Philip Mackle - Aggreko

"Learning makes people more confident, saves them time and helps the bottom line of all business types."

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For our third interview in the series, we caught up with Philip Mackle, Talent and Learning Manager at Aggreko, the global leader in temporary power, heating and cooling.

We learn the story behind Phil’s career transition from product design to L&D and how he manages to keep his own skills fresh while nurturing the learning needs of others. He lets us in on the best advice he’s ever been given, shares his memorable work 'ups' and ‘downs' and provides an insight into the latest L&D innovations at Aggreko.

Discover how Phil spends his spare time, his dream breakfast and why he’ll never get a lie-in…

Philip Mackle - Aggreko

Hi Phil. To kick off, can you tell us about Aggreko and the services it offers?

Aggreko is a global service provider of temporary electrical power and temperature control.

They provide both of these services at a moment’s notice in hundreds of different countries throughout the world.

In a nutshell, what do you do and what are your key responsibilities?

As Talent and Learning Manager I support the development of talent in two of Aggreko’s business units (Global Product & Technologies and Group Functions).

There's a very wide array of talent to be developed in both of these units (ranging from Engineering, Procurement, Supply Chain, Finance, Manufacturing, IT, Legal and HR). I support the learning needs by sourcing and delivering suitable learning solutions.

This could be sourcing an external provider or collecting knowledge/skills from within the business to cross-fertilise to the appointed learners via available mediums.

We'd love to know where and how you began your career in L&D…

I started my working life as a Graduate Product Engineer. I worked in an electrical hardware design department for a Japanese global manufacturing company based in Central Scotland.

They designed and manufactured office equipment (including monochrome printers, scanners and faxes) and the product line quickly became increasingly complex for EMEA technical staff to learn and support.

I was chosen to design classroom training events to teach complex technical subjects to learners throughout EMEA. Subjects were wide ranging and included firmware, software, hardware (mechanical and electrical) networking and colour science.

Delegates would fly into Central Scotland for three to eight days of classroom training and to learn about the complexities of the latest products like colour printers and scanners.

So, it was an unintentional transition from Product Designer to Learning Provider which I welcomed. I’ve never looked back!

Had you always intended to work in L&D or did you explore any other routes along the way?

To be honest, I had no idea about L&D when I started work as a Hardware Designer.

The Japanese company where I worked didn’t even have a training department, so they created one. I was the first ever team member.

Business leaders soon realised that if people didn't understand the complexities of their products then they would struggle to sell, maintain and operate the very rich feature set available in them.

Essentially, having a weak (or non-existent) training offering was having an impact on the bottom line.

As an L&D specialist, your focus is on other people's learning needs. How do you keep your own skills fresh as well?

It’s a challenge! Generally, I’ve always found L&D people are somewhat neglected compared to other areas of the business.

I keep up to date via webinars, self-learning articles and by speaking with other companies to learn the latest trends and skills needed.

I also learn loads from my peers in other countries across the world — made much easier now with the increased use of virtual connections. This enables the cross-fertilisation of knowledge and skills in an efficient way, ranging from using MS Stream to learning video development.

Can you share your most memorable career ‘up’, and ‘down’? Why do they stand out, and what did you learn from them?

Fortunately, there’s been many “ups” — and I’m grateful for all of them.

My most memorable up is probably delivering a one-hour training update to the board of OKI Data Corporation in London. I’d just finished supporting the successful win of OKI’s biggest tender with DEFRA, and I was invited to update OKI’s board on what services the training team could offer and the importance of training to OKI.

Most people would have been quite nervous — but I relished the opportunity and, I'm proud to say, I knocked it out the park that day! Feedback was tremendously positive from the whole audience and it really felt like training had successfully landed.

A perceived “down” was transiting from hardware design to training. I was fearful of the move and didn’t know if I was making the right career change. Plus, it took a while before I could truly see the benefits and opportunities available in the learning arena.

However, while it felt like a “down” at the time, it certainly isn't now!

What advice would you give to anyone keen to start a career in L&D or to progress further? 

Look at all of the tools available on the market and leverage them to the fullest.

Also, don’t be afraid to try something different. Be as creative as you want, and don’t be afraid to empower Subject Matter Experts to capture or share their own learnings on whatever available platforms you have to hand.

How has the current pandemic impacted Aggreko and its work? Has COVID-19 affected your role?

Aggreko has worked tremendously hard to protect the safety and welfare of all of its employees. This is visible every day in the organisation and was led by the CEO at the outset.

My role has transitioned from working in an office environment to working from home; but my Aggreko colleagues and I have successfully transited to the digital arena.

We’re feeling more connected and efficient than ever.

How do you think the L&D industry will need to adapt and flex to overcome the challenges?

Before the pandemic, Aggreko relied heavily on delivering a great deal of learning in a classroom environment.

However, now that we’ve experienced first-hand the benefits and effectiveness of virtual learning, I think swathes of learning content could be re-developed for virtual delivery.

While this will be a challenge, the benefits will be measurable.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given and why has it stuck with you?

“You can’t know everything.”

A Japanese boss said this to me many years ago. I always wanted to learn everything — and I’ve since learned it’s a team game!

Tell us about the latest L&D trends and innovations you think we need to know about?

Aggreko is becoming more involved with development of Augmented Reality [AR] / Virtual Reality [VR] learning solutions.

Philip Mackle - Aggreko

Having the ability to walk into a virtual product and experience it as though it’s right in front of you is a truly immersive learning experience. I think there’ll be more and more learning experiences like this in the future.

For the moment, we’re enjoying leveraging the benefits of our SMEs (in all countries around the Aggreko world) being empowered to digitally capture their learning outputs in video format, and then hosting them on Aggreko’s video learning platform.

Also, Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) is a relatively new experience for many hosts and learners in Aggreko. There’s lots of innovations happening in this arena, and providers (such as Microsoft) are strengthening their service offerings frequently.

We’re enjoying keeping up to date and ensuring everyone can benefit from the tools and features available in the existing toolset.

What’s the best part of your job?

Helping people conquer challenging subject matters via learning. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve made a difference.

Learning makes people more confident, saves them time and helps the bottom line of all business types.

Also, that it’s entirely transferable across business units for my existing employer and indeed across other different sectors of industry.

...and the most challenging?

Customers setting wildly ridiculous deadlines — often met by working very unsociable hours, which causes even more ridiculous deadlines to be set next time.

Sadly, it’s not uncommon in training/learning. Often, L&D is not considered until the very last minute of a project — when it becomes apparent that it’s often a gating item for a launch.

With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, what are your views on returning to face-to-face training?

We’ve discovered that delivery of learning on digital platforms is very efficient and allows ease of connection across all different time-zones.

Some aspects of our learning offerings (e.g., role play during Leadership Training) is best suited to a face-to-face classroom experience.

However, the digital experience has proven to be up to the task with features such as Breakout Rooms. We envisage a balance of face-to-face training and virtual delivery going forward. It’ll be a challenge supporting any rules of social distancing — and we’re up for the task.

Are you making plans for in-person training or will the changes brought on by the pandemic linger on, with virtual training becoming the ‘new normal’?

We’ll be leaning more heavily on virtual delivery than we did pre-pandemic.

The ease of connectivity and reduced carbon footprint is a huge attraction for us. We expect digital platforms to further strengthen their service offerings, and for virtual delivery to become increasingly more attractive as the digital tools and platforms evolve to offer an even richer learning experience for all.

Philip Mackle - Aggreko

Are senior leaders at Aggreko asking for training plans to be scaled back or realigned, as a result of the pandemic?

We’ve noticed an increase in demand for learning deliveries as a result of the pandemic — and we’ve happily delivered to meet business needs.

Being catapulted into the virtual world has been a very positive experience for all. It has allowed the L&D function to more efficiently connect with the global customer base and offer an even wider range of subject matters than before the pandemic.

So, we’ve not been asked to scale back and we’ve certainly been asked to realign delivery from face-to-face to virtual. Thankfully, we’ve not had to drop any learning offerings from our extensive portfolio.

Operating more confidently in the virtual arena has allowed us to strengthen the reach and depth of learning offerings to our global customer group.

Who do you look up to or reach out to for inspiration and why?

I often listen to music to help lift my spirits and get the feel-good factor.

I also like to learn about the science of being inspired and how best to experience it, normally via video as there is so much interesting content out there.

What or who motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and get working?

My two Springer Spaniels (Buddy and Gizmo)! I think they have digital clocks in their heads. As soon as it’s 5:10am, they jump all over me and don't stop until I’m up and out the back door on their walk.

Philip Mackle - Aggreko

During the pandemic, I don’t have to commute from house to office, so really, I should be enjoying a later wake-up time; but Buddy and Gizmo are STILL getting me out of bed at 5:10am.

What time does your alarm go off in the morning? Do you snooze or leap out of bed?

Buddy and Gizmo get me up without fail at 5:10am every morning. There’s no chance for a snooze… ☹

Tell us what your dream breakfast is — and where are you eating it?

Fresh Scottish Salmon with lemon juice and lightly scrambled eggs.

Mmmmm… I’d be eating it in front of a roaring fire in a cottage on Skye in the middle of a howling Scottish winter’s day.

Philip Mackle - Aggreko

Delicious! OK, now your actual breakfast and location…

Normally a slice of toast (from the end of the loaf — none of my three teenage sons eat the ends of a loaf) and a scrape of salmon paste from a jar.

A world away from the Skye cottage, it’s eaten at the kitchen table which is usually stacked with the boys’ school bags and various other items carelessly left at their backs.

We’re interested to know what you're reading, watching, or listening to right now…

I’ve nearly finished a book entitled Nine Crises: Fifty Years of Covering the British Economy from Devaluation to Brexit by William Keegan.

I’m a bit of a news buff and always enjoy learning about the economic histories of various countries around the world. There’s lots to be learned from the economic past.

What can’t you get through the day without?

Despite them scuppering any chance of a lie-in, it has to be seeing my two dogs Buddy and Gizmo.

I have three sons and a loving wife — but my two best friends are a must-have!

Lastly, what do you do in your spare time / after work?

I stay beside a canal path and I enjoy cycling on my pedal bike at a very leisurely pace.

Would you like to feature in the series?

Our interviews are conducted by Nicola Greenbrook, a highly experienced HR specialist-turned-writer.

If you would like to chat about your own experiences in Learning & Development, Human Resources, or Talent Acquisition, we would love to hear from you - please use the contact form below and we'll get right back to you.

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