Brendan Noonan has been a member of ATD since 2008. Here's his story in his own words.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am VP of Qatar Airways Talent Development (18 months in the job). I was previously with Emirates Airline where I spent seven years as SVP of Learning & Development. I am currently based in Doha, Qatar but have been in Aviation all my career and in the Middle East for over 30 years. I was born in Ireland and I have personally trained people in over 40 countries worldwide.
What are your personal and/or professional goals?
Learning & Development (L&D) or Talent Development (TD) should add value to the business. In the past, every company’s concept of training was like a factory—the organization sent you staff, you trained them, and they went back into the business. That approach does not work anymore. Training has to be linked to business objectives and has to be able to show a return on investment—how we add value to the business. My professional goal is the help our team become the best TD unit in commercial aviation. We have developed, built, and now implemented a five year strategy to help us to achieve this.
What challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
It was getting resources and/or investment in training. Training was always the first budget to be cut and the hardest budget to justify or get increased. However, getting close to the business and showing how we can help improve their profitability, production, and downtime gets boardroom support and shows the value and importance of training.
Another challenge has been keeping up with the rapidly changing learning environment in the past three years, and it’s not stopping. Technology and innovation are making TD an exciting place to work.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve gained or experienced during your membership with ATD?
Networking, the annual conferences, the on-going job aid support, and regular updates as to what’s happening in the field of TD.
Could you share any professional tips, specific to talent development that you have picked up along the way?
I know it’s an old cliché, but “you never stop learning.” So much is happening in our field that you have to go out and hear or see what new developments there are. They won’t come to you because it’s so fast moving in terms of technology and tools to support and develop learning. You must set time aside to research, visit, or read about developments in our field.
What’s a common misconception you see when it comes to talent development?
The biggest misconception is that e-learning is the answer to everything. This is short term thinking and normally comes from the finance department—let’s do it cheaper and faster and staff can do it in their own time. However, a blended approach is critical for long term learning and knowledge transfer. The opportunity to discuss with a subject matter expert or trainer and our peers is far more beneficial compared to some of the boring and tedious e-learning programs that are out there.
Do you have any advice for people looking to further their careers?
TD (or L&D) is rapidly changing, and at a faster and faster pace. Learn, understand and keep up to date as much as you can about learning technologies. Consider how you can utilize new technologies to support your organization. There will always be a need for some classroom training but getting time and approval to take time away from work to attend training is a rapidly diminishing. Take new approaches—microlearning, virtual reality, etc. Training in the right place at the right time is critical for the future. What worked in the past will not work in the future! Be the “go-to” person for anything to do with development in learning technology. We have recently become the first airline in the world to partner with IATA (International Air Transport Association) in launching VR RAMP, an amazing virtual reality training system for airport staff and managers. This only happened due to our interest in this new technology! Keep yourself up to date with new technology—it’s the future
What is your personal definition of talent development?
Helping people to be very good at what they do, so they do it professionally and keep up to date with new development by partnering with the TD unit.
How do you stay motivated?
Regular exercise, evening walks (to get rid of stress of the day), morning in the gym (to invigorate me for the day ahead), being around positive people who can inspire me when I’m having a tough day, reading biographies of very successful people, and by making sure we in TD do our best to develop and train people to the best of our capabilities.
How do you find meaning in your work?
I’m still amazed when people recount a training program they attended with me 20 years ago and how it helped them in their jobs and their life. Sometimes we don’t realize what impact we have on people by just doing our job and helping with knowledge transfer.