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Andrea Tham in conversation with The HR Leader about her passion for L&D and more

By Jack Campbell | |8 minute read
Andrea Tham in conversation with The HR Leader about her passion for L&D and more

Andrea Tham, head of capability development and change at Gilbert + Tobin, shared her business savvy in a Q&A with The HR Leader.

Shandel McAuliffe, editor at HR Leader: “Andrea, what got you into learning and development and why are you passionate about the area?”

Ms Tham: “I think what really drew me to Gilbert + Tobin is the legal sector and the opportunity that exists from a learning perspective in that field of work. But really, if I was to tie it back to my history of where I came from and what attracted me to learning in the first place, it is really the humanistic element to learning.


“Learning is fundamentally about structuring in best-fit processes and procedures to enable an organisation's biggest investment, which let's face it, is all about people doing what they do best. There's a really large grey space in which people work and operate within those boundaries. And I really, truly passionately believe that the discipline of

HR and learning is a lot about understanding that human behaviour within the constructs of an organisation.

“Then throw in there, the uncertainty around the reinvention of how work can, and really is now done. It really is a fascinating space to be in. And I truly passionately believe that we're just seeing the start of it from a legal sector perspective. So, lots of great things to be done in that space.”

Editor: “What drew you to the industry in the first place? Was it something that you studied at uni and then got into, or something that you've sort of come to from other avenues?

Ms Tham: “If you talk about legal specifically, I definitely am not a lawyer. I'm just going to put it out there. In fact, quite the opposite. I actually came more from an arts background and did a degree in English literature of all things. So, I love the written word, also that drove my passion in terms of learning.

“Being a learner and really understanding text and the written word. But then the other side of it is the academia side of it, where you are actually inspiring others through the written word and also in the universities around that passion for learning. So, that's really one of the reasons that drove me into learning, but not exclusively.

“When I started my career in human resources, there was a real passion that drove me to learning, because of the fact that there is this humanistic element. Now it is about understanding the audience that's in front of you. What drives their behaviour? What makes them want to learn that really attracted me to learning.”

Editor: “What do you think is the future of learning? Where are things going to shift?”

Ms Tham: “It's a really interesting discussion point because, let's face it, there is a lot of hype and it is because of that uncertainty I mentioned a little bit earlier, about that future of work, that leaders and organisations are trying to get ahead of this change curve. Because the literature all talks about how we’ll otherwise be left behind.

“You might have heard of some of these statistics floating around. 2020 World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs report says that, half of employees around the world will need reskilling by 2025. A recent McKinsey report says, the pandemic has pushed companies and consumers to rapidly adopt new behaviours, they're likely to stick around. So, those include things like remote work and meetings, e-commerce, automation, and AI.

“...In summary, in our era of workplace upheaval, I truly feel that companies that can create that tailored, authentic experience to strengthen the employee purpose, listen to what they're asking for, ignite their energy and culture will really be able to create that change and elevate organisational wide performance.”

Editor: “You mentioned to me the other day that there are some new ways of learning that are very key to how we learn in our personal lives. What's some of that coming through?”

Ms Tham: “I mentioned a little bit earlier that whole shocking statistic, 50% of the world's employees will need reskilling. And that concept of rapid and continuous learning is really central to the way that the conversation around what learning and learning can provide, is really coming to the forefront. So, we've really been pushed into the spotlight and being a central part of the narrative that I don't think we've ever really been part of before.

“Learning have always been important, of course, in the development of talent, enabling efficiency at work of our employees. But we haven't actually been asked, ‘Hey, what exactly do my people want now?’ And when it comes to their work and staying in this organisation, what pulls those levers? So, I feel like L&D leaders and the conversation that I've seen, really has stepped forward. And there's a lot of discussion in the industry about learning 2.0 and reinventing the learning experience.

“I won't go into specific detail, but there's lots of great ideas around how can we utilise technology, social media, etc, to make learning more agile, on demand, personalised, digital. So, you can think about Wikipedia's learning experience platforms, podcasts, assessments. There's a lot of those buzzwords that are thrown out there. But if I was to step back and reflect on it, beyond where learning is actually going, I find that being part of this conversation in the industry is that learning leaders find themselves often curtailed, in terms of how ready organisations are to consume these changes. Coming up with these great ideas, some organisations have even implemented to some extent, some of these sexy ideas, but they tend to have a mixed response. So, something's not quite weighing up. We're hearing that organisations want this new perspective, but they're not ready to move.

“On the other hand of seeing this new advent and wave, I really also hear that learning leaders end up being stuck between a rock and a hard place. And we don't end up delivering anything that's fundamentally different from before. There's an element of frustration in the conversation as well. So, the challenge of how we work through that is something I'm passionate about.”

Editor: “What's a memorable learning experience for you? If you look back over your career, is there something that stands out that you're like, ‘Oh, I love that course, or I love that.’ And what was it that really made that hit home for you?”

Ms Tham: “If I was to think about where learning could go, I would almost take a leaf out of where some of those social media and sort of e-commerce stores are actually taking that learning experience. There are organisations out there which offer courses on demand, master classes, where you can learn from others in a video-driven way that they are masters or titans of the industry. If I was to step back and think about why that learning experience stood out in my mind, it's because of that special experience. I'm getting access to people that I normally wouldn't or an experience that I normally wouldn't in an easy to digest way that I can utilise on my own time and in my own space.

“Those are the sorts of things that tick the high points for me. I think there's lots that learning leaders in organisations can take from the way that e-commerce stores and social media organisations are starting to deliver learning experiences to consumers and be inspired from that perspective.”

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full conversation with Andrea Tham is below.

You may also wish to read: Treat learning like a dinner party says G+T head of capability development and change.


Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.