Should “Chief Learning Officer” be your next recruit?

By Ursula Fear, Senior Talent Programme Manager at Salesforce South Africa

One of the paradoxes of South Africa’s high unemployment rate is that the country also has a massive skills shortage. So, while young people especially struggle to find work, there are tens of thousands of available positions that can’t be filled because there’s a shortage of candidates with the right skills. 

Among the sectors most affected by this skill shortage are information technology, finance, and health and medicine. That obviously has a negative impact on the affected companies’ ability to grow and expand, further perpetuating the job crisis. At a societal level, overcoming both the unemployment crisis and the skills shortage will require significant interventions. Those interventions will have to come from both the public and private sectors (preferably with both working in concert). 

That does not, however, mean that organisations are powerless when it comes to addressing their own skills shortages. With the right approach, which targets talent within and outside of the organisation, they can build up all the skills they need. But someone needs to drive that approach and strategy. Enter the “Chief Learning Officer” (CLO). 

What does a CLO do?  

If you haven’t heard of a Chief Learning Officer, they’re the senior executive responsible for overseeing the learning and development initiatives within an organisation. Their primary role is to create and execute a comprehensive learning strategy that aligns with the company’s goals and objectives.    

Within that role, they oversee everything from learning strategy development, learning programme design, and talent development to learning technology, leadership development, and talent retention. While each of those roles (and the others taken on by CLOs) is important, the first three are particularly critical for ensuring that the organisation has the skills it needs. 

When it comes to learning strategy development, the CLO is responsible for building out a strategic vision for learning and development that supports the organisation’s business goals. They also need to understand the company’s needs and industry trends to create a roadmap for employee learning. 

Ursula Fear, Salesforce South Africa

Learning programme design, meanwhile, covers a variety of facets, including onboarding, leadership development, technical training, and soft skills training. These programmes can be implemented and developed in a variety of ways, including e-learning, classroom training, workshops, and coaching. There are also Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, such as Udemy, Coursera and EdX. MOOCs are considered educational megatrends because content is no longer a proprietary subject. Content is free and now accessible to people with a device and internet access. 

Talent development, on the other hand, entails working closely with business and the HR function, as well as other departments to identify skill gaps and development needs among employees. While HR may play an important role, the business is the main stakeholder. 

From there, the CLO can lead the design and implementation of programmes to help employees acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their roles. One of the things a CLO needs to bring to the table is speed and agility. Their role is to move with the times in an ever-changing VUCA world. Their turnaround to a business almost needs to be instantaneous.

Beyond the workplace 

But, and this is especially crucial in a market like South Africa, the role of the CLO doesn’t have to be restricted to the workplace. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that it shouldn’t. 

While internal learning and skills development are undoubtedly important, they can only achieve so much when it comes to addressing chronic skills shortages. It’s therefore incumbent that CLOs work with external bodies, including schools, colleges, universities, and even NGOs in the skills development sector. The organisation’s partners and customers can also play a role here – collaboration is essential – and key to addressing the challenges in a measurable and meaningful way. 

Together, these players can help ensure that educational bodies are equipping their learners with the skills they need to thrive in the workplace. But they can also come together for initiatives like bursary and scholarship programmes, short courses, and training days. Most importantly, organisations can play a critical role in facilitating on-the-job learning or work integrated learning. This is what materialises in a job at the end of the day. Practical fit -for-purpose skills and experience is what ultimately leads to a job.

Ultimately, the idea should be to build out an ecosystem that helps drive a pipeline of skilled talent into the organisation itself. That talent will also be well-placed to continue learning once they’re employed in the organisation because they have at least some familiarity with its processes. In the process, they’ll also help provide much-needed employment, particularly for young people.  

It’s something we firmly believe in at Salesforce, with our own ecosystem expected to create 31 800 new jobs and generate US$5.1 billion in new business revenue in South Africa by 2026.

One hire could help you get the skills you need 

So, while no individual company can overcome South Africa’s skills shortage on its own, it can take proactive action to address its own needs. But if it’s to do so, it needs the right in-house expertise. A good CLO can provide that expertise and help ensure that the organisation is building skills both internally and externally. Crucially, the more organisations there are that do this, the lower the skills shortage and unemployment crisis will be.