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Opinion: Back to the training future


Back to the future - a DeloreanGarry Platt reflects on the good old days, back when the Institute of Training & Development championed the profession... and suggests that perhaps they weren't so good after all. As to the future, when it comes to raising standards, perhaps organisations employing trainers should have higher expectations, he suggests – only then will trainers themselves raise their game.

'They just need some input on leadership and change, standard stuff really, when are you free in the next month?'

This would constitute for some HR managers a detailed, comprehensive and almost excessive briefing on the developmental needs of an indeterminate group of people they want trained. For some trainers this constitutes the green light to run a 'standard' training package they designed back in 1985 and possibly extend their holiday in Mauritius later that year. For the business it constitutes another financial investment with about as much chance of success as Osama Bin Laden has of releasing this year's dance hit in Ibiza - slim I'd say.

Photo of Garry Platt"So why this lack of professionalism? Why do we have such a poor record in adopting a sensible approach to training and development?"

Many 'HR managers' appear to believe that development needs come in perfectly formed packages and that standard responses will meet clients needs, neither proposition is normally true. An essential requirement for any training consultant is to understand exactly what the situation is, why the training is needed and what it will achieve. But what can, and frequently does, happen is that a generic training response is given which engages the learners, they enjoy the process and complete positive end-of-course review sheets. They return to the workplace feeling quite positive, whereupon the same old crap hits the same old fan with the same old results and within two to three days normality is restored. But, and it's an important but, they have been trained, alas, only in generalities which do not reflect the specific demands of their situation or the needs they have.

So why this lack of professionalism? Why do we have such a poor record in adopting a sensible approach to training and development? In the 'good old days' the Institute of Training and Development (ITD) was the sole representative body for this profession. Some people think it all went to hell in a hand basket when we merged with the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) and became that monolithic structure that is now the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the CIPD.

Frankly, I don't think they were the good old days, in the same way I don't believe whooping cough and rickets were character building. I remember the ITD having an assessment strategy for the original Certificate in Training Practise, where the criterion wasn't much more than checking that the candidate had a pulse. With the CIPD, however, we now in my opinion have one of the hardest certificate level qualifications on the market, with an excessive level of assessment stringency.

What is beginning to emerge in response to this are a plethora of alternative qualifications from such sources as The Training Foundation (TAP), ITOL, TrainerBase and Matrix FourtyTwo. I've not checked the position at Tesco's so I don't know quite what's happening there. All these qualifications, including the CIPD's CTP are promoted as ways of getting professional staff. None of them achieve this - you don't train professionalism into somebody, and subsequent intermittent follow-up assessments are as easy to work around as being intermittently professional. The only thing any of these programmes impart is knowledge and skills, neither of which when combined guarantees a professional or expert approach.

What really guarantees professionalism are expectations and demands from within the organisation on what training and development will deliver. That demand, that expectation keeps processes honest. But training and development has failed so often to live up to this need that expectations and goals are now set very low. Paul Kearns has developed an Oath that defines and embodies a professional behaviour and approach. It may have some effect, but signing an oath without conviction and substantive assessment is akin to denying a piece of paper the chance to fulfil a useful purpose, like wrapping chips.

"What we actually need are organisations that won't accept anything less than excellence in this field. I can count on the fingers of one hideously mutilated hand those organisations that have driven for higher and better standards."

What we actually need are organisations that won't accept anything less than excellence in this field. I can count on the fingers of one hideously mutilated hand those organisations that have driven for higher and better standards. Usually I'm the one who does that, the boot is on the wrong foot I think. Alas, we have people like Martyn Sloman of the CIPD telling us that we don't need to pursue financial evaluation of our training – based, it's seems, on one research report which sampled less than 1% of the target population and from this extrapolated national trends. I would suggest that financial evaluation is one key area that we need to provide evidence, amongst many, many others, but with this sort of message emerging from the CIPD and other outlets no wonder organisations don't ask for it or other significant forms of evidence of impact.

I like Paul Kearns' Oath idea, but I would prefer it if it were aimed at organisations to enshrine in their policies, actions and working practices to demand only the very best from trainers, consultants and coaches. To help create a commitment to excellence in its approach to training and development. It would be better to have an organisational award that requires that companies have a policy for training excellence whereby consistent evidence must be produced which mirrors Paul Kearns' Oath but from the employer's side of the contract. In this way senior management might start looking for excellence from internal and external trainers and, those that couldn't provide were either aided or trained to achieve this or found alternative employment.

Garry Platt is a senior consultant at Woodland Grange specialising in management development and trainer training. He can be contacted on 01926 336621 or email:
[email protected]


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