Sector Experience Required! Are You Stifling Innovation?

Do you always need someone who has trodden the same path and climbed the exact same route if you are looking to be innovative, forward thinking and scale new heights as an organisation?

One of the things that I have noticed as I have been looking for a new role as a Learning & Development Manager is that many companies are insisting that you have experience in their specific sector. From my previous experience that has often been a requirement within what is termed the professional services sector (Legal, Accountancy etc) but it seems to have spread to many others as well.

I have seen a number of roles of late where the job specification has sounded really interesting and a good match against my skills, knowledge and abilities. Then tagged on the end of the specification is that phrase “Experience of XYZ sector essential.”

Do you take the risk and spend time applying for the role or do you accept that they have put in place an easy filter to exclude you from the pool of available people? It’s a difficult call because there are recruiters who will recognise that there are people from outside the specified sector who could bring a wealth of experience and new ideas to the role. The sort of people who could introduce innovative approaches to the organisation’s challenges gained from other sectors. But my perception is that all too often it is simply going to be a waste of time because you will be screened out because, as good as you are, you don’t have experience of the specific sector.

But let’s step back and think about what these organisations are saying about themselves when they specify that you must have experience of XYZ Sector. They are the same organisations which will often describe themselves as innovative, forward thinking and focused on developing talent. BUT only as long as you come from the sector that they are in!

So in fact what they are saying is that they aren’t really innovative and they don’t want the best talent available. They don’t want people to come in with new ideas, new ways of doing things, new approaches to the challenges that they face, what they want to do is play it safe. They want to bring someone in who has experience of doing what they do as an organisation but for another company. Yes there are benefits to playing it safe because the new person will take less time to become familiar with their organisation’s customers, clients etc. But is playing it safe really what it’s about when you are competing in an ever more challenging economy?

I have often encountered this disposition towards playing it safe when recruiting in fields like marketing and sales. But in Learning and Development? The profession that in so many ways is about innovating, creating change, approaching challenges in new ways and coming up with different ways of doing things does playing it safe really deliver?

I am sure it will come as no surprise for you to read that Learning & Development is about “learning” and “development.” Key to our roles as L&D Professionals is continually learning and using that learning to create change in different situations. It’s about being innovative, it’s about developing talent and maximising the talent that is available and if organisations are limiting themselves by insisting that you only know about a certain sector then there’s a lot of talent they are missing out on.

In my last role I had the opportunity to manage the delivery of learning solutions for a variety of situations from the delivery of the Census 2011 Helpline with 750 Advisors to regulated training in the debt advice environment. When I applied for a role recently that stipulated that candidates must have financial services sector experience the recruiting manager saw that I had the skill set if not the sector experience. They invited me for interview and we had a really good discussion based on my experience and how I could apply it and bring new ideas and approaches. So there are organisations which appreciate that skills are transferable across sectors but I think more could open their thinking and live up to their claims of being innovative, forward thinking and focused on talent. I will let you know if I get the role!