MARIA ZAMBRANO has had an interesting and varied career journey. Now in her role as Senior Learning & Development Consultant at Cbus she is all about helping other professionals attain knowledge and training to shape their careers. In this Q&A with Superfunds, she shares what’s happening in the continued professional development (CPD) space at Cbus, and why their established training programs were resistant to pandemic disruption.
Maria Zambrano had initially planned a career practicing law but decided to divert her path from litigation to education – a decision made partly after reflecting on an often-made comment about the work/life imbalance for lawyers entering the legal profession. Today she balances her busy family life, with three children aged 6,8 and 12, with designing, delivering and evaluating training programs for Cbus’ 650 employees. However the work she says is still all about how the organisation interprets and applies the law and the regulations they operate within, and building employees’ capability to articulate and practice this in their roles.
“As the years progressed, I realised that completing a law degree didn’t necessarily mean you have to become a litigator at the end of it, or even practice in a specialised jurisdiction. I’ve discovered along my career journey that there are definitely other areas where you can apply the knowledge, skills and experience gained from completing a law degree,” she says.
Passionate about the importance of the employee learning experience (LX) and how it flows into and impacts the customer service experience (CX), Zambrano sees the value in learning and awareness through CPD.
As Senior Learning & Development Consultant at Cbus, I design and develop learning strategies, frameworks and programs to build and support employee capability at an organisational level, whilst aligning to the organisation’s business strategy.
I would describe my career journey as more lattice than ladder in progression. Prior to becoming a L&D Consultant (Learning & Development Consultant) I was working in the insurance industry, managing external dispute resolution claims. At the same time, I was also completing my law degree.
When managing disputed claims that escalated to external resolution, I noticed that often the disputed issue was a result of the claimant not understanding the reasons behind why a decision was made. While reasons made by an insurance agent were often provided, they were often communicated in a language that was wrapped up in technical jargon with specialised insurance terms.
I would find myself sitting at a conciliation conference, explaining the decision to disputing parties in plain, simple language and in a way that the disputed parties could understand. And it was from here that I decided to make the career sidestep.
I moved from resolving disputes at the tail end, to educating staff at the front end of the decision-making claims process. I found that if you focus on building employees’ capabilities, skills and knowledge to understand and be able to articulate what we do, how we do it and why we do what we do, in a language that is plain, simple and easy to understand, then we can engage and connect with the customer through the shared understanding of our products and services.
There is a measurable connection between an employee’s learning experience as a sub-set of the overall employee experience and the satisfaction of the customer experience. Knowledge and skills also empower individuals to innovate and find ways to improve how things are currently done. I think the satisfaction comes from the empowerment of acquiring knowledge and/or skill that you didn’t have before and using that newly acquired knowledge and/or skill in practice.
Cbus has been doing CPD even since before I joined the organisation in 2016, however things have really changed since I took over managing Cbus’ CPD program since 2019. I took what was as an exclusive agreement with one registered training organisation (RTO) delivering face-to-face learning in our Melbourne office, to what is now a panel of RTOs who cover multiple delivery options of CPD learning events and topics.
The CPD program that I have created offers the employee the choice to ‘choose their own CPD adventure’ in a controlled environment. An employee can decide whether they want to do their CPD through an online portal or attend a face-to-face/virtual workshop – or to do both as a blended learning approach.
Through the power of choice and digital technology a Cbus employee based in our Perth office has the option to attend a live virtual in-house conference being hosted in our Brisbane office and gain the same knowledge and attain the same amount of CPD hours. Alternatively, a Cbus Front Counter employee based in Sydney who isn’t able to attend an in-house conference can also access their CPD through an online CPD portal, which has been set up with knowledge and skill areas that are relevant to our employees and meet the regulated CPD requirements. Simply put, we’re offering learning opportunities for people to gain their CPD now through choice.
At Cbus, employees who hold roles which are identified as providing general and/or limited personal advice must be authorised as advice representatives for Cbus and as part of the authorisation, must maintain their skills and knowledge through CPD every financial year.
Our Executive leadership team and Directors are also required to maintain CPD as part of their appointment as Responsible Persons for Cbus.
Over the last two years, I have focused Cbus’ CPD program on getting our people to understand they own their CPD and offering them choices to gain their CPD hours with learning options and topics that are both relevant to them as Cbus representatives and relevant to our members.
As we continue the partnership between Cbus and ASFA, the Cbus CPD Program isn’t a ‘set and forget’ type of program and it won’t remain static; rather it will evolve as our people start to become more familiar with, and have a better understanding of, what CPD looks like.
This evolution of learning is something that I look forward to every year when I revisit and redesign the CPD program, in consultation with Cbus employees and with our panel providers.
In the lead up to the start of a new financial year, I liaise with internal stakeholders, Cbus’ authorised representative people leaders, the Cbus Compliance and Risk teams, and ask for their insight and feedback on what to stop, start and continue for the CPD year. I use these insight and feedback sessions to start to map out what the CPD program could look like across a 12-month fiscal year and then engage with our panel providers as to what they can design and/or deliver. The only thing I intentionally don’t lock in are the CPD topics – I find these are better left to review at the beginning of every quarter and each provider has so much great content on offer and/or subject matter experts to draw from.
I’m pleased to say that Cbus’ FY20-21 CPD learning program was not affected by the pandemic!
Working with the learning providers on Cbus’ CPD panel (such as the ASFA Learning Team) in FY19-20, I developed a CPD learning program where workshops could be hosted out of Cbus’ offices in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne, with a later start time (to cater for the interstate time zone differences). There was the delivery option to run the workshops as a hybrid, where the facilitator could run the workshop in-person and also host virtual attendees from the other Cbus offices at the same time. I also incorporated online CPD as an option (but not as the only learning option!).
I believe one of the measures of the success of the CPD learning program was when the pandemic lockdown occurred in Victoria in March 2020 and I didn’t have to pivot or change anything about the CPD learning program and it could continue without any impact or change. In fact, Cbus’ CPD learning program was the only program that continued to run unaffected throughout 2020. I’m pleased to say all of our authorised representatives met or exceeded their CPD requirements for FY19-20 and are also on track for FY20-21.