In search of learning spirit

emphasis on skills and training is self-limiting, says Tim Pickles

seriously questions the notion that staff development is a good thing.  We are familiar with many aspects of good
practice; we have heard the exhortations for lifelong learning; we know what we
want for ourselves.

the boundaries of staff members’ entitlement to learning and development remain
somewhat unclear.

an on-line survey conducted by the TrainingZONE, members responded to a
question about entitlement to training and CPD. Seventy-two per cent believed
all staff should have an annual allowance of time and an individual budget for
their training; 12 per cent suggested staff should have a time allowance; and 5
per cent argued for simply a budgetary allowance.

overwhelming 89 per cent of respondents felt staff should be automatically
entitled to some form of development or learning. Just 11 per cent believed
training should be at the discretion of the employer.

this is clearly not how the majority of employers regard the situation.

few organisations have a policy towards staff training entitlement, although
many have adopted progressive attitudes towards the development of staff,
recognising it can help to achieve business objectives, and increase
motivation. We are surrounded by positive messages about the value of lifelong
learning and continuous professional development, yet these are promoted as
best practice rather than policy or statute.

Skills Task Force last year recommended against the introduction of a training
levy on employers, a recommendation which the Government was swift to adopt.
The roll-out of Individual Learning Accounts for employees and the launch of
UfI/learndirect places an emphasis on skill-based training (often allied to
vocational qualifications). Like earlier schemes, the focus is on individuals
being supported to develop themselves, rather than on learning as a benefit or

support the concept of lifelong learning but turning it into a meaningful
reality – as the Campaign for Learning works to do – is hard work. We need a
shift in emphasis away from skills-based training towards broader staff

training is relatively easy – learning to learn is the underlying skill, and one
which is recognised by schools’ PSE curriculum and Progress File. For years,
organisations have placed a premium on the “entrepreneurial spirit”. What we
should be building towards is an equally high value for the development of a
“learning spirit” within companies and individuals.

would it take to foster a learning spirit? Managers and employers need
realistic and practical ideas, rather than lengthy exhortations. These are a
few suggestions developed at recent events which utilise some of our key
motivators for action – money, status, confidence, respect, advancement:

Provide employers with tax-efficient “learning allowances” to set up and
maintain learning resource centres, in the same way that they can claim capital
allowances for new plant.

Create “learning achievement displays” in the workplace where the learning
successes of individual staff are publicly recognised by peers as well as

Add a person’s qualifications to their ID tag, in the same way that
professionals append their institute memberships.

Incorporate a learning measure into the career progression and pay review

Include a “return-to-learning” module within the induction programme.

Publish learning materials on the intranet – and offer staff access from their
homes as well.

Build action learning sets into the employment contract.

re-discovery of a learning spirit holds the key to both individual and
corporate success in the future, but the present emphasis on skills and
training is a self-limiting approach which fails to tap into the underlying
drivers for our re-engagement in the learning process.

Pickles is managing director of TrainingZONE, an experienced
trainer and management consultant, and the author of more than a dozen books
and manuals on a range of training and management topics

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