Thirty Under 30: the next generation of L&D professionals
Learning Technologies is keen to encourage young talent in the L&D community. Adjusting to new work conditions, particularly post-pandemic, can be challenging for young people. It’s important that the L&D community recognises their achievements and celebrates them.
Our Thirty Under 30 programme provides support, visibility and voice to the next generation of L&D professionals, selecting 30 applicants under the respective age of 30 to be involved. The entry criteria are that applicants work in the learning field and want to build their career. They should also be enthusiastic about participating in the Learning Technologies Conference programme. Our aim is to provide new entrants in our field with the chance to build solid foundations for a great career by hearing challenging ideas, meeting established professionals and building a strong network for future support.
Zahra Clarke-Johnney and Michael Osborne are both part of the Thirty Under 30 Class of 2020 and spoke at this year’s edition of the Learning Technologies Conference. They both shared their experiences with the Thirty Under 30 programme, as well as their career paths since 2020. Zahra spoke with Sharon Claffey Kaliouby, co-founder of the #WomenInLearning initiative, hosting an interactive session that engaged visitors to get involved on stage, all in the name of ‘Developing your career in L&D’. Michael Osborne spoke with Susi Miller, eLearning accessibility expert at eLaHub, giving an inspirational presentation and Q&A on ‘Designing learning that works for all’. Zahra and Michael were kind enough to share their background in L&D, their career and what they see the L&D future hold.
Zahra Clarke-Johnney – Digital Learning Manager, English Institute of Sport
Hi Zahra, thank you for your time today. First just to start off, give us an idea of what you do.
Zahra: I’m a Digital Learning Manager at the English Institute of Sport. When I won the Thirty Under 30 award I was working at a different place, but this is what I’m doing now though.
That sounds great, how are you finding it?
Zahra: It’s definitely more of a step-up than what I was doing before, I have more responsibilities and that kind of stuff so it’s good. I need to sign up to the level 5 apprentice, it’s good to be in a place where I’ll be able to do that kind of stuff.
Congratulations, that sounds really exciting for you. Also, congratulations on joining the Thirty Under 30 group in 2020. What was it like? What was the process and feedback like?
Zahra: It was just an online application, at the time when I first saw it I wasn’t actually in L&D, I took a slight detour, but I knew I was about to get a job in the digital learning. I thought I might as well still go for it, it was simply filling out an online form about me, what I’m interested in and stuff like that. And because back then I was 28, so I was thinking this is a practice year, and I can always try again next year. Then I got the email in the January, and it was really exciting!
Have you found it’s affected your career in any way? Has it inspired you?
Zahra: I think when you’re with a group of people and you’re all quite young at that point, you don’t really meet people that are managers under 30 and given that kind of responsibility or actually leading things properly, so it was really good to be in that space. When I was projecting my career plans and where I was going to be in different times, I probably line quite a lot of that to age, so then I was probably moving slower than I could have. This award motivated me to try to apply for higher things, so otherwise I wouldn’t have thought of it. This is why I applied for the job I’m now doing.
You’re right – as young people we can often hold ourselves back a bit. We think we’re not ready, but we are! I’m glad Thirty Under 30 inspired you in that sense, that’s good to hear. So, just outside of Thirty Under 30, do you have any inspiration or mentor figure, or any moment in your life, that helped to drive you a it.
Zahra: In doing the Thirty Under 30 programme I met a lot of different people in L&D, because I was invited to talk at the summer conference in 2020, which just helped a lot in terms of networking making you feel part of the community and I now know lots of different I can go to if I needed advice on anything. Even when you just go to different events, having someone there you know just makes it a lot easier. Before doing the Thirty Under 30, I used to go to things every now and again, but it would just be me. I don’t know if there’s a specific mentor, but seeing what managers do means you look up to them in the sense of that’s where you wanted to be in a number of years’ time, just seeing their approach to things.
Well said – it’s always nice to have people you know at events, especially big events. What was the summer conference like?
Zahra: I’d never spoken at a conference before, so it was a really good opportunity. I ended up doing two talks – one was a panel and one was a presentation. Michelle was my chairperson, I had meetings with her in advance, the tips and advice she was able to give me made me so much more confident. This made me deliver much better presentations, it was like having a masterclass in online talks. Through that, I met a lot more people as well, it was a useful way to network and get my name out there, and also get experience because I don’t do much public speaking, so it’s a good opportunity to be able to try that in a supportive environment.
Well done for speaking at a conference, it must have been challenging with so many people! What are you excited about or interested in for this year in the learning industry?
Zahra: With the hybrid working and learning, I’m interested to see what approaches people will take to it. I want to see if they’ll just go back to the office and learning will go back to how it was and if there are people that do develop and properly embed hybrid, just digital, or whatever model it is, and if it will be better received than pre-pandemic.
In my role, as I’m Digital Learning Manager, we’ve just implemented a new LMS, we are implementing digital learning, blended learning and all that kind of stuff. I guess it will be good to see what people are doing and learn from that make sure that what we’re doing here is received well and is in that best practice. Because now everyone’s been doing digital stuff, say before you were going to use Zoom, you would need to send out a load of instructions and you might want to practice logging in first, but now we just expect people to know how to do it. So it’s about thinking about those types of changes, as we’ve gone past the first hurdle of a video call – what more can we do to get it normalised?
Yes it’s crazy how it all becomes a new normal! So finally, do you have any final message about anything to do with L&D or any message you have?
Zahra: It’s nice to be back in-person, also seeing as I’m public sector and wouldn’t usually be able to go to the conferences, that in itself was a good experience for me to be able to have that opportunity.
Michael Osborne – Learning Designer, UpSkill Digital
Hi there Michael, thank you so much for your time today. So, just to start off, how have you been?
Michael: Extremely busy with work, but otherwise good! I’ve been asked to support with this year’s Thirty Under 30 and joining the dinner as well. It’s nice to be back with this year’s cohort as there wasn’t one last year due to COVID-19. Lots has happened, it’s been an interesting journey.
It has, and I can’t wait to hear all about it. What do you do at the moment?
Michael: At the moment I’m a Learning Designer at UpSkill Digital. Prior to the Thirty Under 30, I’d been in the same business with my previous company from around 2012, so straight out of university, coming up to ten years. When I got this Thirty Under 30 I was thinking it was a nice opportunity for a change, and one of the things that attracted me to UpSkill Digital was when I went on their website, it was a very diverse company. I’m very diverse myself, I have Tourette Syndrome, and I could see that it was a young, vibrant up-and-coming team.
So I’m working on some challenging projects at the moment, I do a lot on diversity and inclusion, and all levels of the company. I help people in the public sector with digital upskilling and reducing the digital skills barrier, through to very senior managers in companies like Google, Microsoft and HSBC – for someone my age, it’s pretty cool! I do think as I say, the opportunity at UpSkill was largely supported by the Thirty Under 30, as is a lot of the speaking opportunities I’ve had.
Just going back a couple of years ago, me speaking on stage would not be a thing. I’d attended Learning Technologies a few times before 2020, you always see Donald H Taylor doing the kick-off and he’s a very enthusiastic speaker with great charisma. It wasn’t long after the Thirty Under 30 that Donald got in touch with me about speaking about the accessibility I was interested in, I think now I’ve done three talks, and it’s led to other speaking opportunities too.
Really inspiring words there – accessibility is such an important thing. Speaking is hard for most people, and there’s some that just a bit more encouragement and a bit more help.
Michael: This was quite inspiring for me – before the event had even started, as Thirty Under 30 we had an hour or so before the conference – Donald came and spoke to us and what he said to us I found inspiring. The reception online has been quite nice, I’ve got old colleagues and other people in the industry saying they look forward to my sessions, even thought I haven’t been promoting it as much as I’d like to as I’ve been so busy, that fact it’s happening organically is really good.
Yeah – the conversation is big! Of course everyone missed it last year, especially in-person events, it’s exciting. People are just talking about it.
Michael: I was fortunate enough to get to the Learning Technologies Awards, which was great being back at in-person events again.
So, just talking about Thirty Under 30 in 2020. I just want to know your thoughts, how you found the process, the programme itself and how you felt, with any thoughts or inspirations around it? I know you’ve mentioned a couple, but anything about the process you enjoyed.
Michael: I heard about it through Twitter initially, through a complete off-chance. I spoke to my company about it, and they were fully behind me which was lovely. I had this thought that I didn’t have anything to lose – I was 29 at the time so it was the only year I could have entered. So, to have entered and got in on my only opportunity, was really great. The application process was good, I really did like the fact everyone was chosen on their merit and what they put down. To be chosen on merit alone I found really nice.
The lunches we had with stakeholders and exclusive sessions I found really helpful – there were people I’d followed digitally for ages, so to be at those people’s workshops and hear their experiences was quite insightful. I found the regular check-ins with the group and to see everybody attending those was lovely, some real good friends and contacts there that I keep in touch with. It’s nice to see what everybody’s doing, as I’m not the only who’s changed jobs, it’s great to see, not just for me, but for other people the opportunities that Thirty Under 30 has led to. As I say, the big opportunities for me was the speaking on accessibility and increasing my reach in that area. I think being one of the first Thirty Under 30 winners is a great thing to have on a CV – they created a banner image for us which I put at the top of my CV.
So, have you found Thirty Under 30 has changed your career in any way?
Michael: It did – it gave me confidence to try something new. In my first job, I was fresh out of university and my role was a bit ‘push a boulder up a hill’ because I didn’t have the experience. Whereas, the award legitimised my experience, which was really good. It has enhanced my career, I think it contributed to the opportunities not just the one at UpSkill, but I’ve had people reach out and mention the fact that I was part of Thirty Under 30. There has been active enquiries from it, and it will always be there – I need to keep up the networking. In terms of giving me that launchpad to do something, it’s a nice industry to do that in, it gave me that confidence to take that bold new step. A tribute to the programme, is confidence more than anything and also getting to go to the awards, the speaking opportunities, a lot has come from it. I think it’s from both the Thirty Under 30 itself and taking advantage of the opportunities that’s come from it, so that would be my advice to anyone doing it – if they are getting opportunities from the event, jump at them and say yes! We’re in Learning & Development, that’s what it’s all about.
I love the way you refer to Thirty Under 30 as a launchpad, I think that’s a really great image and I’m glad you see it that way, that it really helped you develop. So, what other advice would you give to people entering the programme in the future?
Michael: It is very much about taking advantage of those opportunities, but the other thing would be to leverage the contacts. That’s something I didn’t do enough of initially. At Thirty Under 30, you are introduced to a number of seasoned professionals in the industry, and they are very forthcoming of giving you their email address and stuff like that. One of the things you need to do is look after the network and stay in touch with these professionals, that’s something I wish I’d done a little more of. I can still tap into that and be part of those LinkedIn groups and Thirty Under 30 exclusive groups, it’s helpful if you’re looking to make a name in this space.
That’s really good advice, so thank you. So, next is more about you and you career. Do you have any mentor figure or inspiring moment in your life that really drove your career, or even your learning development as a person?
Michael: One of the ones that definitely helped me early on, not a specific person but a community. On Twitter, if you look at the hashtag #LDinsight, every Friday a group of community professionals get together to answer questions in the industry. As a newbie in that profession, initially I was just shadowing and seeing what everyone else was doing, but eventually I was brave enough to engage in the chat which I think might have how I found out about Thirty Under 30. In my old and new company, there have been mentors along the way, which I’m very thankful for. At UpSkill Digital, there are a number of opportunities to let people do their own thing and contribute.
In terms of Thirty Under 30 mentors, Megan and Andy who organised it stand out – they always reach out on LinkedIn and say what I’m doing is great and stuff like that. It’s nice to get those kinds of things from people, the fact that they all kept in touch was really great. There’d been people in the industry that I’d followed for years, to then have them getting in touch with me saying they loved the things I was doing, that was really cool! I would also add Donald to that list of inspiring people, when I was doing the rehearsals for my virtual talk, he would randomly join them and listen in to give advice and stuff. I do think Donald is a great mentor – he’s all about giving back to people.
It's great as you say you have that genuine connection and you all kept in touch afterwards – that’s what it’s all about. It’s really good that you got that. Just lastly, is there anything you’re looking forward to in L&D?
Michael: I’m looking forward to the upcoming Learning Technologies events, looking for a refresh in this space and to see what’s going on in the community is really great. Obviously as a speaker I get a pass to see all the other sessions, just getting that access to see what’s going on is one of the big things for me.
Just doing more in the accessibility space is exciting to me, the more people I can get that message to. Just on that note, people don’t normal design to exclude, they’re just not aware that they’re doing it. So, by having this platform to reach people – even if they go away and only implement one of two things differently, the potential impact it has on people is huge. Those are the things I look forward to.