The extent of an organisation’s responsibility towards the personal development of its staff has long been a moot point.
Arguments still rage over whether an employer should simply pay for job-specific training, or invest (some might say gamble) in the long-term future of that employee by funding personal development training – for example, a public speaking course – in the hope its good intentions will be rewarded.
But there is concrete evidence in support of funding personal development.
When training consultancy Springboard conducted a survey on whether it provided tangible improvements to employers, 75% said they could show better problem-solving skills, and 80% felt they were more open to change. More than two-thirds of the respondents said the positive changes in their behaviour were reflected in their formal appraisals.
Learning at work
Think-tank Campaign for Learning (CfL), which ran Learning at Work Day last month, believes employers should take a long-term view. “When you change someone’s perception of learning, you invariably change their confidence in what they feel they can achieve and that’s really addictive,” says head of Workplace Learning at CfL, Marie Easom.
CfL estimates that 5,600 organisations participated in its Learning at Work Day, covering about one million employees.
It is also keen to practise what it preaches. “ CfL offers all staff five learning days each year for whatever they want to learn,” says Easom, who has used this time to learn how to pilot a helicopter and to create silver jewellery.
“The only criterion is that employees share their experiences with colleagues when they come back to work, which they are keen to do” she says.
Easom says that the payback from funding personal development are that employees are likely to feel more valued, and therefore more loyal to the employer and even more confident.
“Your belief in your ability to develop new skills as needed stands your employer in good stead in coping with change,” she adds.
But what happens when this non-specific learning is taken one step further, and it enables them to progress their career – and potentially leave the company that funded their development in the first place?
This too can still have a benefit to the business, says director of The Springboard Consultancy, Liz Willis.
“It is not an altruistic thing,” she says. “Any organisational initiative can be enhanced with personal development, as long as the organisation knows why it is doing it.
”Such training requires a fair amount of trust from the bill payer. Since participants set their own agenda within the broad parameters of the course, the outcomes could be unpredictable or will occur at random points over the whole spectrum of participants’ lives. Employers have to accept that this could be immediately beneficial – for example, in helping someone to handle a difficult situation better – or may take several years to come to fruition – for example, if the participant reaches a senior management position.
Personal development training can also boost a diverse workforce. Older participants and ethnic minority staff reported greater improvements than their young and white counterparts respectively, particularly in communications skills, according to Springboard’s research.
At the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, training adviser Martyn Sloman says that HR should be championing the business benefits of such training.
He argues that the application of knowledge beyond day-to-day processing skills will be essential as the nature of work changes. “
Skills in communicating, influencing and listening are those that everybody wants,” he says. “Helping employees to acquire them is in everybody’s interests.
”However, he urges HR to engage line managers’ support for these efforts.
“It is up to HR departments to make sure that motivation and opportunity remain available to participants when the personal development course is over,” he says.
There’s still a long way to go. Although 27% of respondents to the Springboard survey said that nothing was holding them back from further development, those who did face hurdles cited a lack of opportunities and support as impeding their progress. Clearly, HR still needs to build in the scaffolding to support the growth of personal development at work.
Case study: Oxford Radcliffe Hospital NHS Trust
“I am a champion of personal development training,” says Rainy Faisey, the deputy director of HR at Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust.
Faisey has seen the benefits of such training since the 1990s as the NHS has moved through various change programmes, and now acts as an ambassador for personal development courses at the trust.“Personal development training maximises the potential of the individuals,” she says.
“As the NHS went through organisational change, personal development training was helpful with interviewing skills and peoples’ networking skills,” she says.
Faisey welcomes the fact that some of the programmes are aimed at junior and front-line staff, who are often more used to skills-based training. She also sees it as a useful retention tool.
“Staff become more confident and so their performance at work improves,” she says. “They come up with ideas and are likely to stay longer. Such courses can help save on recruitment costs.”
Springboard’s survey, Personal Development Has Legs, is available at www.springboardconsultancy.com
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