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Feature: Staff Development in the Public Sector

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Smiling crowd In April and May this year online learning specialist SkillSoft commissioned research into the development opportunities available to public sector workers. It found a workforce with good access to training, but keen to learn more. Kay Baldwin-Evans, Head of Research at SkillSoft, outlines the findings.


Development opportunities
Public sector workers have access to a wide range of development opportunities the survey found, the majority of which take place internally. In-house instructor-led training is available to 66% of those surveyed and 49% have access to external courses. Forty per cent have the chance to benefit from formal on-the-job coaching and mentoring and 31% regularly attend workshop sessions.

Online resources and other informal training methods are not yet being maximised across the sector. Only 24% have access to e-learning; online reference resources are used by 17%; 14% learn via CD Rom or video and just 7% are familiar with virtual classroom environments.

How public sector workers prefer to learn
The vast majority, 90%, said that they would prefer to be in control of their own learning and, despite the emphasis across the public sector on formal learning methods, respondents gave formal and informal training identical scores (16% each) whilst the overwhelming majority (69%) favoured a blended learning approach with a mix of both being available.

Respondents would be particularly keen to access online learning resources if they were available. When asked whether they would utilise a resource that allowed them to learn on-the-job at the point of need by typing a specific topic/error code into a search engine and being given immediate access to online reference materials, books, job aids, skill briefs, simulations and e-learning courses on that particular subject – more than three-quarters (77% of respondents) said they would.

How much time do they need to train?
Clearly, public sector employees are committed to professional development; 58% already regularly spend their own free time expanding their skills just because they want to. The amount of time they allocate to this varies from less than an hour to more than six hours per week; with the largest proportion of this group (26%) typically spending one to two personal hours every week on their professional development.

When asked how much time they thought they should be allocated for professional development in order to achieve their full potential, 77% reckon that between one and four hours per week would be enough. Interestingly for public sector managers, although 74% of respondents said they wouldn’t be prepared to do all of this training in their own time, 83% said they would be willing to do at least some of it outside working hours.

Where does the responsibility lie?
When it comes to selecting appropriate training for public sector employees, 30% have control of their own learning; 20% are told what training they can do by their managers; 34% discuss their training and development with their managers and 16% complain that nobody bothers to do it at all.

In terms of management support regarding staff development; 18% of public sector employees believe they receive a lot of support; 35% say they receive support now and then; 24% believe they only get support when they ask for it and 23% claim they receive no support at all.

Nearly half – 46% - think their public sector employer expects them to undertake professional development in their own time, with 57% saying there was no time allocated in the working day for their professional development. However, public sector workers do considerably better than their private sector counterparts in this regard; 70% of private sector employees said that their employers don’t allow any time for them to extend their skills during working hours.

Are public sector workers achieving their full potential?
Two-thirds of public sector employees don’t believe that they are currently working in a position that reflects their true potential and 46% don’t feel valued at work.

A significant proportion of public sector employees also feel discriminated against at work. Many – 63% - feel this is due to their age (34% because they are too young and 29% because they are too old). Seventeen per cent think that their manager is worried that they might be after their job and 20% are convinced that their manager doesn’t like them. A third of public sector respondents think they could do a better job than their boss does.

What training do they need in order to reach their potential?
When asked what sort of competencies they would like to gain to help them to develop professionally (respondents were permitted more than one answer) 51% of public sector employees were keen to develop their management and leadership skills; 39% wanted better general business skills; 36% would like to improve their knowledge of their desktop computer programmes and 38% feel they would benefit themselves and their organisations if they had more advanced IT skills.

Are they happy at work?
Unsurprisingly, most public sector employees think they should be paid more for what they do – 71% say they deserve bigger pay packets. But despite this, the majority of public sector employees enjoy their work. Forty per cent say they get some pleasure from their work and a further 50% go as far as to say that they enjoy their jobs “a lot” or “immensely”. Only 10 per cent say they don’t enjoy their jobs at all.

* The research was conducted independently on behalf of SkillSoft by SWNA and took place online during April and May 2005. More than 3,000 UK employees participated of which 57% (1,710) work in the public sector. For a free copy of the full findings of the survey – with comparisons between the public and private sectors – email [email protected] with your contact details.

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