Lifelong learning in 2020: employees in control

Offline, but increasingly online too. And not just during working hours at the office, but also in their spare time, at home and elsewhere. Since employees today learn and train very differently compared to ten years ago, the concept of 'lifelong learning' at grid operator Elia will take on a completely different look and feel.

Lifelong learning is high on the agenda of every company today. But might the bar be even a bit higher at a technology company like Elia? 

Shanna Jacobs (HR Selection & Recruitment Manager at Elia): "The digital transition is definitely one of our major spearheads for the coming years. This involves not only the strategic optimisation of our grid – thanks to the use of digital technology – but also the digitalisation of our entire learning and training environment."

Evelyne Driane (Head of Talent Management at Elia): "In essence, it boils down to letting employees acquire the right skills and mindset to successfully support this radical digital change. Flexibility and eagerness to learn are key concepts: anyone who starts working here must have a number of basic skills, but above all they must be capable of and willing to learn continuously, because a lot of expertise and skills that this company will need tomorrow or the day after tomorrow cannot be found on the market today."

Shanna Jacobs: "That is precisely why we are increasingly focusing on attitude when we recruit new employees: the agility and openness to learn largely determine a person's future potential."

How many new vacancies does Elia fill each year on average?

Shanna Jacobs: "We've already filled 93 this year, but a third of those were filled internally. By the end of this year, we will have more than 1,400 employees in Belgium."

Shanna Jacobs: "Lifelong learning primarily builds on the drive and motivation of employees themselves. We now know that employees who receive such a wide range of training are also happier and more motivated in their job. So yes, our wide range should also help to convince good candidates."

What does that mean in concrete terms? Are all employees required to complete a fixed number of hours of training each year, and which offerings can they choose from?

Evelyne Driane: "For the technical profiles, the minimum training path is more or less fixed, because they also regularly need new technical and safety training and must obtain certain certificates. We also encourage them and all our other employees to decide as much as possible for themselves which courses they would like to take for their own personal development. This involves both in-house training and external programmes, which they can suggest themselves. On average, every employee here takes 5 to 7 days of training every year."

With external training courses you can of course go in any direction. How do you keep things on track?

Shanna Jacobs: "We do check whether a given training course fits into someone's personal development plan. But we often notice that inspiration from outside can in the long term yield great added value. Sometimes such training can even have nothing whatsoever to do with the employee’s current position, but it is very valuable with a view to securing and performing a new job within the company."

What does the training on offer look like today?

Evelyne Driane: "There are multiple channels, including our brand-new digital platform – the Elia Group Digital Academy – that we launched last summer. Obviously, we'd already had an extensive catalogue of training courses for some time, but via this online platform all our employees now have unlimited access to a huge range of online training courses. This includes training courses via LinkedIn and other external providers as well as e-books, podcasts and YouTube videos. Of course, our aim is not for employees to learn to play the piano via our digital academy (laughs), so we curated an extensive selection from the immense online offering. The starting point is those future skills that will help us to roll out our digital business strategy."

"This new platform is not only free and very user-friendly, it is also accessible to every employee any time day and night. In the office, at home or even during their free time if they want... Why not? People want to decide for themselves how and when they learn. Some would like to specialise further, while others are more likely to look for completely new areas of knowledge. We already have 1,500 topics available on the platform and the range will undoubtedly expand over time."

Freedom and happiness: Is that the new success formula for encouraging lifelong learning?

Shanna Jacobs: "If you give people the opportunity to make their own choices, they are usually also more intrinsically motivated. There are of course the compulsory technical courses, but you mainly develop on the basis of your own interests and motivation. We are now responding to this in concrete terms, with a range that is as broad and accessible as possible – within predefined guidelines."

Evelyne Driane: "It is important that we explicitly position our new digital platform as a voluntary self-learning tool and are pleased that it has been so well received within Elia."

Nest – Elia's very own incubator

Earlier this year Elia launched the Nest project, a completely innovative and atypical learning concept that is all about trying something out and learning from the experience. "It's like an in-company mini-incubator," explains Shanna Jacobs, HR Selection & Recruitment Manager at Elia. "An employee or group of employees submits a proposal to develop something totally new from scratch, the aim being to find out whether there is future for it in the company. We then assess the proposals and put together a team that can work on it at least three days a week for about 12 weeks. This group feeling and the relatively short period of focus on the idea are essential to this kind of mini-incubator."

"We also provide the teams with their own space and, if necessary, an external testing environment to develop their proof of concept. If it's a bullseye, then we of course integrate the Nest project into our regular business afterwards." In fact, four Nest projects are ready to go. "That is the essence of learning at the workplace: thinking completely outside the box and then learning through experience. In fact, the path taken to implement the concept is almost as important as the idea itself."

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