The size and growth of the UK workforce means that we are now spending more than ever on training:  both in-company and through external government  initiatives.  However it is asserted that one in six of the population of working age - six million people - experience deficiencies in basic skills.  So where is the training directed?  Research (HR Performance Indicators [DLA-MCG] and Perspectives [CIPD]) indicates that highly qualified people continue to receive most training.  HR Benchmarker studies bear this out with average training spend per Manager and Professional being 25% higher than that devoted to Administration, Technical and Operative staff.

There is, of course, a real need for Managers and Professionals to maintain or further develop their specialist skills - and by definition such skills come at a price.  However senior and specialist staff account for less than one third of the workforce.  This raises the questions of whether or not:


·                  The spend on training is being distributed in a balanced way·                  Best value is being sought or achieved by organisations in designing and delivering training and·                  Anything can, or should, be done about it and if so what? 

Training can be offered at every stage of a person's career with an organisation from induction through to retirement or in the case of one international bank from pre-induction training - where the background to the company and some early overview of procedures is given before the start date and "induction proper".  An internationally renowned drinks company even offers "post-retirement" training!  A small allowance is given to company pensioners to spend on whatever developmental activity they wish to pursue on the basis that as well as being beneficial to the employee they are also among the best ambassadors for the company and should be reminded of the connection.  These elements of training are certainly at the periphery of mainstream T&D but together with in-service "blue-sky" training where an allowance is available to any employee wishing for any training course that they consider will be of benefit, they illustrate the extent of the potential training offering.  At the other extreme, there are organisations that only stretch as far as a one hour (maximum) induction session by way of formal imparting of knowledge.  Beyond that, osmosis of the required skills while working on a job is the only development available to employees.  The extent of this shortfall was illustrated to me recently when a client described the case of an employee who, on the basis of her experience and proven capability over 20 years with the firm, appeared to be the ideal candidate for promotion to the role of quality control inspector.  She was extremely knowledgeable of virtually all the processes involved in production and maintained very high standards.  She was also very keen to take on the new, higher paid job. However, much to everyone's surprise and dismay (not least that of the recent appointee), within 10 days it was clear she could not do the job, which required some fairly basic reading, writing and arithmetical skills.

Clearly, this latter organisation has very little in the way of formal training, or means of capturing shortfalls in employees' skills via a Skills Audit.  Although perhaps an extreme example there are very many even prestigious organisations that have pockets of training and development vacuum, where employees are neither aware of, nor offered, training and development opportunities.  One such area of vacuum occurred in a leading International Food and Beverage Group. It was historically concluded that production operatives had generally limited ambitions.  A series of coincidences led the then HR Manager to offer them the same management development scheme as graduate trainees.  The results surpassed expectations and indeed many of operatives achieved better results than their graduate counterparts.


Of course picking off areas in a random or unplanned way is never going to achieve the equitable or balanced spend that gives everyone the opportunity to develop their potential.  This concept is not intended to suggest altruism on the part of the organisation. While obviously staff will be beneficiaries, the real benefit is to the organisation which will be able to gain better value from all its human resources.  And remember that training and individual development opportunities frequently feature as equal or second only to pay as a motivator and incentive to stay with the organisation.  The real need is to conduct a Skills Audit and associated Training Needs Analysis which extend beyond simply examining skill shortfalls, but can support thinking “outside the box” in terms of how individuals might best be developed to achieve their potential - preferably within the organisation - but recognising and expecting that for some, their fulfilment might be achieved elsewhere.



A further aim should be to make real links from organisation needs at each level (which should feature in a roll-down of the Corporate Plan) to the skills and competencies required in each role, the training being delivered and development sought.


Thus all training and competence improvement is linked back to the vision and mission of the organisation through focus on creating the competence necessary to achieve the corporate plan.  This focus in turn ensured that every corner of the organisation is touched by the need for development - and whatever an individual's role - however humble - the time and resources are made available to identify their skills to enable at least some potential improvement to their competence. 


Inevitably, there is the issue of budget availability (or lack of it). Certainly, it is unlikely that all the training (or recruitment) needs identified through the Skills Audit, will be immediately capable of being fulfilled.  However, over a period of time the most important skills can be trained into the organisation and the balance and fairness so often lacking in the distribution of training funds can be protected.  By putting responsibility on line managers to undertake Skills Audits for ensuring that their resources are best aligned to achievement of corporate goals and appropriate training arranged there is far more likelihood that cost effectiveness in training will be achieved.


So what is the best way of introducing this "joined up training"?  The start point has to be to look at the corporate plan which hopefully is spelled out in a quantifiable way, and how it links to the vision and mission.  The business plans for each department should be reflected in both job descriptions and individual competence statements.  These documents are not just "for the record".  They are living dynamically changing drivers for improvement.  As such, line managers must become familiar with them and use them to focus and develop staff and measure delivery.  Having undertaken a Skills Audit they should be in a position, monthly, to report back development needs for all their staff to a central T&D source.  So, rather than a report on training needs at the time on an "annual appraisal" there is constant monitoring of the condition and value of human resources.  This new found awareness allows T&D specialists to identify the best route to fulfilling development needs - whatever the budget availability.  Indeed, in many instances, co-ordinated "on the job training" will, with job rotation and improved flexibility provide a low cost solution to the development required.


It also provides a strong basis for measuring the impact of training on improvement and certainly highlights the benefit of T&D activity.


Putting training a development at the centre of corporate activity in the way outlined is the only way in which its true worth can begin to be realised and the benefits of joined up training can be fully achieved.


© Derek Burn Senior Partner HR Perform



Derek Burn