Learning from the last recession

A learning-based recovery is the only guaranteed protection for UK business
in a recession, says John Trasler, and e-leraning is vital

In times of recession, the major concerns for most businesses are keeping
afloat, staying in profit and preventing redundancies. Far from being classed
as a priority, training and development strategies are often earmarked as

However, a cursory glance at the past provides a clear snapshot of the folly
of such short-termism. With hindsight, innovative and effective staff
development is even more crucial in times of difficulty. At the end of the last
recession, the winners were not those who had simply reshaped their businesses
to fit the prevailing economic circumstances, but those who had taken the
opportunity to prepare for the upturn.

This is probably because the full extent and impact of any recession can
only be truly appreciated once the worst is over. As in all business scenarios,
prolonged reactive response is simply a means of day-to-day survival, not a
recipe for long-term success. Companies cannot afford to haemorrhage skills,
experience and expertise as a consequence of difficult trading conditions. The
hard-won lessons of flatter management structures, more effective teamworking,
multiskilling and individual empowerment must not be ignored. Instead,
companies in all sectors should seriously consider the cost of withdrawing
their commitment and investment in their people.

Almost as a direct result of the hardship endured in the 1980s, the human
component of every business became a legitimate entry on the balance sheet.
Today, given that most are operating in a knowledge-based economy, a company’s
knowledge base is its most priceless asset. If the economic climate is to
harden during 2002, it is essential that business-leaders maximise the
company’s inherent knowledge, culture, expertise and experience to react to
market changes.

Failure to do this makes no economic sense. In the longer term, the business
is less well equipped to take advantage of the eventual upturn and in the short
term is in danger of demotivating or losing key staff. It may be that a
carefully crafted training programme, that incorporates knowledge-sharing,
mentoring and management development, is the single most astute move any
company can make in the face of a potential downturn. With the flexibility that
e-learning brings and the tailoring of programmes to core competencies,
strategic objectives and even specific cultures, it can no longer be argued
that training and development incurs ‘excessive downtime’, ‘hidden costs’ or

Whatever happens in the first half of 2002, it is unlikely that we will see
a return to traditional ways of doing business – and even less likely that we
will begin to turn our backs on the service ethos. The net result of this is
likely to drive the value of the human asset upwards, making recruitment,
retention and development absolutely critical to those who wish to succeed.

The knowledge economy is here to stay. Let’s embrace it, draw on the lessons
of the last recession and drive our world-class business performance onward.

Professor John Trasler is managing director of Worldwide Learning. www.worldwidelearning.com

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