As more employees and organisations choose to work flexibly, one of the newer considerations is how to ensure that the training, development and career progression of these employees continues to be met.
Past research from the Institute for Employment Studies found that those on part-time, temporary or fixed-term contracts were less likely to receive training.
Now, research for professional services firm JBA, carried out by Durham Business School, suggests that when it comes to the calibre of the training and development on offer, promotion opportunities and career development, people working away from the office feel disadvantaged.
“The long-term career development of flexible workers is definitely an emerging issue,” says Christina Evans, strategic HR specialist at the management education centre Roffey Park. “There would appear to be a different perception of what career development is when you are not within the traditional career structure,” she says.
According to Eileen Arney, learning, training and development adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), it is not only fair to keep flexible workers in the loop when it comes to training and development, but a legal requirement.
“Changes to the way that learning and development is supported in the workplace these days means that this isn’t difficult,” she adds.
“There’s more emphasis on individualised packages and flexible learning generally, and that is good news for employers of flexible workers. Getting it right for flexible workers is about having effective performance management systems, identifying learning objectives and agreeing ways of achieving them.”
This trend means that training providers have seen a rise in demand for e-learning packages as the number of office-based employees has diminished. But according to Kevin Lovell, learning strategy director at training provider KnowledgePool, demand is dictated by the type of workers that require training.
Higher-skilled workers, for example, who are used to a greater degree of mobility, also have well-developed skills when it comes to working flexibly, and approach training in a similar way.
“They are more independent, self-directed and motivated when it comes to their learning and development needs and don’t present employers with too much of a problem,” he says.
“They have the technology to access e-learning packages themselves, are able to juggle their working hours to fit in attending a course, and have the mobility to do so.”
Office-based staff working flexible hours have different needs, however, and the reasons that these employees work flexibly can also make their availability for training quite limited.
Consequently, employers are demanding that training providers break down courses into smaller modules so that they can be delivered locally across different sites.
Another option is to offere-learning, which can be delivered to any staff with access to a computer.
Outsourcing business Vertex, for example, introduced flexible working in 2000 and now offers several options, including homeworking, part-time hours and job sharing.
To ensure that managers are equipped to attend to workers’ development and career needs, and that they review them frequently, the company implemented a web-based performance management tool and a learning and development portal. According to Martin Grainger, head of employee engagement at Vertex, staff can get access to web-based courses and e-learning and link these to their personal improvement plans.
While internet-based systems like these work well for flexible employees, this does not mean the need for face-to-face training sessions will disappear. Roffey Park advises employers of flexible workers who need them to attend such courses to plan ahead and ensure managers are trained to manage flexible staff.
At Hampshire County Council, for example, there is a formal policy for managing and meeting the needs of its growing contingent of flexible workers.
The council’s HR business partner Jane Page says: “We need good practice guidance to ensure the learning and development needs of these workers are met.”
Tips for managing training for flexible workers
Encourage an open dialogue about flexible workers’ career development needs.
Pay attention to flexible workers’ requests for development.
Encourage flexible workers to keep a personal development plan.
Train experienced flexible workers to act as mentors to their peers.
Provide forums where flexible workers can talk openly about their learning and development issues.
Top workers rate training
Training and development is the best way to retain top performers, according to an international survey. The research, by financial staff recruiter Robert Half International, found 73% of the 2,300 HR and finance managers polled believed training boosted workplace retention, while 37% felt career development programmes did so. Financial rewards ranked third with 31%.
High street retailer Mothercare has revealed how an e-learning programme made a product roll-out possible. It recently trained 75% of its staff to use an electronic gift card scheme in just two weeks. Company training manager Jon Williams said it could not have trained more than 3,600 of its 4,800 staff in such a short time had they used traditional in-store training.
A lifetime of regret
Just over a quarter of UK adults regret not making the most of their time at school, according to research undertaken on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council. It also found that 31% of adults wished they had achieved better qualifications when they were younger. The research was carried out by polling organisation YouGov, which interviewed 2,124 British adults in December last year.