Worlds apart

A
recent international survey provides new benchmarks for training practices,
reveals some interesting national differences and suggests that a comprehensive
training strategy is lacking around the world. By Gene Johnson

The
Cranet Survey on international strategic human resource management is a
best-practice benchmarking study led by Cranfield University’s Centre for
European Human Resource Management.

The
project originated in the UK in 1989 and has since expanded throughout Europe
and elsewhere. The most recent survey in late 1999 was administered in 27
countries worldwide, providing an internationally comparative database of best
practice. Data from 22 countries is reported here.

Participating
organisations come from both the private and public sectors, representing more
than 5,000 employers.

The
most significant finding is that there are no apparent world leaders in
training and development. Using five objective indicators (evidence of training
policy, training expenditure, employee coverage, training days, and
management/professional development activity) to ascertain national differences
in emphasis on training, countries varied considerably in the rankings. Indeed,
within individual countries, performance on the indicators is somewhat
inconsistent.

Training
& Development Policies

Starting
on a positive note, seven out of every 10 employers have developed formal,
written policies on training and development. Countries having the most
workplaces with formal training policies are Australia and the UK (both over 80
per cent). Countries with workplaces less likely to develop formal policies are
Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Norway, and Sweden, where only about half of employers
have developed these policies.

Training
Expenditure

By
far the biggest investors in training are the French whose workplaces fork out
twice the international average of 2 per cent.

The
stingiest employers are found in the Czech Republic, Italy, and Japan, spending
only 1 per cent of annual wages.

Employee
Coverage

On
average, less than half of any given organisation’s employees received training
in 1999, whether internal or external. Across the 22 nations, only 43 per cent
of employees received formal training.

Workers
in Sweden and Finland were the most likely in the world to receive some form of
training, with over 70 per cent of employees benefiting from training activity.

In
stark contrast, relatively few employees are likely to be trained in workplaces
in Bulgaria (7 per cent), Japan (20 per cent), and Greece (25 per cent).

Training
Days

Across
countries, managers and professionals receive more training days per year than
clerical and manual workers (a median of five days compared to three). This
pattern is generally consistent for workplaces in each country.

However,
employers in Turkey and Spain tend to be more generous across the board, with
six to seven training days for managers and professionals and five to six for
clerical and manual workers.

The
stingiest employers are in Italy and Japan, where managers and professionals
receive only three days of training a year.

Management
and Professional Development

With
one country exception, management and professional development is not a priority
around the world, as indicated by the fact that the majority of organisations
do not use formal developmental tools, such as career plans, developmental
assessment centres, succession planning, planned job rotation, high-flier
schemes, and international experience schemes.

The
most common – succession planning, high-flier schemes, and job rotation – are
adopted by only about 40 per cent of workplaces. About one-third rely upon
formal career planning and international programmes.

Developmental
assessment centres are the least commonly used (about 20 per cent).

There
are some clear country preferences, although employers in most countries rely
upon the full range of tools. The French favour job rotation, while the Swedish
opt for high-flier programmes. Italians, Austrians, and the British like
succession planning.

Given
the choice, the Dutch buck the trend and prefer assessment centres at least
twice as much as any other tool. Employers in some countries are also averse to
particular tools. For example, few employers in the Czech Republic, Japan, and
Denmark use assessment centres, and Portuguese employers are highly unlikely to
develop high-flier schemes.

Norway
is the one exception here and by far the largest employer of developmental
tools.

In
contrast, over 80 per cent of Norwegian organisations employ them. Indeed, nine
out of 10 employers in that country report having formal career plans,
succession planning, job rotation, and high-flier schemes. Countries with
developmental activity somewhat below the international average are Portugal
and New Zealand.

Based
on these indicators, some clear cross-country findings are evident.

On
the positive side, the majority of employers have installed training and development
policies and put some resources behind them. Unfortunately, only a minority of
employees receive training in a given year, suggesting that the “learning
organisation” is far from a reality. Additionally, it appears that management
and professional development is not approached in a formal or systematic manner
in many organisations. Obviously, employers around the world recognise that
training and development is an important issue, yet they are not quite ready to
tackle it in a strategic manner.

An
Unclear Picture?

A
less obvious picture of country-specific training activities emerges.

There
is no apparent training and development best-practice leader, as performance on
the individual indicators tends to be inconsistent. For example, although Swedish
employers offer training to the majority of employees, less than a third of
them turn to formal management and professional development tools. French
employers expend the largest relative amount of money on training, yet do so on
only half the workforce. Turkey and Spain are quite generous with training
days, yet are not trendsetters in the other areas.

A
variety of contextual variables specific to each country may help explain the
differences between the nations’ approaches to training. These include trade
union agreements, legislation, training culture, the educational system and
vocational training networks, and economic conditions. However, the
inconsistencies within each country may simply indicate a lack of a systematic,
strategic training approach.

Twenty-one
countries had submitted their surveys by the publication date of this article.
Yet to come are those from Germany, Poland, Cyprus, Tunisia, South Africa, and
Israel. The New Zealand survey was carried out in 1997. While many countries
survey workplaces with 100 or more staff, this data represents organisations
with 200-plus staff.

The
Cranfield survey is a comprehensive questionnaire covering other training
issues and a wide range of strategic HRM practice areas. For more information
about the survey and its findings, contact Sarah Atterbury at s.atterbury@cranfield.ac.uk

Gene
Johnson is a lecturer in HR management and organisational psychology at the University
of Auckland in New Zealand. He is the director of the New Zealand Cranfield
Project and is currently on sabbatical at Cranfield University

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