Spotlight on the importance of training

‘There’s nothing in the pot’ is an excuse all too often heard by staff asking for training, and when corners have to be cut, training is invariably the first thing deemed a luxury, and promptly axed. If we want to keep providing useful training for our staff, we need to make sure it is seen – by everyone – as the necessity that it is. This means picking the right training, trainer and trainees – every time.

According to Martyn Sloman, adviser, learning, training and development, at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), at least part of the problem is due to our failure to demonstrate the value of learning for both individuals and organisations. Research carried out for the CIPD by the University of Portsmouth, The Value of Learning, has come up with four ways in which learning can add strategic value. First, learning helps organisational agility – if a workforce has the relevant skills, changing delivery, approaches and even products become much easier. Second, learning can help reduce labour costs – trained staff will be far more efficient. Third, training can increase workforce productivity. And finally, training allows the organisation to develop and foster its own culture. As Sloman says: “Identifying training needs can be seen in a much broader concept than traditionally thought.”

In the past, it has often been a case of taking on each and every course pitched to us by the enterprising external trainer, then offering it to the department loudest in its calls for training, regardless of needs and appropriateness. Do conference managers really need to be trained in interview techniques? Do accountants really need to understand the ins and outs of business writing? And how many of us desk jockeys really need health and safety training? It’s hardly surprising that training has had such a poor reputation.

So we need to align our training to the company strategy. According to the CIPD, “in addition to the provision of skills, knowledge and attitudes needed to achieve operational efficiency, learning is increasingly expected to equip people in an organisation to help it become ‘strategically unique’. Aligning learning to strategic priorities, therefore, is about achieving strategic differentiation as well as operational efficiency and effectiveness.”

We also need to meet the needs of the individual without training people for the sake of it – or to meet quotas, or to spend budgets that we’re scared of losing. And we should bear in mind that enhancing someone’s CV is all well and good, but unless we are giving them skills relevant to their current role, we are effectively training them for their next employer.

Earlier this year, Penny de Valk, chief executive of The Institute of Leadership and Management, told Personnel Today: “ROI on HR spend is still a very weak discipline. What we invest in our people and what the business output will be – the links there are very tenuous.”

As training continues to battle with its ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘must have’ reputation, it’s up to the HR team to convince the bean counters of its value. Learning needs to be treated as an investment, rather than a cost. And for this to happen, there needs to be tangible results, visible on both the bottom line and throughout the organisational culture.

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