Lynn chats with candidate Rob Rees, Regional Learning and Development Lead for Next

At DMS we remain in contact with many of our graduates, to support and observe their journeys as they progress in their careers. One such graduate is Rob Rees, Next’s Regional Learning and Development lead for Scotland and Ireland. Lynn Carson, MD of DMS Ireland, caught up with Rob to see how his CIPD qualifications have impacted his career.


Lynn Carson: Rob, what is your current role at Next and what are your main HR and L&D responsibilities?


Rob Rees: I’m the Regional Learning and Development lead for Scotland and Ireland, which means I look after a team of regional trainers who service all retail stores across the region. In my role as line manager, I coach and mentor them to deliver consistent learning across the region.


I also project manage L&D projects (such as our retail  induction programme) and partner with area and regional managers to provide coaching support for them, as well as learning interventions to their store managers.


We measure success using a diverse range of factors. A crucial part of this relationship is understanding workload, impact, successes and performance, and collaborating with the team to develop individuals further.


Lynn: What made you decide to undertake a CIPD qualification programme?

Rob: I’ve been on this journey for a few years now. Before I started I had an honours degree but no professional qualifications. I wanted to add professional credibility to my CV – to benchmark myself against the rest of market – and I knew this would help build my career. I now have a Level 5 diploma in HRM, and a Level 7 diploma in L&D.


Lynn: What attracted you to DMS as a CIPD centre?

Rob: Initially, it was DMS Ireland’s flexibility – both in terms of deadlines and finance – that drew me to work with the company. Now, DMS has evolved to become a vital part of my career support network. As you’ve mentored me through my career, and helped me make considered decisions at crucial moments, the relationship has become personal and well as professional. It’s refreshingly open and honest. DMS Ireland are my type of people and I really value the support they continue to provide.


Lynn: What skills did you acquire and develop throughout your studies?

Rob: Because a lot of what I was studying was very practical and evidence based, I have developed advanced critical thinking skills.


The qualifications have enabled me to look beyond what a person is saying and interrogate an asserted truth. I have the confidence to say, ‘that’s not going to work. This is the best way forward’. I find these skills of analysis and evaluation help me as a facilitator and coach.


More widely, the qualifications have helped me understand how to build an L&D solution from start to finish, and to focus on my CPD to make sure I can champion best practices for my team, peers and anyone else I come in to contact with.


Lynn: How have you applied what you have learnt to your everyday role?

Rob: I think the biggest thing I’ve applied is the concept of being a Thinking Performer - being a role model and living to the values and the ethics of the CIPD.


I have a high moral and ethical streak running through me. It helps to have a framework from which to understand my ethics and how to apply them to the decisions I’m making – both at work and in life.


The courses have also highlighted and developed my strategic abilities (identified by Clifton Strength Finders as a core strength), and empowered me to use this to inspire people.


I’m motivated by that role but the real edge has been in understanding what else I need to make a vision a reality. I now recognise the types of people I need to collaborate with to help me develop my strengths. It’s opened my eyes to who I need around me to deliver success.


The qualifications have also ensured I have a rich knowledge of HR and L&D theory that I can apply to my everyday work.


Insight into the next generation of colleagues has been priceless. I’m already having conversations about what they need from an operational department, in terms of induction, pre-boarding and on-boarding, through to development to their next roles. Seeing what might be possible is really exciting.


Lynn: What did you learn about yourself by completing your qualification?

Rob: I’m not sure if I learnt this from you Lynn, or the qualifications, but I no longer make decisions through a ‘red mist’, as I call it - in the haste of the moment.


Now, I see where a decision comes from, the external and internal factors influencing it, context of the decision, and the perspective. This helps me take considered, level-headed action. An important skill.


Lynn: Are you planning to enrol on any other CIPD qualification programmes in the future?

Rob: My Goal is to get my chartered fellowship by applying what I’ve learned in the work place and working at a more strategic level within the company. I’m now focused on ensuring I live the values and ethics of the CIPD and hold myself accountable to those.


I’m keen to support those starting their qualifications. I’ve joined the mentoring programme and look forward to sharing my experiences and helping others get their qualifications. I’d like to give back what Lynn [you] and DMS has given to me.


Lynn: What advice would you give to someone considering embarking upon a CIPD qualification programme?

Rob: Do it for the right reasons. Have a purpose – know why you’re doing it, where you want to get to with it and what you want to get out of it.


You need to be driven and understand how to relate it to what you do day-to-day. If you’re not in an HR or L&D role, find someone who is and ask all the questions that got you interested in the area. I also recommend that you take the opinions of as many people as you can connect with – be it through brand or industry events, or social media.


It’s important to understand what you’re taking on. My best advice is to use the programme to feel empowered to have your own opinion.


Lynn: How is the role of HR/L&D changing in the workplace?

Rob: In our increasingly non-unionised environment, everyone is empowered to have a voice. Individuals no longer need a union speak their mind and make a difference. That change – to have a voice at work - has been so dramatic and I feel it’s my responsible to champion those voices.


I believe we should be nurturing workplaces that inspire creativity and drive innovative ideas. So, when an employee says, ‘I’ve got a wicked idea that can make us more money’, we can harness that passion and insight for the greater good.


I also believe we must be pragmatic about what we want to do with the employees of tomorrow – those who grew up with YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat. They learn differently and have different expectations of their employers. With a strong economy and the lowest unemployment in decades, it’s going to be a fight for the best talent.


Finally, the uncertainty of Brexit means nobody knows what’s on the horizon. It’s important we’re lean, resourceful and commercial. And it’s important we continue the great conversations we’re having with our colleagues at the moment and ensure they feel empowered.


Lynn: What do you envisage to the greatest challenges/ opportunities for HR/ L&D professionals in the coming years? How are you approaching them?

Rob: Externally, Brexit will be a huge challenge. We need to be ready.


Internally, there are huge opportunities for Next to utilise learning technologies. We have a great culture, we’re commercially aware and customer focused. I believe we can apply modern tech-driven thinking to pragmatically impart learning and development. The strength of our cultural framework will hold this in good stead. I’m also excited to observe, discuss and learn from others new, best practice L&D approaches.


Lynn: How is technology impacting the HR/ L&D function?

Rob: In my first job, I was sent on a 5-day residential training programme. The head costs, accommodation, travel, sustenance and training made this a huge investment. A vast amount of money was spent and yet today, I can’t really tell you what I got from it.


Back then, this was the norm but today, businesses can no longer afford this level of expenditure. So how can we, as L&D practitioners, automate learning and empower individuals to develop themselves? This is where technology can have the greatest impact.


There is huge scope to automate regulatory training, provide reports and keep us safe in the workplace. Strategically, HR leaders need to know when someone needs a face-to-face learning intervention, and when technology is the right medium.


For the curious millennials, it can perpetuate self-learning and inspire the workforce. Entwined with technology as they are, we need to harness their inquisitiveness and offer a platform that enables them to autonomously develop their skills. Ultimately, we want these individuals to feel empowered to help buy their first suit jacket or a couple their first sofa for their new home. Learning technology can inspire, motivate and drive these people to their next position in the organisation, and on into their wider career.

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