Continuous Learning and Skills Acquisition

Continuous Learning and Skills Acquisition


Macro-financial consultant, retired IMF


Supporting talent and fostering the development of staff members is a central element in anchoring a solid conduct of policy in central banks. Ten participants, primarily senior staff from the Human Relations departments, from seven BCC partner central banks (Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Morocco, Peru and Ukraine) met in Geneva in mid-November 2023 for a 2-day workshop to discuss and exchange experiences on skills acquisition and learning.

The workshop featured active discussions of various aspects of ongoing training needs, identifying skills gaps, acquisition vehicles, skills evaluation and retention. Complex linkages exist across the HR spectrum on talent management, recruitment, IT needs, corporate culture, strategic planning, risk management, and succession planning. In parallel, a major change in attitudes to work and workplace organization is taking place in both the public and private sectors following the COVID-19 pandemic experience.

Participants made presentations on their practices on how they identify, acquire, evaluate, and upgrade staff skills to deliver on the central bank responsibilities and deliverables. More basic learning, including idiosyncratic aspects about the institution, its mission, deliverables, expectations for staff, as well as soft skills, generally take place through internal programs, while more advanced technical skills often use external training opportunities. Recent experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted work from home, increasing use of distance and virtual platforms, which raise important concerns on cyber security and IT needs, a particular concern of smaller banks.

A number of key takeaways emerged:

  • Knowing your staff, their skills, career ambitions and development needs, including through the use of surveys, statistical databases, and informal channels of communications (e.g.: SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). In this respect, HR colleagues in smaller central banks may find it easier to maintain an “open door” policy.
  • Corporate (and risk) culture that is open to continuous learning and improvement and securing the active and timely collaboration and feedback of line managers. In this regard, not all staff are management material, and it is important to have a “guru” track to reward and retain key expertise without imposing managerial training.
  • Institutional strategic goals set by top leadership and HR plans play a key guiding role to ensure the alignment of staff development goals with institutional business needs (top-down 80%, versus bottom-up 20%), including setting the staff appraisal objectives.
  • Skills acquisition takes place in close linkage with career development and talent management, performance evaluation and assessment, and interacting with internal mobility, and managing risks from staff turnover and poaching. Training internal staff is often cheaper than hiring the skill from outside and internal mobility improves morale, shows appreciation of staff and potentially increases staff retention.
  • Skills needs are very diverse requirements across institution from highly critical and technical functions (e.g. cyber security) that can be very costly and market-price driven.
  • There are various approaches to learning – the 10/20/70 model (courses/formal 10%; watching and doing with others 20%; on the job experience 70%) through the use of agile work groups (Peru).
  • Can also be a vehicle for enhanced international relations with other central banks (up and down the development chain). Technical assistance from international partners can play a major role in skills acquisition. However, providing technical assistance/training to smaller, less developed institutions upon request can be a major expense and resource intensive management need, but can also help develop skills in your own intuition (Colombia).
  • The constraints of being a public institution, notably on salaries, and the inability to dismiss staff.
  • In the same vein, there is debate as to what extent to formalize skills development objectives and milestones within the career development plan, with certain institutions preferring to leave staff development outside the appraisal system.
  • One of the problems with virtual courses is that they are very compatible with multi-tasking and people may not really be paying attention (especially busy managers), so control techniques used, but it may be best to send people to special closed environment away from their offices or home offices.
  • Communication with society pays dividends. Azerbaijan saw a big jump in the number of job applications following outreach efforts of what the Central Bank does. Several central banks also play key roles in financial literacy campaigns.

The workshop also had a presentation on talent management from a private sector perspective. While the private sector is more business-needs driven and quick moving, including on separations, there are a lot of commonalities on the challenges and needs to manage skills and human capital. Staff departures often reflect non-wage reasons for leaving, including internal conflict, and lack of opportunities to grow. Conflict with the boss and bad work environment is one of the major causes of departures – not money.