Experts predict new legislation and a tough economy mean new challenges in 2005. Here we look at five issues those leading learning and development in their organisations are likely to face now and in the coming months.
The year 2004 came to a close amid predictions public authorities would not be prepared to deal with the consequences of the Freedom of Information Act that came into effect on 1 January 2005. Statutory requirements upon employers continue to emanate from Whitehall, but compliance tends to be an area in which employers can find themselves “under-trained”, says Martin Addison, director of Video Arts, which, with Masons Solicitors co-produced a training programme to help staff at public authorities get to grips with the Act.
“Compliance to legislation is becoming more of a fact of life for training heads,” says Addison. “It really is something that is now part of the general training plans of most organisations.”
As the Government prepares to roll out its programme of Employer Training Pilots (ETP) and finalise Sector Skills Councils (SSC) for industry, it faces increasing pressure to get tough on employers who fail to offer training to their staff.
The TUC supports ETPs but is concerned the Government relies too heavily on the good faith of employers to deliver training, a position highlighted in its Paid time off to learn report published in December. Meanwhile, a recent survey of more than 2,000 individuals in the UK by the Association of Colleges found overwhelming support for penalizing employers that do not train their workers.
Though an across-the-board levy would be “no panacea for the nation’s skill problems,” they can have a ‘vital role’ to play with regard to employers who just don’t invest in their workforce, says Iain Murray, senior policy officer at the TUC, pointing out that employers in some sectors – such as construction and film production – have opted for levies in their sector skills agreements.
“We are supporting the new sector skills agreements, but our policy is this must be the last chance saloon,” says Murray. “Any agreement that is simply something on paper – that would be a reason for the government to actually introduce some form of statutory levy. The agreements are seen as the mechanism for addressing skill gaps. If they don’t do that, what do we do then?”
The ongoing tight labour market looks as though it is building up pay pressure – the knock-on effect for training being a squeeze on budgets.
The CIPD has warned that pay pressure mounting last autumn could be driven up by rising retail price inflation, while a survey by HR consultancy Fairplace highlights the lack of funding to develop and retain talent in organisations.
“In a tight labour market particularly, the CIPD would always say organisations should be looking to build skills from within,” says Jessica Jarvis, adviser on learning, training and development. “We would hope that would act as a spur to employers. On the other hand, the more short-sighted approach would be to divert money to hiring in skillsets rather than building your own.”
Diversity will continue to be an issue for employers, particularly disability.
The final tranche of legislation in the Disability Discrimination Act became effective last October, and a Disability Bill now in parliamentary process will have implications for public sector employers in a couple of years. And figures from the Sector Skills Development Agency highlight a low employment rate for disabled people – 40 per cent compared to 81 per cent for non-disabled – while disabled people are more likely to be employed in manual occupations and have lower average earnings.
“There is certainly a resource to be tapped,” says Paul Drake, information and policy manager for the Employers Forum on Disability. “A lot of employers are starting to value a more diverse workforce – that’s the message we’re getting from our members.”
“We’re trying to say you still want to be recruiting on merit, but looking at the overall contribution someone can make to the business, what they bring to your organisation and teams. The more proactive of our members are certainly working towards a view that disability just sits in existing policies, so with training for example, all training is as accessible as possible and employees can demonstrate they are being developed as much as possible. There is certainly a move away from viewing disability as a side issue.”
The role of training professionals is evolving in response to the move towards more informal learning in the workplace and the changing style of line managers. The growing popula-rity of methods such as coaching reflect the trend away from a directive, authori-tarian management style in favour of an enabling, facilitative approach. “We are seeing the trainer become more of a performance consultant,” says Simon Morden, chairman of training and development company Prosell.
The ‘loop’ or ‘meeting of minds’ between training and line management is critical to improving performance, he says. “The training department can give your people awareness, but it is down to the line manager to ensure it happens.”