June 24th 2016 will be permanently etched on the brains of most Brits for some time to come as the results of the EU Referendum heralded a result that few experts had predicted and sent shockwaves throughout the continent.


The fall-out in the days after the result were announced were seismic, with the resignation of the Prime Minister, leadership contests in both main political parties and a substantial amount of remorse, anger and mud-slinging on social media that quickly became a frenzy.


Now, just over a 6 weeks later, research has shown that 1 in 8 of us has fallen out with a friend or family member as a result of the Brexit vote to the extent that we are no longer speaking. Democracy clearly brings us all together!


Moving forwards, nobody is entirely sure what will happen as a result of the vote, and we are not going to claim that we have the crystal ball that gives us the answer, but what might be important is to consider the possible consequences for UK businesses and the role that L&D professionals may play in the process.


So, let’s consider the following suggested outcomes:


  • Initially, there may be a….recession

You have to whisper that word, because the more you say it the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Economists advocating Remain were predicting this as a likely scenario should the vote go against them and the uncertainty that has been created may well propel those looking to spend to instead keep their money in their pockets until a clearer picture of what the economy looks like is revealed. The result of this could well be that there is negative growth for two successive quarters and at that point the dreaded ‘r-word’ becomes a statement of fact and not something said quietly as a prediction.


So what happens to the role training if that does happen? Looking back at recent history, the 2008 recession saw a substantial cut-back to learning and development spend, with a Personnel Today survey in 2009 showing that 63% of respondents had reported a reduction in L&D spend and a 24% reduction in training output.


The reality of the 2008 recession was that L&D wastefulness that has amassed through the previous boom era had to be addressed. This meant that development plans were required for each individual and these had to be specific to their job role and career progression. This put an end to ‘training for training’s sake’ and for programmes that were frivolous and not aligned to the objectives of the business.


It is widely believed that most companies have come out of this downturn with a more effective training strategy. The adoption of new technology in the form of e-Learning and digital learner management has brought the benefits of increased cost-effectiveness, relevance to the individual and the reporting and analysis of all training activity. To this end,59% of CIPD members who took part in their annual survey indicated that the use of learning technology would grow within their organisations in the next year.


So, if push comes to shove, can further cost-savings be made to training budgets if required? This would vary from organisation to organisation, but the competitive nature of the online learning market and the constant development of new technologies means that learning digitally has become an almost essential tool.


2008 also taught us that senior managers residing outside of L&D can have a very blinkered view of what may be ‘essential training’. For many, that can become about compliance, but from a development perspective, getting managers to manage more effectively or sales people to generate more revenue has been shown time and time again to allow a company to see a more significant return on investment.


Will you have to abandon the leadership development plans you had? That will depend on whether the budgetary axe is wielded, and if it is, how severe the cut is. The advice may be that you look at ways of delivering that programme using a range of tools and get creative to ensure it gives your business tangible results.


  • There is uncertainty about what might happen to the Apprenticeship Levy

At this point it’s unclear whether David Cameron’s pledge to train 3 million apprentices by 2020 still remains a target of the new government or whether the levy aimed at creating funding, that is due to commence in April 2017, should still go ahead. Many, including the CBI, have asked for this initiative to be delayed in order for UK businesses to operate in the current economic climate and possibly redesign the scheme should it not be viable in changed trading conditions.


The levy itself is due to have implications for L&D by encouraging the promotion of apprenticeship training within the workplace and effectively tax businesses with an annual payroll of over £1million who failed to provide such a scheme.


The scope to provide internal schemes and rubber-stamp existing training provision with the word ‘Apprenticeship’ still remains a possibility and many organisations remain uneducated on the practicalities of managing programmes and identifying those who are able to take part.


Until the official word has been given to put back the levy, it would be wise to understand its impact upon your organisation.


  • Key decision makers may need to think more strategically

This process may have already started, with senior managers locking themselves in a room trying to formulate a plan out of the uncertainty. There will be an on-going need to do this and, mirroring the political arena, there may be considerable time until a long term strategy can be put in place.


As an L&D professional, you might not be invited to partake in this activity but you may want to consider how you can support these senior colleagues. Coaching may be an essential tool in this environment, either with an internal coach or someone external to the business who may offer a different approach.


It is also prudent to think about whether you can offer advice on how to facilitate such sessions. From a training perspective you may be using flip charts, mind-maps, spider diagrams and marker pens more often than others and in this scenario these tools may provide a more creative way to begin this process and help identify the tactics that are most likely to succeed.


  • There may be more opportunities to do business with countries outside the EU

There have already been stories in the news about the likes of Australia, New Zealand, India and China queuing up to be the first to enter into trade deals with the UK once Brexit has been confirmed. It also appears that the warning from Barack Obama that we’d be at the back of the line for a deal with the USA also may not be as harsh as first feared. Until the point that the UK is no longer part of the EU this will be speculation. However, there is a possibility the trade with other nations may become more viable in the longer term.


So what’s the impact? You may need to educate members of the workforce about cultural differences with other nations should opportunities to enter new markets emerge. Whether that’s how to behave at an Australian beach barbeque or how the Chinese buy products or services, these aspects may be the difference between success and failure within these markets.


Reading up on Indian culture may not be the first thing you do in the coming weeks, but be aware that you could play an important role in empowering colleagues to make these steps into unchartered territories. 


  • HR regulations may become more UK Centric

It is widely accepted that EU laws on Human Rights and how people are managed in the workplace have been positive and have paved the way for improvements in areas such as equal pay, paid annual leave and maternity & paternity rights.


Once the UK is no longer under the jurisdiction of the courts in Brussels then it is unlikely that anything will change overnight and there won’t be an adoption of draconian rules or practices.


It may be possible that Parliament look at Employment Laws with a view to modifying them in order to make UK businesses more competitive in the global marketplace. What format this may take is unclear at this stage and changes, if any, could take time.


Should there be any changes then L&D may become involved in updating the Induction training process, and working with HR, ensuring that all existing employees are made aware of any changes.


  • Effective leadership becomes essential during uncertainty

When faced with uncertainty, employees look towards senior managers to steer them away from danger and to the calmer waters. Once a strategy has been established then it is important that there is strong leadership to ensure it is implemented.


You may be asked to create development plans for existing managers and also those identified with the capability to move into a more senior role in time. There is much debate about the difference between managing and leading people, with the latter being seen as the most important facet during difficult times.


Ensuring your organisation has effective leaders requires a mix of skills from self-awareness, company insight, communication skills, creating a vision and motivating and inspiring those around you. Putting in place a programme that promotes compelling leaders during the time when Brexit negotiations are taking place would require an initial assessment of the skills and behaviours of those identified delegates. This would help to identify the most essential skills that need to be developed quickly and ensure that leaders are seen as leaders.   


  • You may need to encourage harmony within the workplace

The battle of words that occurred immediately after the results were announced between the Remainers and the Leavers demonstrated the ill-feeling that the vote and the campaigns had built-up.


Thankfully, that animosity has largely diminished and the need to provide combat training may not be as great as first feared. It does, however, provide opportunities to use training events to encourage greater interaction and co-operation between colleagues who may have held opposing views.


  • Communication is probably more important than ever

Speculation in the media and the workplace often leads to gossip and scaremongering. If there isn’t effective communication throughout the organisation and a dialogue as to the strategic decisions made by the senior management team then there is a danger of motivation levels dropping.


Communication training may be required for those tasked with informing others of changes that may be taking place. This should ensure consistency and give others the chance to ask questions and raise concerns. By doing so, you should see greater enthusiasm and an increase in performance. 


  • Change is inevitable. Those who can adapt and spot opportunities will thrive

Never has Reed Markham’s quote “If you are standing still, you are also going backwards” been more apt.


Organisations will spend the coming weeks and months trying to unravel the consequences of the UK Brexit vote, but they must then decide on a course of action and begin to implement it if they are to succeed.


L&D is the same. Whilst we await the next news story about the steps the Government are taking we should also be exploring how our function can support the business and the opportunities to provide people development. Simply shrinking back to the tick-box activities of compliance training is not an option.


Nobody can predict what may happen next, but a resilient and resourceful training department can only be an asset to any organisation.

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