Is the IPD failing trainers?

The IPD reckons not, but there are still a great deal of dissatisfied trainers out there. Andrew Rogers, editor of Training, marshals trainers’ biggest gripes about the institute and gets the IPD to respond

Gripe 1 Training and development has been subsumed into personnel

• When two organisations merge, there is always a fear that one or other will gain the upper hand, and that the net effect will be a takeover. Since the marriage of the Institute of Personnel Management and the Institute of Training and Development in 1994, many members of the latter believe their fear was justified, and that training and development has become HR’s poor relation.

Was this outcome predictable? At the time of the merger, the IPM was the much larger body with 54,333 members compared to the ITD’s 20,939 (3,500 people were members of both).

Yet according to the IPD, around 40 per cent of its members are involved in training and development which makes them a sizeable minority.

What makes it all the more extraordinary that T&D people should feel second class is that education and learning is enjoying a vogue of which other HR practitioners could only dream. The Government is pumping money into initiatives such as the University for Industry like there is no tomorrow, and business commentators and leaders talk endlessly about human capital, the knowledge economy and skills. Investment in people development has never had such a high profile.

Nick Isles, the IPD’s head of external affairs, maintains that far from failing to capitalise on this wave, the IPD has contributed to it. “The IPD has been at the very forefront of helping develop government programmes dealing with investment in and development of people,” he says. “A large number of members including training members have been involved in consultations on government legislation and programmes.”

Gripe 2 Training and development should be recognised as a profession in its own right

• “People do not question the notion that teaching is a profession, so why not training? What is the difference apart from the age of the learners?” questioned Jeffrey Brooks, one of the founders of the fledgling Institute of Training and Occupational Learning in the March 2000 edition of Training.

Many training and development specialists share this view of training as a distinct functional specialism which deserves its own voice separate from human resources generalists.

The IPD’s stance is clear on this. Elsewhere in this edition of Personnel Today, Geoff Armstrong refutes the argument. “The IPD does not see training as a separate profession,” he states. “We see people management and development as an integrated and comprehensive professional field.”

He explains, “It would be wholly wrong in my view if we seek to fragment the profession in institutional terms. Members of both institutes voted by 4:1 majorities for a merger and the IPD has been hugely more influential as a result of that in representing the views and interest of all the constituencies and it would be a great pity if someone was successful in fragmenting that.”

Isles emphasises that HR takes place in an employment context with people in and preparing for work. “Therefore any of the specialisms have to be understood as they apply in a whole organisational context. Our latest annual training survey confirms that training managers recognise this. Out of a list of 12 key skills required by training managers, knowledge of business objectives was listed second after knowledge of people management,” he points out.

Gripe 3 The remit of the IPD is too broad

• On the one hand, the IPD has clear aspirations to be a superbody of expertise and influence in all areas of people management. At the same time, it is often criticised for seeming to operate a policy which seems to reward only personnel generalists with full membership.

Isles refutes this. “It is utterly wrong to state that the IPD’s policy is that only personnel generalists are to be rewarded with full membership. The qualification requires everyone to take a core management module covering such areas as strategy, finance and business equivalent to NVQ Level 4. They also take an integrated module of core personnel and development which covers all aspects of people management and development. Thereafter people can choose to take specialist or generalist modules in order to acquire the professional qualification. You can be employed in any specialist area and become a full member of the IPD.”

If you take a wider view of things, the “integrated and comprehensive” proposition put forward by Armstrong begins to look less realistic. People management is clearly no longer the exclusive preserve of the personnel function – if indeed it ever were. Line managers are increasingly responsible for people management, and their involvement in training and development is particularly acute. Many of these people would regard “their” institute as the Institute of Management or the Institute of Supervision and Management. Most would probably take the view that “their” institute is the relevant vertical trade association.

The obstacles that training and development specialists believe prevent them from achieving full membership of the IPD are perhaps a variation on this. While the contextual elements of strategy, finance and business are significant to them, the “personnel” element of the core module is much less of a priority.

Gripe 4 The membership criteria for the IPD are not inclusive enough. Many trainers are specialists, and the IPD demands generalism

• It would take an entire edition of Personnel Today to summarise the issues around the IPD’s qualifications and membership structure, but the essence of the most common complaints is that under the existing qualifications structure only generalists can reach the upper membership levels of the institute.

In this sense, the IPD is certainly not an inclusive body, and to its credit, it does not pretend to be. Geoff Armstrong is up-front about this. “In general our standards for full membership are pitched at a level which goes beyond just being a training instructor and it has to be said that that constituency is a shrinking constituency,” he says.

“The more strategic people are much more convinced about the need to understand the business and understand people in the round if they are going to have the influence they need.”

Armstrong seems happy for discontented trainers to look elsewhere to find a body that will meet their needs. In response to a question about the new Institute of Training and Occupational Learning, he says, “There are lots of clubs and networks set up. This one has chosen to go for the title of institute and ask people to send their cheques in, but it hasn’t got professional standards and as far as I am aware it is not registered charity – it is another network, another club for some people.”

The message seems to be that unless you have aspirations to be a high-flying HR generalist, the IPD is not for you, although quite how this squares with the IPD’s “integrated and comprehensive” proposition is unclear.

“We don’t see there being a permanent resting place which is at a professional level for people who have just chosen to stop with knowledge and understanding of any narrow area of the profession,” says Armstrong.

For “narrow”, read “specialist”. The aim of the IPD is less about helping members to do their jobs well and more about aiding their progress up what is left of the organisational ladder.

This strategy may prove over-restrictive. As HR and training becomes increasingly complex – witness the escalation of employment law and e-learning, for example – HR strategists will come to know relatively less about each area; eventually all they may know is strategy.

Although some members feel the underlying message is that if you want to be master of your specialism, rather than a Jack-of-all-trades, look elsewhere for support. Isles says this is “simply wrong and unfair”.

He maintains that many of the individuals who seem most unhappy are not actually members of the IPD. Furthermore, “It is simply not true to say that only generalists can reach the upper membership levels. Some of the leading figures in the training profession, such as Peter Honey, Andrew Mayo and Derek Miles, are not just members but, in some cases, part of the governance structure of the IPD.

“We would add that for anyone not wanting to pursue further learning routes in the business and broad field there are authoritative learning routes and qualification routes for specialists notably the Certificate in Training Practice.”

He continues, “And of course all IPD member services are available to all members and are used extensively by IPD training specialists. There are also lots of resources aimed at training specialists such as our ‘how to’ guides and trainers are heavy users of our library and legal advisory services.”

Gripe 5 Trainers require a more practical, nuts and bolts approach than the IPD offers

• Some people have accused the institute of being bound up in fairly theoretical issues and topics, and not offering much in the way of practical coal-face help. Perhaps this is why there are so many other associations and journals around serving the training and development community.

The absence of “nuts and bolts” help was certainly a driver of Itol’s decision to produce “a learned journal” rather than a magazine.

People seem very happy to go elsewhere to find coal-face support. For example, the networking opportunities offered by UKHRD, a free e-mail networking service run by Fenman, publisher of Training Journal, have resulted in 1,700 people signing up to it, and the service has even broken out of the virtual world to run live networking events.

Another virtual community is TrainingZone whose email news service – LearningWire – is subscribed to by to 7,650 professionals engaged in training, learning and HRD.

Gripe 6 Members do not have sufficient opportunity to participate in, for example, the institute’s magazine

• Those who remember the old ITD magazine, Training and Development, might shudder at the memory, but cosmetic shortcomings aside, it did encourage its members to contribute, rather than simply providing a mouthpiece voice for the institute. Importantly, people felt they could relate to the people who wrote for it. It was, to return to point five, more concerned with “nuts and bolts”.

Gripe 7 The IPD is in direct competition with some of its members

• Itol has pledged not to offer any training courses itself. “Many of our members make their living from the provision of such training and we have no intention of taking a membership subscription from them and then competing with them in the marketplace. To do so would be unethical and discriminatory to our training consultant members,” says Jeffrey Brooks.

In fairness, there is nothing to say that training providers should join the IPD, nor that they might have the right to expect much benefit from doing so. The institute is focused on supporting personnel professionals in employer organisations rather than, for example, training providers or consultants.

T&D providers also have their own associations such as the International Federation of Training and Development Organisations (IFTDO) of which the IPD is a founder member.

The institute is hosting the IFTDO’s 29th World Conference as part of HRD 2000 (formerly HRD Week), and Nick Isles emphasises that the relationship between the two bodies is active and close.

“The IFTDO’s current president is the chairman of the IPD’s executive board who was also the last chair of the IFTDO executive board. In addition the IPD is leading a major piece of research with the IFTDO and ILO the first fruits of which have already been published,” he says.

The way forward

Is there real substance to these gripes or not? The IPD may be right that most if not all of these accusations are unfounded or irrelevant. If so, the problem is one of perception and the IPD would do well to address it rather than dismiss it.

In the meantime, there is nothing – apart from cost – to prevent training and development professionals joining as many institutes and communities as they find necessary in order to meet all their needs.

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