Twenty years in training

Some 15 years ago, we acquired a cat. The tiny kitten had previously lived in a barn; faced with a cat flap in a terraced house, it did not know what to do. It looked quizzically at me, my wife and my sons, until my eldest said: “OK Dad, what are you going to do now? Are you going to haul out the flip-chart and draw a diagram? Are you going to crawl through the flap yourself to demonstrate? Or are you going to borrow the video camera, push the cat through the flap, re-play the recording and ask it which three things it could have done better?”

Nothing could have better captured the trainer mind-set at that time. We could design and deliver effective training in classroom situations. We could deploy a range of alternatives. We were committed, positive, helpful and often innovative, but we were a bit peripheral. Our basic models were trainer-centred, rather than learner-centred. We concentrated on what we could deliver, rather than what the learner might need.


At a time when the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) HRD Conference and Exhibition enters its 20th year, it’s worth reflecting on whether this picture still applies. How much has changed since the first HRD was held in 1985 – the high-water point of the Thatcher revolution?

Some of these changes are summarised in the accompanying table. But let’s start by concentrating on something that has remained the same.
Training was, is, and will continue to be, a derived or secondary activity in the organisation. Private sector organisations seek to make profits, survive and grow, while public and voluntary sectors seek to deliver services and meet client or customer needs. Training and learning, which always demand resources – whether time or money – will be supported and assisted by the board and front-line managers to the extent that such activities are seen to advance these objectives.

However – and this is really good news – over the past 20 years, the nature of competition and service delivery has changed. The emergence of the terms ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘human capital’ are signals that business advantage is increasingly being built on the willingness of the workforce to acquire and deploy relevant skills to maximum effect. The command and control model – often expressed in the mid-1980s as ‘management’s right to manage’ – has been replaced by a more consensual approach, based on terms such as trust and empowerment. The same forces have shifted our professional focus from ‘training’ to ‘learning’, away from the delivery of classroom-courses to a range of interventions that support, accelerate and direct individual and team learning. We are now asking the learner to take more responsibility for their own learning, and we need to put the structures in place to allow this to happen.

So what changes were occurring against this backdrop?

The first concerns how the profession organises and describes itself. The first HRD conference, let us remind ourselves, was organised by the Institute of Training and Development – the merger with the Institute of Personnel Management to create the Institute of Personnel and Development (now the CIPD) occurred in 1995. What’s in a name? Quite a lot, if it reflects a new approach. The merger took place because both parties recognised that training and learning is not an isolated activity; it can only take place in a framework of effective human resource policies and procedures. The context in which the employee is motivated to learn – to acquire new knowledge and skills – is exactly the same as that in which the employee is motivated to perform. Across the Atlantic, the ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) now describes its membership as ‘workplace learning and performance professionals.’

The next observation, looking back over two decades, is that although we cannot find any ‘silver bullets’, we can make breakthroughs in training and learning techniques. Soft-skills interventions designed to help learners improve their interpersonal skills were as much a feature of the agenda in 1985 as in 2005. However, we have improved both our understanding and our deployment. In my view, the most important breakthrough was the emergence of behavioural competencies – first advocated in a book by Richard Boyatzis in 1982. However, their acceptance was gradual, rather than immediate. Subsequently, different techniques of intervention have emerged – the most prominent recent developments have been neuro-linguistic programming and appreciative enquiry. We have all become better at soft-skills interventions. This is good news since coaching, by no means unknown in 1985, has become a major focus of attention commanding support across the vast majority of organisations.


New technology has arrived as a consequence of the internet. The term e-learning first emerged in 1999 – three-quarters of the way through the period that we are considering. However, technology was present in the training menu of the mid-1980s. It took the form of computer-based training discs that could be accessed on PCs. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it became fashionable to establish what became known as ‘learning resource centres’. These were facilities where employees could go and access a range of PC-based learning materials and books. Very quickly, we learned that unless the learning was explicitly linked with organisational needs and there was support available in the room, such facilities would have limited impact.

The final observation concerns an aspect of our role that has remained constant. We will always worry about evaluation, but never actually do very much about it. More importantly, we will never ask ourselves why this contradiction occurs, never mind how can we live with it. The last important breakthrough occurred with the emergence of the widely recognised Kirkpatrick model, which sees evaluation as a hierarchy moving through reaction, learning, behaviour and results. Donald Kirkpatrick published his first important article in 1975 – the current interest in return on investment merely builds on his approach. Nevertheless, evaluation is just as popular as a seminar topic in a 2005 conference as in 1985.

So overall, where do we stand? Have we as trainers moved on over the 20 years since the first HRD conference? I see much ground for satisfaction, and even more for optimism. We have become much more serious players in the organisation, and developed as a profession. Let’s hope we can consolidate and build on things between now and 2025.

1. SLOMAN, M. (2004) Training in the Age of the Learner, London: CIPD
2. CIPD Research Report (2004) Helping People Learn, London: CIPD

HRD 2005 conference guide what’s on at the HRD  this year?

Now in its 20th year, the CIPD’s annual Learning, Training and Development Conference and Exhibition, known as HRD 2005, will run from 12 to 14 April at Olympia, London, writes Guy Sheppard.

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens will discuss his approach to leadership in the first of more than 40 seminars during the conference. Other speakers include Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.

Leadership will be a prominent theme following the publication of research by the CIPD showing that 85 per cent of UK organisations are now investing in some form of leadership development activity.

Other key issues being addressed include e-learning, experiential learning and how to demonstrate a return on investment from training.
More than 50 free events will be staged. They will be a mixture of new product demonstrations and interactive discussions about key issues within the profession.

The free events, which last between 30 and 45 minutes, will be held in the exhibition halls.

Anna Chapman, exhibition show manager, says: “They are designed to keep you up to date with the latest trends and innovations, as well as show how suppliers are coming up with new solutions for people working in training and development.”

Profitability Business Solutions will use its slot to show how it can help develop business and financial acumen.

Business development manager Alex Draper says: “We are a very niche market, and it’s very hard to conceptualise what we do. If you can see it in action and how people participate, co-operate and behave, it brings the learning to life.”

Angel Productions will demonstrate its new video and DVD package about how to manage people. Partner Stephen Engelhard says his company has run similar sessions at the HRD conference for several years.

“For visitors, the benefit is that they get an idea of what is new in the market in a way they can’t from just touring the exhibition stands.”
The Leadership Trust will organise an interactive discussion about how to develop leadership qualities. Jan Bailey, marketing manager, says it will be based on the premise that leaders are made, not born.

“We say you can develop certain qualities as a leader that everyone is capable of,” she says.

Nearly 250 companies are participating in the exhibition, which will cover everything from routine services such as training administration, to specialist activities including change management and executive level development.

Full details about entry, conference bookings and free events are available on the CIPD website.

Martyn Sloman is learning, training and development adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

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