Spotlight interview – Louise McElvaney, Learning Pool’s Director of People and Performance
After a career in finance at Bank of Ireland and Deutsche Bank in Belfast and Dublin, Moville-born Louise McElvaney returned to the North West with her husband Paul in 2004. Soon after, the e-learning company Learning Pool was founded at their kitchen table. Louise looked after the new venture’s HR while holding down a day job with mortgage administration company HML, before formally joining Learning Pool eight years ago. As Director of People and Performance, she’s seen the company grow to more than 200 staff in six offices in the UK and USA, including Derry-Londonderry’s Old City Factory. Learning Pool has also been listed in the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For in the UK.
As the Covid-19 pandemic loomed, Learning Pool closed all its offices and switched to remote working, and is continuing to recruit new employees and hold virtual events for customers. To create an element of fun while working remotely, the company has held arts and craft competitions for the children of employees, weekly quizzes and virtual coffee breaks.
Why did you decide to return to Derry?
Paul and I were living in Dublin, both travelling with work and doing really interesting roles, but we chose to move back to Derry and have a family. We had lots of friends in Dublin, but our support network and family were here. Now, I can be in work in 20 minutes whereas in Dublin it’s an hour each way, each day. It was 7am starts and home at 7pm or 8pm. I didn’t want to do that with family life, but I didn’t want to compromise my career either.
Has Covid-19 affected Learning Pool’s long-term plans?
We see COVID as more of a short to medium-term thing. Long-term we were seeing a real shift toward online learning in most workplaces and if anything, COVID has accelerated this dramatically. Longer term it seems clear that workplaces will be very different to what we’ve been used to and this should play to our strengths as a provider of online services.
Have you learnt any lessons from the past seven months?
I think all successful businesses going forward will demand effective leadership who can create agile cultures. We need leaders to not just be responding to needs as they arise but looking further out. They will need to provide support, role model empathy, compassion and inclusive leadership. We need to help our team adopt resilient mindsets and navigate uncertainty in a way that they haven’t had to before. We are seeing a huge intersection between home life and work lives and we really need to adjust to lead our teams through this. Compassion and empathy should be key attributes to any good leader. The most basic start to this will be developing robust flexible working policies and enabling our teams to be their best. Embedding this in our cultures as the new norm.
What qualities do you look for when recruiting Learning Pool staff?
We have three core values that we embed across the team: let’s build to grow, do the right thing, and we’ve got your back. It works for our team – we promise we’ve got your back, we’re building sustainable careers, and we’ll always do the right thing – and our customers too, in the products and services that we’re providing. We are looking for someone who’s curious and excited about being part of that engaged Learning Pool team. We’re serious about developing peoples’ careers because we know people are our best assets. If you look after your people, the rest will follow.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of relocating to Derry and Strabane, or investing here?
I would say go for it. It’s a wonderful place to work. You’ve got all the beaches, it’s so friendly and there’s so much to do in the city these days – entertainment, restaurants, hotels. There are great schools and universities locally and in surrounding areas. Rush hour in Derry is 10 minutes. And there’s a serious pool of talent and opportunities. The more companies that come here and create sustainable jobs, the more talent we’re going to attract. There’s also a great support network; I find businesses here really do pull together and the Chamber of Commerce do a great job of providing training for businesses. There’s also the opportunity with the City Deal coming on board and the new medical school.
What next for Learning Pool?
We’re continuing to develop our product set and have developed an entirely new product function. We’ve also acquired a team in Boston. So, while we’ll continue to sell into the UK and European market, we’re also looking at the North American market. There’s huge opportunity there. We have 50 new roles across our six sites that we’ll hire in the next 12 months. We’re really excited about those creative minds that will come into the team and help shape the direction.
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