May Spotlight: Esther Lawrence


 Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.

I know down to earth is overrated but that’s the word that best describes me. My favorite thing about myself is that I am a learner and this has served me so well in my career. I graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and I like to say HR chose me despite being rigorously trained as a lawyer and volunteering as Human Rights counsel to those who could not afford legal fees. I always found myself deeply engrossed in employee issues be it grievances amongst employees, a skills gap that required guidance to be filled or team building I was always involved. I found my passion working for the people providing services to others so as to alleviate any work related stressors. I came to the UAE  in 2015 and landed a role as a HR Administrator and it was an eye opener on  HR practices in the UAE labor I found that the processes and procedures were more advanced here than in Tanzania. My gig was short lived as I landed an exciting opportunity as a HR | L&D role for a leading cruise line in the United States.

I am back seeking a fresh new opportunity in L&D because I would like to progress my career and the UAE is already the future.


In a nutshell describe  what you do?

To better understand what I do you have to have an idea of the current organization I worked for. The company operates a fleet  of 26 ships and has a workforce of over 30,000 shipboard employees from across the globe. I am one of 32 L&D managers who work on a contract of 6months on and 2 off. Onboard a cruise ship I am responsible for the implementation of the L&D strategy, development of learning programs and change management while reviewing the effectiveness of current programs. I have to work closely with department heads to fill skills gap, nurture and develop skills.


What are the current and new developments in L&D that you are most excited about?

I remember when I was part of the project team to move some trainings from instructor led trainings into LMS and there was mixed feelings. I was  excited to be learning something new but I also thought  that the LMS would replace me and that could not have been further from the truth. This thought got me in a tirade of research on trends and the future of L&D. I can say that Innovations and technological solutions are what I am most excited about.

I recently learned of the Learning Experience Platform (LXP) which personalizes the learning experience for employees and I would like to explore it more. I am keen on learning how brain science can improve learning and retention in adult learners.

What are the key lessons /Skills you have developed OR Takeaways from your role.

Living for 6 months onboard a ship it is not your everyday job, it is not only your workplace but your home as well.  Being an L&D manager does not end with your job description because even after work, you are still a support system, an advocate, the voice of reason and so much more to the employees. There is no dull day and the learning is a constant.

I have developed emotional intelligence due to working with various personality types in short periods of time, the team you work with one contract will not be the same the next contract.  Being highly organized due to every aspect onboard being time sensitive and making sure you do not burn out. Flexibility and concise time management because one day you have a whole day scheduled but then the ocean has a mind of its own and plans have to change. Collaborating, influencing and negotiation because once in a while learning programs are not considered as important as other tasks in different departments.

What are your expectations of L&D

Businesses are growing, changing or adopting rapidly and the pressure is on for L&D professionals to either keep up or be ahead. The expectation is that the organization meets its performance goals through employees that are well equipped with the skills required. L&D is expected to have a strategy that is holistic and relevant because I have learnt that strategy can either be a hit or miss depending on how it is executed. I would like to see L&D strategies that create a desire to learn and contribute to the mental wellbeing of employees rather than being a task learning and development should be an experience that they look forward to.


What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train in order to meet the regions talent requirements

I would like to keep on developing my technological skills because  L&D is rapidly shifting from instructor led to online/virtual based. Never -the -less when working with people and the organization it is necessary I understand how as a HR professional  I can impact strategy and organisational development.  I am currently in the process of completing my CIPD level 5 certification to accredit me as an HR professional. Networking through HRSE every year has helped me gain knowledge of innovations in HR | L&D and ongoing developments in the field.

Parting shot

I am optimistic that I will get an opportunity to further my career despite the challenging times that COVID 19 has presented. It has been quite the experience that has shown me how kind and thoughtful people can be especially in the HR profession and most have truly put the ‘human ‘ back into HR. I am proud of the HR community and commend the efforts put in especially now.