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Feature: Reading the Reasearch – Key Trends for Training


Rose Ann Innes, learning and development manager for learndirect, draws on recent research on training and development to pick out some of the key trends over 2004 and into 2005.

With the skills deficit high on the government’s agenda and the spotlight firmly focused on the UK’s ability to address this lack to improve its productivity, trends in training are perhaps as high profile as they ever have been. Identifying trends is vital if we are to understand the current environment and plan effectively for the future of our businesses.

Recent research commissioned by learndirect gives useful insight into some key themes in current training practice.

In a survey conducted amongst 200 HR Directors, learndirect found the effectiveness of training provision in the UK was limited due to a shortage of time rather than money. Almost half of those questioned reported an increase in their training budgets over the last 12 months. However seven out of 10 believe their employees find it difficult to make time for training and over a third agreed that staff who sign up for training regularly fail to complete the course due to time pressures.

Further in-depth learndirect research amongst 503 large employers explored the extent to which e-learning is embedded within large organisations. The research findings identified some key attitudes towards e-learning. 40% of respondents expected employees to embrace e-learning in the long term and all companies interviewed had an expectation that e-learning as a training method will grow. Amongst existing users more than a quarter of them expected its use to double in the next two years.

The challenges to making e-learning work highlighted by the research included a lack of technology or a strategy to implement it effectively, and scepticism about the value of e-learning as a training method.

However the benefits cited by those who had overcome these initial barriers were significant. 26% of respondents felt that successfully embedding e-learning allowed them to train a higher proportion of their workforce at lower cost. Flexibility, accessibility and cost savings were all listed and employers found that initial scepticism declined as e-learning is implemented.

So how can we use these research findings to develop future thinking? What are the trends that we are happy to embrace, and which should we be looking to tackle head-on and change, over the next five years?

Our research, backed up by the 2004 findings of the CIPD, demonstrates that employers dedicate considerable budget to training provision, but fail to give their workforce the time and space to train effectively. This clearly needs to change.
The CIPD’s identification of e-learning as the second largest area of growth in the training arena in 2004 also supports our findings. It will come as no surprise to hear that at learndirect we hope this trend will continue. However we do not see e-learning as a replacement to traditional methods of training, rather as a complement to them. In addition to time and cost savings e-learning also widens the appeal of training across the workforce. For example signing up for a training course can be daunting for workers who struggled at school. E-learning can be seen as less pressurised than classroom learning as its anonymity means that learners are not “exposed” in front of colleagues. learndirect courses in literacy and numeracy, the Skills for Life needs that employees can be embarrassed to admit to having, are popular for this reason. If as employers we want to tackle the skills deficit we need to engage with and train the workforce at every level.

Increased flexibility will be key if we are to see individual employees and their line managers “owning” their training. Imposing training from on high will never get the best results. Employers need to build greater understanding amongst the workforce of the personal and business benefits of skills development. Employees who are committed and enabled to initiate and complete their own training plans will learn more and be more effective. For HR and training managers this means rationalising the, often lengthy, processes associated with applying for training. Too much paperwork can be daunting for the individual and the manager, as well as for the HR team. Making training and development easy to access is vital – both in terms of application and approval procedures and providing technology to learn online.

Similarly we need to see an attitude change regarding progression and development. Both employers and employees need to view progression as “horizontal” development, not only “vertical” development. If promotion is seen as the only objective of training and development it will always be limited to select members of the workforce. Stretching employees in new directions within existing roles or at current levels can improve staff motivation and retention rates, as well as maximising the potential of team members.

The issue of coaching is a further example of the need for a wider view of what training is and who can provide it. We would like to see coaching and mentoring moving further up the agenda, offered to staff at all levels and governed by a formal strategy. Like e-learning its effectiveness lies in the fact that it can be offered in-house in short, sharp sessions addressing specific issues head-on.

In summary if we are to make the most of the skills of UK workforce, harnessing the real potential of our people to increase productivity, we need to see an overarching trend for further innovation and flexibility in how training is offered and delivered.


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