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HRD2002 – review of the exhibition


HRD2002Well, the show's over, and we've just about finished sorting out all the notes, handouts, cards, flyers and freebies from HRD 2002, so it's time for a look back at this year's exhibition.

Some familiar major players like LearnDirect were in evidence, as were some new incarnations of previous exhibitors. The Industrial Society Learning and Development – now part of Capita and separated from what has become the Work Foundation – are launching a wider range of training options. The Institute of Leadership and Management had a double presence as both of its progenitors, NEBS Management and the Institute for Supervision and Management. There were a few business schools, although the academic institutions were restricted to ones from the London area.

The one mode of training delivery that seemed to be mushrooming was coaching. "Coaching" does now cover a great range of activities, from the focussed one-to-one guidance on particular skills now offered by many already-established training providers, through many online coaching options, to more general life-coaching providers. Coaching Solutions, the Happiness Project, the Life Coaching Company were among the dedicated organisations we talked to, as was as the Coaching Academy, who run accredited training in becoming a successful life-coach.

Last year the e-learning products seemed to have thinned out, and this time we had the impression that that trend had continued. Not that there weren't any e-learning products on show, more that they are now offered among other services or as part of packages, rather than as solutions in themselves, which is in line with a general trend to put computer-based learning into context. One of the Topic Tasters, by Robin Hoyle of ebc, did a very good job of explaining why things are going this way. As with most of the best advice on e-learning, his guidance was largely composed of common-sense thinking about actual learning conditions, but he made his points with pinpoint accuracy when demonstrating how badly-designed and simplistic approaches contrive to combine everything people don't like about computers with everything they would rather forget about school!

One major theme that appeared in a variety of guises across the exhibitors was skills assessment. From online packages, software like Extended DISC (UK) Ltd, to in-depth programmes for managers, like MAP, the show was full of ways to clarify just what staff know and can do, prior to training them in what they don't and can't. This could be a symptom of a growing urgency to provide exactly the training required, rather than putting people through whole courses without focussing. TrainingZONE certainly sees it as a positive development that we are getting more concerned to know exactly what skills people have before we spend any money on giving the next lot. At the other end of the process managers are also increasingly concerned with finding out whether training is paying off: evaluation kept coming up as an issue. The theme was reinforced by the popular seminars every day.

We did some previews before HRD 2002 on drama-based training, and on training in cultural awareness, but it seems that we only skimmed the surface: those two sectors kept popping up at the show. The drama added a welcome element of noise and argument to the milling crowds, although they should perhaps be kept further from the Topic Taster area: their all too evident energy and enthusiasm don't necessarily suit anyone who is trying to deliver a presentation nearby! The growth of cultural awareness trainers is all the more obvious in that now that seems to get more attention than language training, even from some of the organisations who do both. As well as Babel, Intermonde Language Services and the School of Oriental and African Studies we even had the European Directorate General for Education and Culture spreading international harmony.

As ever, "museum foot" set in after the first, oh, two-hundred-odd stands, and when we took a break to re-charge, we felt that some of the promotional material had become wearying too. Original marketing is always difficult, and you don't expect it everywhere at a show, indeed, trying too hard can be worse than not trying. But some phrases are really starting to wear thin. Everywhere you look there's "Europe's foremost leading-edge team development tool for releasing the potential of your organisation" or something almost identical. After a while it all starts to blur into one enormous "innovative business solution". Don't we all start to turn off when we read these phrases? Are there any alternatives? Well, maybe... At least Ariadne's "Classical Art as a guide to innovation in business" caught the eye. The Gourmet Challenge also get points for offering an original approach in which you can imagine a team working: they use cuisine to encourage group working, and even provided a whisk in the press pack. Talking to them did make you hungry though.

And on that point, although I enjoy chocolate, exhibitors might like to note that a greater range of savoury snacks could be brought into play during the afternoons, after the initial sweet frenzy, and particularly on a hot day. Just a thought. Maybe it's just a matter of pacing the eating better.


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