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Is staff development an entitlement?


Surely the immediate response is 'Yes'. But stop and take a longer look at the question. We know what constitutes good practice; we know about the exhortations for lifelong learning; we know what we want for ourselves. Yet where are the boundaries of staff members' entitlement to engage in learning and development?

The findings from several recent surveys prompted me to think around this issue. In an online survey conducted by the TrainingZone community last autumn, more than 200 members responded to a question about access and entitlement to training and CPD within companies. 72% believed that all staff should have an annual allowance of time and an individual budget for their training; 12% suggested staff should have a time allowance; and 5% argued for simply a budgetary allowance. Taken together, an overwhelming 89% of respondents felt that staff should be automatically entitled to some form of development or learning. Just 11% believed that training should be at the discretion of the employer.

This is clearly not how the majority of employers regard the situation. Very few organisations have any policy towards staff entitlement, although many have adopted progressive attitudes towards the development of staff, recognising that it can help to achieve business objectives, and increase individual motivation.

We are surrounded by positive messages about the value of lifelong learning and continuous professional development yet these are promoted as best practice rather than policy or statute. In fact, the Skills Task Force last year recommended against the introduction of a training levy on employers (a recommendation which the government was swift to adopt). There is a pilot programme running in parts of the country for the use of Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs). Employees can set up ILAs with financial contributions from their employer (and tax concessions) to be spent on skills-based training, closely linked to the vocational qualification scheme. Like earlier tax-deductible schemes, the focus is on individuals being supported to develop themselves, rather than on learning as an entitlement within the workplace.

Findings from a study of employers' attitudes towards training, commissioned by the Institute of Personnel and Development and reported recently in People Management magazine discovered "strong evidence of job satisfaction among HRD professionals, boosted by opportunities to contribute to business strategy." The study found that within training managers agendas, people-centred objectives were regarded as significantly less important than more business-focused goals. Employers were using training to 'make more effective use of staff', meet quality standards, and achieve IIP status. Yet these findings appear to conflict with those of a poll conducted last summer by the organisers of the Training Solutions Show. One of the questions asked of over 600 trainers was whether they derived more satisfaction from helping to achieve corporate business objectives, or from enabling the development of individual members of staff; 60% opted for the latter.

On the ground, confusions remains in both policy and practice. A year ago, whilst working with a local authority Housing Department, I discovered that staff had an individual allowance of time and money for their training. Two women were studying French in an evening class, paid for by the Department, and taking time-in-lieu during the day. "Were there many French-speaking tenants?" I asked: No. "Did the Department plan a venture in France?": I enquired again: No. These women were studying conversational French before going there on holiday. Is this an enlightened employer, or a disorganised one? A commercial company I visited shortly afterwards was investing nothing in their training budget because "Staff don't do a good enough job anyway, so why should they be allowed to take time off." Where do you start here?

What are we to make of all this data? There is still a significant gap between best practice and everyday reality:

- Business employers want training to deliver better results for their business – the bottom-line remains as important as always.
- Those who deliver the training derive satisfaction from the individual learning and benefits which takes place.
- Participation in learning and development is seen as important (for the labour force, for companies, and for individuals) - but the onus remains on the individual to make it happen rather than on the employer to provide it.

And we remain quite a long way from regarding access to learning as an entitlement to be expected.

Tim Pickles is the Managing Director of TrainingZone, an experienced trainer and management consultant, and the author of more than a dozen books and manuals on a range of training and management topics.


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