Money well spent

With an increase in spending on training, it is important for employers to ensure the investment offers a good return. 

In a downturn, training is normally one of the first things to get the red pen treatment. So, last month’s survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) showing that the UK’s continuing economic growth, and fears of skills shortages, is leading many UK employers to increase their investment in training and development, is good news.

But with this extra investment comes an added responsibility for employers – and HR in particular – to ensure that the money is being spent well, and actually achieving something. How often, for example, do you hear of workers returning from training courses all fired up, only to find them a month or so later slipping back into their old ways? Or of companies spending a fortune on whizzy e-learning systems, and then discovering no-one has the time or inclination to use them?

Unlike a new process or bringing in an extra team member, measuring the effectiveness of training is a somewhat nebulous process. How can you, for instance, show that it is training that has made a difference to a team’s improved productivity, rather than something else within the office or management structure?

This issue is set to be addressed at a seminar at the Learning Solutions Show on 25-26 May at the Business Design Centre in London.

“It is always a perpetual challenge to ensure there is perfect alignment,” says Adrian Snook, director of corporate development at The Training Foundation, who will be a speaker at the event.

“There needs to be a link between business priorities and the way projects are initiated. Learning objectives need to be tied in and demonstrably delivered,” he adds.

One company that has done a lot of work in this direction is aerospace and defence specialist, BAE Systems. Four years ago, it set up a ‘virtual university’ to look at its training and development needs, including establishing a comprehensive e-learning programme.

At BAE Systems, training is not called training, it is called learning, and there is a clear distinction between the two, says Richard West, head of organisational and e-learning, who will also be speaking at the event.

“Training is associated with going on courses, and it is very difficult to correlate how going on a course impacts on the organisation,” he explains. “Just because someone has completed an e-learning course does not mean they have improved,” he explains.

Another area commonly overlooked is the competencies of the trainers themselves, says Snook. “There is a big quality assurance gap – a hole – when it comes to a trainer’s soft skills. But this is proven to be very critical in terms of learning effectiveness. Training skills are often completely neglected,” he says.

BAE Systems publishes monthly reports looking at the effectiveness of its learning, with performance metrics personalised by business area. Areas covered include the number of registered and new users, number of accesses, number of course completions, and so on.

There’s also user feedback and course ratings, plus user absorption and application metrics. Once a course has been completed, a three-month trigger point is set, at which time the user completes a form analysing what difference the course or learning has made to them.

Finally, there is a value-for-money metric. HR directors are encouraged to focus on what savings effective learning has brought to the business.

“We want to look at the impact on the bottom line through things like best practice transfer. We have a benchmarking and best practice centre, as well as a learning and development faculty, within the virtual university,” says West.

Someone’s learning needs might, for example, be best met through mentoring and coaching, rather than going on a course. Using case studies and knowledge transfer have also been found to be particularly effective, he adds.

West cites the development of click-bonded anchor nuts as a good example of knowledge transfer in action.

These are riveted anchor nuts that go in aircraft, and which only require one drill hole rather than three, thereby saving £4 per installation. With 3,000 such nuts on a single Eurofighter, the innovation has already saved BAE Systems around £7.5m. By using knowledge transfer to pass on this example of best practice to the other Eurofighter partners, the company is set to save a further £15m.

Tips for HR

  • Think learning rather than training, and aim to respond to individual learning needs. One size rarely fits all

  • Ensure buy-in from the top down, and keep on communicating the learning options available

  • Ensure feedback is communicated to line managers and HR on a regular basis, probably monthly

  • Draw up a robust system for measuring performance metrics, broken down into specific business areas

  • Have regular trigger points to measure how effective learning has been

  • Include learning and development needs, and look at problems and successes within individual performance appraisals

  • Ensure HR and line managers are focused on the measurable cost savings associated with learning, development and knowledge transfer

Learning Solutions Exhibition and Conference Incorporating E-Learning
25 & 26 May, Business Design Centre, London. Visit

Comments are closed.