The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform: Award Winning Learning & Development Strategy


When people encounter the term 'Corporate Social Responsibility' they often think of outward looking activities such as charitable giving or sponsorship of organisations within the local community. While these activities are an aspect of Ireland's National Plan on Corporate Social Responsibility under the Community Pillar it is also important to remember to look inward at with is happening within your own organisation. This includes, under the Workplace Pillar of the National Plan, the provision of a supportive working environment where staff can fulfil their potential.

According to the OECD, in 2015, Irish workers spent an average of 1819 hours and 32 minutes per year at work*. If that time is being spent in an environment where staff members are not valued and supported to develop then it is not difficult to image the broader societal impact this might cause, for example in terms of mental health. As such, Learning and development is an important element of an organisation's overall CSR Strategy. Additionally a Learning and Development Strategy can have a number of benefits for the organisation itself such as enabling staff to contribute to the best of their abilities training, maintaining morale, and increasing staff retention.

While the 'C' in CSR stands for 'corporate', CSR is relevant to all organisations including those in the Public Sector. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) have produced a comprehensive Learning and Development Strategy, 'ONE HR'. DPER was awarded Best Learning & Development Strategy at the HR Leadership & Management Awards 2017. This recognition follows their 2015 nomination for HR Magazine's Best HR Strategy 2015 Award in the Overseas Category.

DPER's ONE HR Learning and Development Strategy 2015-2017 identifies five enablers that are considered to be central to Learning and Development within the organisation. These enablers include 'Raising Morale & Productivity' whereby DPER aims to encourage a dynamic workplace in which the individual contribution is valued and utilised. The other enablers are 'Right Skills' through which DPER seek to Identify skills/capability requirements for the medium and longer term; 'Partnering for Performance' involving the enhancement of cross-divisional teamwork and innovative working methods; 'Strong Management Culture' to manage performance, and support the development of management skills and leadership capacity; and 'Relevant Learning & Development' which involves investing in a learning and development strategy that offers an array of different learning and development opportunities.

To complement the strategy, an online L&D portal was developed to facilitate staff access to a repository of learning resources. It is intended to give staff access to a flexible, high quality learning tool, utilising a variety of learning methods allowing staff to "plan their own learning journey". A proactive approach for actively communicating learning and development throughout the organisation is achieved by conducting learning and development networking events for all staff.

DPER identifies three types of learning that are central to their strategy. These are grouped together under the umbrella term 'Organisational learning'. Organisational learning is a practical approach DPER uses to examine what they do well and to identify what can be done do better. It is divided into three main components:

Action Learning
The first step is to examine the strengths and areas for development within each division by employing a suite of learning methods including practical workshops; case studies to benchmark procedures and processes against best practice; and identifying a list of projects and learning and development needs. Furthermore, a repository of corporate knowledge and in-house experience is captured with a quality governance framework developed to ensure best practice is reviewed and updated on a continuous basis.

Applied Learning
The next step is to take the findings from Action Learning and develop new applied methods of learning and development to best address these learning needs. Applied learning will incorporate a blend of formal and experiential learning which can include role playing, case studies and action learning sets.

Social Learning
DPER consider ‘Learning by Doing’ as key to acquiring new skills and competencies. Accordingly, the Action Learning and Practical Learning methods are complemented by Social Learning through mentoring and coaching with a particular focus on new entrants and new appointments to grade.

Organisational learning at DPER is an ongoing process. It contributes to improving working relationships, building networks and sharing knowledge within and across divisions. Continuous learning and development is facilitated for staff in order to ensure that the individual’s capacity to aspire, grow and contribute is harnessed and developed. A target of five days learning and development per annum for staff, incorporating a mix of formal and/or informal learning and development interventions, is actively promoted through a series of learning and development clusters. As stated in the DPER ONE HR Learning and Development Strategy 'an organisation learns when its people learn’.

* Source: OECD (2017), Hours worked (indicator). doi: 10.1787/47be1c78-en (Accessed on 11 April 2017)