had a great uptake, especially with the younger team members who are building their careers. Jacobs has an ageing workforce, which is typical across defence industry.

Many of our people are already experts in their field and may not see a need for more training. The great thing is that these people are often willing to take on mentoring roles and can teach our new people.

Is the focus on up-skilling?

Our focus covers a bit of everything. Our staff can up-skill their level of knowledge, as well as gain educational qualifications. Where possible, we support diplomas, as well as graduate or post-graduate degrees. We also provide access to online training, which some people prefer as it is self-paced learning.

What are some of the benefits you’re seeing?

  1. Our quality of work is improving. People are taking advantage of the training and education on offer and putting their learning to use within the company.
  2. Our retention rates with the people undertaking L&D are higher.

Because there is so much training readily available, our people are becoming our ambassadors. They are spreading a good word about the company to potential candidates and we’re finding that people really want to work here. Everyone wants to work for a company that will help them reach their career goals while having the freedom to choose what they study.

What’s been the biggest learning?

The greatest learning is “plan in advance”. You need to allow at least two months to plan ahead and be prepared for setbacks. That’s critical if you want to deliver on your promise to your people.

Any mistakes so far, or things you could do better in the future?

We are all about time management. We haven’t made any significant mistakes that cost the company time or money. We are constantly evolving the training through learning and structure.

We are focused on continuous improvement and are constantly sourcing feedback on the training courses using evaluation forms. We need to ensure we measure success so we can adapt and improve.

The feedback is always good, but it’s also clear where we can improve.

Should other defence companies be offering L&D, too?

Absolutely. It’s critical for retention and morale. People are grateful for the benefits we offer in L&D. All defence organisations should be setting themselves up to grow the next generation of people who will take over from the current workforce. By investing in our people, we’re in a great position to succeed.

A special thank you to Fiona Brayshaw and Roma Devi at  Jacobs Australia for taking the time to chat to us.

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