The HR interview: This week, Rachel Burnham, L&D Consultant & CIPD Tutor

We spoke to CIPD tutor and L&D professional, Rachel Burnham, who shares her history and her tips for those new to the profession

Can you give us an introduction to yourself and your role at MOL Learn?

I am a Learning & Development Consultant with my own business, Burnham L&D Ltd. I’ve worked for myself for the past 16 years and throughout that time I have been an Associate Tutor for MOL Learn – they are my longest running client!

Prior to setting up on my own I worked for a number of organisations, gradually moving into roles that were training and development focused. In addition, to my work for MOL Learn I also design and deliver learning programmes for other clients and also take on writing commissions, including most recently for CIPD ToolClicks. This means that I bring to my MOL Learn role current practitioner experience.

I tutor for MOL Learn, predominantly on the CIPD Foundation Certificate in Learning & Development. I support groups of students right through the whole blended learning programme – facilitating workshops & webinars, supporting their online studies and marking their assessments. Programmes start throughout the year, so at any one time I am usually supporting a group at the start of their study, in the middle and completing their course. Each group has its own characteristics and it is wonderful to be able to encourage, support and inspire students from such a mix of organisational backgrounds. And I am always learning new things from them!


What did you study at university and what impact did it have on your career path?

I studied Management at Aston University and as part of this specialised in people management. However, the most significant influence on my career path was going to work at a very small charity, called ‘Leaving Home Project’ – our aim was to prepare young people for leaving home, so it was a bit like doing health education work, but around housing. This organisation was small – we grew from 2 to 3 staff in my time there – but very ambitious. We worked across the whole of England & Wales, so we had to develop strategies to do that and one of those was to offer training to teachers and youth workers, so that they could deliver housing education work to young people. That’s when I got interested and involved in training, learning & development.


What work experience did you undertake before landing a permanent position?

I took a year out before I went to university and coincidently worked for the Open University answering student queries for their distance learning programme. I remember a recurring question was ‘Could you send me another test tube?’ for the then Science Foundation course, as this test tube was made from glass and unfortunately sometimes suffered in transit!
My course at Aston, included a year’s work experience placement and I worked for one of the local authorities employment bodies.

Most of my work experience came from my volunteering experience both in the Student’s Union at Aston, where I was part of the volunteer management team and for the British Youth Council, where I became part of the Executive Committee. This enabled me to gain experience in quite a range of management responsibilities: from managing a budget and buildings; recruiting and managing staff; dealing with stakeholders; and conflict resolution. Just to give you an idea, the Student’s Union at Aston at that time managed some accommodation blocks, a nursery, 3 bars, 2 restaurants, ran a series of music gigs, a shop and a travel agency – so there was quite a lot to get your teeth into.


What advice do you have for those who are just setting out in their HR career?

I would encourage you to build a Personal Learning Network (PLN) both in person and through social media – this is a group of contacts who you can learn from and with. I used to hate the idea of networking – I thought it was all about climbing the greasy pole and that never appealed to me. But over the last few years I’ve really begun to appreciate how important it is to have a network of trusted contacts and to keep learning. The pace of change is so great and the amount of knowledge needed for a successful working life is so vast, that you can’t expect to have all the expertise you need yourself. So, having people around you that who can alert you to developments, who you can learn from and ask for advice is vital. I use Linkedin for this, but my favourite is Twitter.


Has your role changed, or have your responsibilities evolved as you have worked for MOL Learn?

Yes, absolutely. From using OHPs to powerpoint to more facilitated interactive learning. From workbooks to online learning via a virtual learning environment. From workshops to workshops, webinars and online discussions. And from academic style assessments to practically based assessments, that prepare you for the types of things you would need to do in the workplace as a L&D practitioner. We always want to make sure that what we offer is current and up to date with modern practice in L&D.
I have also been involved in designing programmes for MOL, in ensuring the quality and consistency of our marking, in recruiting & supporting new tutors, and in internally verifying other HR programmes.


What key skills do you need to get into the industry? What do MOL Learn look for in prospective tutors?

I think a key thing in Learning & Development is to be committed to always learning – our field is constantly developing and changing. An area of growing importance is being able to use digital skills to enable learning and this is something that is a current weakness in our profession.

You also need to be ‘business savvy’ for the sector and organisation you work within and have an ability to work with stakeholders throughout your organisation, so that L&D is really working as part of the business and contributing fully to meeting the organisation’s goals.

At MOL Learn, tutors need to be able facilitate learning interactively face to face, in webinars and through online learning. Tutors need to be able to build rapport with a wide range of students and offer support both online and by phone. We pride ourselves on the value of the feedback offered to learners on assessments. Tutors need to have up to date professional knowledge and a distinctive feature of MOL Learn is having current practitioner experience.


Can you give one piece of advice you know now which you wish you had known when you started?

Always be learning. Be curious. And most especially be brave – try things out, run small experiments, learn from them, adapt and share what you discover generously. And people will share with you.


How important is practical work experience when applying in today’s job market?



Did you take part in any societies while at university and if so, did you learn any valuable skills from your time?

I took part in lots of societies and volunteered to help run a number of them: Third World First, the Women’s Group and the Jazz Club – I am very proud to have been a founder member of this, as I love jazz! I was also the first Women’s Officer at Aston and this got me involved in a cross-university gender equality project.

I learnt so much from combining studying, being involved in societies and my various volunteering activities, but two things stand out in particular – time management and working with stakeholders to build coalitions to make things happen.

I’m still involved as a volunteer today – I’m a member of CIPD Manchester’s branch committee and the Public Policy Adviser. So, those skills are still really important for me now.
Being a volunteer has allowed me to make a difference and to get involved in more challenging projects and roles. This has often led on to benefits for my career, even though that wasn’t what motivated me.


What is the most challenging part of your current role?

I think the rate of change in L&D is incredibly challenging, even just in relation to the use of technology. It is hard to keep pace – I’m currently learning about using Virtual Reality for learning – but it is so exciting to work out how to use technology effectively to aid performance in organisations and not just for the sake of it.
And the best thing about my role in MOL Learn is the students – seeing them applying their learning from Day 1 and their growth in confidence and skills. That is worth being a part of!

Rachel Burnham

Author: Editorial Team

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