Mismatch marrs development

Matias Ramirez says the UK is unnecessarily confused by the best way to produce effective managers

There is a raging debate within both the academic and practitioner communities over what are the most effective methods for training managers and indeed, who should pay for the training. Should the employer shoulder the responsibility through company-sponsored internal training or should it be left to managers themselves to take care of their own training needs through self-sponsored external courses and qualifications?
Commonsense suggests that the best option for the economy is probably a mix of the two.

Following this line of thinking, a study comparing management training and development in Europe suggests that the UK should be leading the way in terms of combining the right skillsets of managers.

European countries

Based on a survey of 600 firms in six European countries, it showed only the UK, along with Denmark, combined internal and external training for managers to a significant degree. And yet, not all is well. Although HR managers appear to want to see formal qualifications on candidates’ CVs, the same survey suggested that managers with formal management qualifications in the UK are not considered to necessarily have effective management skills.

These results raise some provocative questions. Is there a mismatch between the methods used to develop managers and what makes them effective managers? Is the enormous investment that is going into formal qualifications really developing effective skills or is it merely a screening mechanism for new recruits?

Skill level

During the 1980s and 1990s, various government reports consistently attributed part of the UK’s low-productivity performance to the poor skill level of UK managers. Workplaces typically restricted management training to on-the-job or within the professions, and corporate recruiters did not expect managers to have knowledge of business.

The result has been that, traditionally, the number of UK managers with secondary and higher-level qualifications has been well below that of its European neighbours and the US. Above all, the fragmented nature of UK institutions and the traditional laissez-faire attitude to regulation meant a lack of continuity in organisational training structures.

Can we learn anything from the experience of other countries? A comparison with Denmark – one of the most successful countries in our survey from a management training perspective – may be instructive.

Like the UK, Danish companies appear to rely on internal and external methods to train their managers. However, in contrast to the UK, Danish firms consider internal and external training to be equally effective.

One important difference with Denmark is that its external training combines not only classroom-based qualifications, but also vocational training, whereas in the UK, vocational training for managers outside the formal professions is poor.

Vocational training

The trouble is that strong systems of vocational training and education, as, for example, exist in central and northern Europe, are usually underpinned by high levels of co-ordination between industry employers and between employers’ organisations and the State – as occurs in Denmark.

Faced with what was perceived to be inadequate managerial skills at a national level in the early 1990s, the Danish government, in conjunction with business, expanded a modestly-priced post-graduate education in managerial subjects. Companies felt encouraged to send their managers to be trained. The result is that Denmark appears to have strength in firm-level, vocational and generalist-level qualifications.

Not all international experiences travel well. Nevertheless, successful joined-up thinking in the UK could achieve two main objectives.
First, bringing together the patchwork of institutions that provide training under a co-ordinating body would inevitably be helpful. Second, UK training policy over the past 30 years has been characterised by lack of continuity and uncertainty. Bringing in the different stakeholders in the training arena might improve decision-making processes, avoiding large investments in ineffectual programmes.

Matias Ramirez is a managemenet lecturer at the Brunel Business School

Does Management Development Improve Organisational Performance? – a six-country analysis of European firms by Mathias Ramirez and Chris Mabey – was published in the International Journal of Human Resource Management

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