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L&D needs to become more business savvy to survive

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SuccessL&D professionals need to become more business savvy and 'prove' that training really works. These are just some of the predictions to come out of the CIPD's annual L&D survey – launched this week at HRD. Developing leadership skills is also seen as being critical. Claire McCartney gives TrainingZone.co.uk members an overview of the results – which include a look at how training budgets have fared in these recessionary times.





Over the past few months we've heard a lot about learning, training and development cutbacks, but there has been precious little benchmarking data available for the L&D community to gauge whether this is simply conjecture or in fact reality.

The CIPD's 2009 annual Learning and Development survey is timely because it provides this very intelligence. The survey of over 850 CIPD members provides fresh evidence of economic influences on L&D budgets and picks up current and future trends in the L&D arena.

When participants were polled in October, almost half (46%) believed their organisation's economic/funding situation had worsened in the last 12 months. This represents a 13% rise from the previous survey.

Photo of Claire McCartney"The impact of the worsening economic situation on learning and development does not appear to be as adverse as might have been expected... over half (51%) say funds have remained fairly stable, with a further 14% feeling that funds have actually increased."

Budgets remain stable
However, the impact of the worsening economic situation on learning and development does not appear to be as adverse as might have been expected. While almost a third (32%) of respondents feel that funds available for learning and development in their organisation have decreased in the past 12 months, over half (51%) say funds have remained fairly stable, with a further 14% feeling that funds have actually increased. Smaller organisations are less likely to report a decline in their training funds, while private sector organisations are more likely than the other sectors to state that funds for L&D have increased. Could we therefore be talking ourselves into believing the situation is worse than it really is right now?

Thinking about future prospects things are a bit more mixed, 14% are optimistic and believe funds will increase over the next year, just under half (45%) believe that funds will remain the same, with just over a third (36%) believing that funding will fall.

So how can L&D professionals respond to the threat of reduced budgets? And what opportunities are there for making a greater impact but with less resources? The survey findings point to some of the answers. Participants rate in-house development programmes, coaching by line managers and on-the-job training as most effective. The most effective L&D interventions are therefore among the least expensive. Organisations should seek to maximise their use of these development methods and craft more innovative ways of combining work and learning as well as creating more opportunities for experiential learning and role assignments that challenge individuals and help them to develop new skills.

Leadership development crucial
The development of management and leadership skills (81%) is seen as most important in meeting business objectives in the next two years. 67% of respondents also feel that both strong commercial awareness and business acumen are important. L&D professionals should therefore seek to develop and sharpen these skills in their organisations in order to respond to the current testing climate.

The CIPD's recent research 'The War on Talent?' indicates that as organisations reduce their focus on recruitment, there are more opportunities to fully develop and utilise the skills of their existing workforces. There also seems to be a greater openness to consider internal development moves and transferable role opportunities.

"How can L&D professionals respond to the threat of reduced budgets? And what opportunities are there for making a greater impact but with less resources? The survey findings point to some of the answers."

The talent management research shows that organisations are already implementing different practices as a result of the recession. These include setting up innovation groups to ask talent to propose ideas for the business, developing grow-your-own schemes, particularly in professions that are still difficult to recruit for, ensuring high visibility of, and access to, top management throughout development and in some cases developing partnership schemes across similar independent organisations. Contrary to what might be expected, many respondents feel that talent management becomes more, not less, important in a recession. This is encouraging as maintaining a focus on talent activities will be a key part of helping organisations through the downturn and ensuring they are in better shape when they come out the other side.

L&D still a high priority
Despite feeling the pinch in terms of funding, L&D is still clearly valued by respondents' organisations. 70% agree that L&D continues to be a high priority in their organisation and over three quarters (76%) feel that it is seen as an important part of business improvement. Reassuringly, 67% disagreed with the statement 'in an economic downturn, L&D in my organisation is considered a 'nice to have' rather than a necessity'.

Looking to the future, 65% anticipate that L&D activity will become more closely integrated with business strategy and 60% feel there will be greater emphasis on the evaluation of training effectiveness. L&D professionals must embrace both of these practices to ensure organisational requirements are constantly being met - especially if they are to secure continued support from the top in challenging times. L&D professionals therefore have an important role to play in helping organisations through the downturn and need to provide tangible evidence
that the development they provide will make a strong difference to current and future performance.


Claire McCartney, adviser, organisation, resourcing and performance at the CIPD, is responsible for research exploring different aspects of effective talent management strategies and manages the Institute's Resourcing and Talent Forum. Prior to joining the CIPD, Claire was principal researcher at Roffey Park where she conducted research projects into a variety of topics including Roffey Park's annual Management Agenda survey, Work-Life Balance, Flexible Working, Employee Volunteering, Talent Management and Diversity. She is the author of several reports and articles and regularly presents at seminars and conferences. Claire has also worked with a range of clients on tailored research needs including the development of a bespoke public sector leadership framework, large-scale organisational development surveys in the private and not-for-profit sectors and an investigation into risks to well-being across a local authority

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