Let’s put our thinking caps on – it’s Learn@Work Week

Events held across country for annual week sponsored by CSTD
By Lesley Young
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/18/2008

If you feel yourself absorbing a little more knowledge than usual at work this week, you won’t be alone.

That’s because Sept. 22 to 26 is the fourth annual Learn@Work Week, sponsored by the Toronto-based Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD). This year’s event is enjoying unprecedented involvement from companies and governments across Canada, said Lynn Johnston, president of CSTD.

More than 120 municipalities, including the City of Toronto and the City of Vancouver, proclaimed a Learn@Work Week, and many of the society’s 2,500 members are hosting a variety of on-site events. (For a complete list of local Learn@Work Week events across Canada visit



“The goal is to raise awareness of the good work (learning leaders) do and to demonstrate the value and impact of learning on the organization,” said Johnston.

In that vein, the Toronto chapter is holding a breakfast panel (Sept. 22) with three of its “learning leaders” — business leaders acknowledged by the CSTD as role models in personal development and lifelong learning, as well as for providing the support needed to embed training and development in their organizations.

Showcasing champions of training and development who work outside of the HR department inspires the transfer of knowledge and ideas, said Johnston. And senior business “learning leaders” are needed in every organization to help push a learning agenda past senior management.

“One of our roles is to try to get best practices in front of members so they can hear first-hand what others are doing. And those with results are the ones who are making inroads with senior managers,” said Johnston.

The biggest challenge in championing training and development initiatives is to convince management of the value while delivering short-term financial results to meet shareholder expectations, said Ed Hogan, executive vice-president of operations at Toronto-based Novopharm, and one of this year’s learning leaders.

“The reality is that a long-term perspective is required. You can’t quantify leadership development on a quarterly basis.”

Hogan’s perseverance has paid off. Over the years he has helped implement a number of innovative initiatives, including the Learning Management System, Training Partner, which provides a database of training records and increases the ability to provide online courses in a timely fashion.

“We were the first to introduce this and now it has become a large undertaking within the entire organization,” said Hogan.

He also pioneered the Front Line Leadership Program at Novopharm which, much like an internship, enables select employees to undergo a year-long extensive development program that prepares them for leadership roles.

“They are exposed to all aspects of the operation,” said Hogan. “They aren’t tourists. They have meaningful work in various sectors of the business. They are rated, evaluated, provided with valuable feedback and skills training, with the ultimate outcome that they will be future front-line managers of the company.”

The first two graduates have been promoted into leadership roles, and two more candidates are currently in the program.

A similar leadership development program called the Foundations of Leadership program (developed by Trillium Health Centre), among many other training-and-development activities, was championed by Marla Fryers, vice-president of programs and chief nursing officer at Toronto East General Hospital. More than 400 of the hospital’s 2,400 employees have gone through the six-module course, which explores themes such as mastering change, understanding communication styles and developing interpersonal skills.

The effort has paid off, as over the past five years the hospital has seen a steady increase in staff satisfaction scores, said Fryers. Finding programs that engage employees, that they really enjoy, is important to the success of any training-and-development undertaking, she said. But to really inspire a learning culture at the workplace, it is necessary to empower employees, she said.

“You need to give them the ability to redesign work systems and processes and change them for the better.”

Lesley Young is a Newmarket, Ont.-based freelance writer.

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