Why learning and development is key to future success

Starting a new job – in a new industry – is a challenge at the best of times. 
 
When you’re establishing a whole new function into the business, that challenge becomes all the more significant. 
 
Throw a global pandemic into the mix on week three, and the ‘new job playbook’ goes out of the window.  
 
This was exactly the situation facing Bawani Ravindran back in February 2020, when she started a newly-created role as Northrop’s Learning and Development Manager. 
 
“Northrop really cares about people development, and had identified the need for a dedicated function to provide learning and development for its employees,” says Bawani, who began her career in financial markets after graduating with a commerce degree, before progressing into training, and then learning and development.
 
“We had a strategy to begin with but obviously when COVID came along we had to be flexible and agile and shift that strategy,” she laughs. “We quickly got into a pattern and rhythm though.”  
 
Creating the future
 
Over the course of her 11-year career with Thomson Reuters, Bawani worked in New York and London, as well as Sydney, and upon returning to Australia she was thirsty for a new challenge in a new industry. 
 
She spent time in the retail, insurance, mining and engineering sectors to explore other industries, before securing the task of building Northrop’s learning and development component from the ground up. 
 
“Over the past five years the company has almost doubled in size in terms of employees, and Northrop needed to establish the function to ensure that our people are being trained and developed in expectation of the company growing further,” she says. 
 
“A key part of my role is to foster a culture of learning by developing a robust framework to roll out our training program.”
 
One of the big things identified early on was the need to provide training and support to people managers. With Northrop’s focus on character as much as technical skills, management opportunities can be given to people who may not have had previous managerial experience. 
 
“You may be a technical expert, but you need a whole different set of skills to be able to manage people effectively,” explains Bawani. 
 
“By having a formal learning and development program for people in those positions we can give them the support, knowledge and training to succeed in many areas of people management.”
 
The people management program includes looking at each major touchpoint of the manager/team member relationship and provides people managers with tools and resources they can use to develop a fruitful relationship. 
 
“We covered these conversations all the way from recruitment to people development and performance management. There was a strong emphasis on working with their team members at each interaction in an emotionally intelligent way.”
 
Partnerships to develop careers 
 
As well as establishing an in-house learning and development program, Bawani’s also leveraging connections with industry bodies such as Engineers Australia to provide training and workshops for graduates and trainees, and collectively the learning and development program speaks very clearly to one of Northrop’s key values: we develop. 
 
“It’s great to see a business actually live its values, and at Northrop we want to develop our people as well as empower them,” she says. 
 
Engineering, like most STEM areas, has traditionally been a male-dominated environment, and Northrop is proactively working to ensure it has a diverse range of people and skills to ultimately deliver the best outcomes for clients, and for society more generally. 
 
“I’m really happy to see such a serious emphasis and focus from the company about recruiting women, and promoting women to senior leadership roles,” says Bawani. 
 
“There’s a lot of work to do as an industry, even at university level the numbers of women coming through could be a lot better, and hopefully due to the work we’re doing at Northrop we can be part of that change.” 
 
“I’m really encouraged to see that diversity is always at the front of our CEO and senior leaders’ minds, and they understand that diversity is vitally important to the future success of the business.”  
 
Preparing for the future 
 
An important factor in that future success will stem from the learning and development work being undertaken today – after all, over the coming decade, many roles and tasks will likely become automated, and it’s then that the softer skills that will really come to the fore. 
 
“The ability for critical thinking, to put things into context, to understand emotional intelligence – those are the sorts of things that will set you up for success in the future,” says Bawani. 
 
By equipping our people with those skills now it sets them as individuals, and the business as a whole, on the path to sustainable future success. 
 
Contributor(s)
Learning and Development Manager
Author(s): 
Bawani Ravindran

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