Career file: Alan Thomas – from the chemistry of black paint.

What does your job involve?

I have primary responsibility for the management and organisational development of our 450 managers in the UK & Ireland, plus recruitment. I also manage electronic communications through our websiteand our intranet, and facilitate the region crisis team and business continuity.

How many courses/events do you organise?

I organised 342 separate training interventions -including 47 formal courses -in 2006. These included a four-day course on the chemistry of black paint, which is as esoteric as one can get. Our standard management development offerings have harmonised content across Europe with 80% core content and 20% local custom and practice.

What course/training are you working on now?

A cultural effectiveness intervention -this will include the facilitative responsibilities that should be necessary for native English speakers in international events. It’s the sort of thing I wish had been available to me 15 years ago when I started working in an international environment.

How and why did you get into training?

It was via a natural progression from sales management/human performance to training anddevelopment. This stimulated my interest in learning in a way that school never did. I followed a qualification route through IPD and an MBA and have never stopped learning since.

How long have you worked in training/L&D?

I became a training manager in 1986.

What’s the best or most memorable training event you’ve attended?

GBS’s Participative Training Methods – not only was it valuable learning, it set me on the right course and the tutor helped me find the right path.

And the worst?

One where a top-flight coaching guruused a showcase session to deliver a full-blown eco-rant.

What’s key to putting on a successful course?

It’s the matching of learning needs and style preferences with methodology and delivery. I always try to work on a ‘less is more’ basis, ever mindful of the need to optimise performance/cost.

How do you measure the impact of training?

Minute by minute, through the engagement of learners, ad hoc questioning and happy sheets through to competency development, but there is always a diminishing ROI as you progress up the Kirkpatrick levels. And there comes a point where you have to accept that performance depends on many factors.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Doing what I want to do with an acceptable work-life balance.

What career advice would you give to someone setting out on a career in training/L&D?

It’s not about how smart you are but more about how smart your clientele can be.

Who’s your training/learning hero?

Edward de Bono – he has done more to help people to think effectively than anyone else.

What’s the best piece of training/L&D advice you’ve been given?

Never attempt to train without a clearly identified training need.

If you had the power, what one piece of legislation would you enact?

I would ban all inherited wealth, which would even up the playing field.

Alan Thomas is staff resourcing and development manager at Henkel UK & Ireland. Henkel is a major adhesives company with detergent, technology and hair and beauty divisions.

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