A culture of lifelong learning

April 29, 2021 James Willingham

To create a culture of lifelong learning is a journey, and we are nowhere near the end! As a business we are investing in the future of our c7000 employees and 15 million customers to ensure the supply of around 2600 million litres of world-class tap-water per day. We want to be innovative and sustainable at every level, through initiatives like the recycling of 4.4 billion litres of sewage each day and the Thames Tideway Tunnel Project in which we are creating a healthier River Thames.

In fact, we are the largest generator of renewable energy within the M25!  To be able to deliver that innovation we need talented people with passion and knowledge, and to inspire that passion in the generations to come. For that to happen, we need a people strategy that creates a deep commitment to lifelong learning.

Where to start? Engage with everyone.

We started the project figuring out what it means to be part of Thames Water. Who are we as a business? Which opportunities are we offering our people? While exploring these essential questions we identified four core areas: clarity, performance & behaviour, development, and the future of Thames Water.

Our employees were hungry for transparency in roles, they wanted to understand where their career could lead them to in terms of performance, as well as which values and behaviour were expected in the business and this led us to focusing on what we wanted Thames Water to look like in the future. For that we collaborated very intensively with our HRD and new CEO, who are passionate coaches and believers in training, and from there we created the concept of ‘frontline first.

We had to define who our frontline workers were, what skills they needed, and how we could support them in their career growth. And so, Capability Uplift was born! It is a programme in which we respond to all four core areas and lead the way to the future offering a real vision. Of course, as a regulated business, compliance is an essential part of our training and on top of the cultural change we had to ensure we had a reliable LMS, with centralised information that reports back quickly with one source of truth.

Redesigning workforce landscapes.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we had to change the way we thought and learnt! From tunnels and confined spaces to social and digital learning. We had a vision of what we wanted to achieve but before getting to that point we had to ensure we got the basics right.

For that we defined a new competency framework, so every single employee felt comfortable articulating what success looks like in their role. We want everyone to know where they fit in, what role they fulfil and what they need to be successful.

While redesigning the workforce landscape we created a new workforce architecture to simplify and make the regrouping of functions and families easier to benchmark with each other. From clear business and behaviour frameworks that impact everyone in the business to regrouping on work functions and clearly identify job descriptions and responsibilities.

Learning on Tap: skills gaps need to be closed.

Before getting into the learning piece fully we identified our own learning approach. From how we can engage with employees, to how we learn at Thames Water, and also being open about using external and cost effective self-produced content too. We embraced the idea of the need of speed! Furthermore, looking at our internal talent pool we recognise the diversity in our talent lifecycle: experience workforce with 40+ years of duty; established and experiences leaders or apprentices.

To ensure we don’t experience a talent drought, and ensure our future talent, we are aiming to have at least a 5% of our workplace in development programmes, and we have created the future leaders graduate scheme. On top of that we want our ex-employees to leave a legacy and to pass on their knowledge, we know their commitment to the brand goes beyond their employment and we enable a rewarding knowledge exchange beyond their last day with us.

How do we go from having to learn to wanting to learn? Do we push learning, or do we pull? As with many businesses the pandemic has accelerated our digital transformation and at Thames Water is has brought online learning to the forefront.

Thanks to Cornerstone we were able to offer unlimited learning and we gave everyone in the business access to every single piece of content. including inhouse Thames Water studio content, Cornerstone training and content and selected learning courses. All in one platform that gives us the ability to track and maintain learning, creating and curating content.  The response was impressive, tracking over 3,300 hours consumed in self-learning in the first 90 days!

Building a culture of lifelong learning is a journey.

We are at the beginning of the journey, but we are very excited about what is ahead of us and how lifelong learning is impacting our people and our company culture. So far, we have been able to define who we are as an organisation, articulate clearly what we stand for. and define a clear skills and development strategy.

As part of the next phase, we will be tracking the impact of our commitment to our vision, collecting data on what our learners are consuming most, hours of training across the business, impact of development on the reduction of exits and on employee engagement.

We invite you to explore our fresh career page and to learn more about the Thames Water learning journey, watch the full webinar “How Thames Water’s skills strategy is creating a culture of lifelong learning” here!

About the Author

James Willingham

Head of Capability at Thames Water. James is an experienced Learning & Development professional. Since commencing his new role as Head of Capability, James has brought his passion, dedication and commitment to ensure his team receives excellent and personalised L&D to support their individual roles and develop new skills. James focusses primarily on developing Thames Water’s learning strategy to meet employees learning requirements through their ability to access high quality content 24/7, as well as filling skills gaps within the company to continuously provide the best quality and services for customers.

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