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Opinion: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’

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Credi crunchThe opening line of the famous Dickens novel 'A Tale of Two Cities' aptly describes the situation the training community now faces, says Garry Platt, who advises that in the next 18 months, only those with real business acumen will survive.







As I write this piece the CBI are expressing the view that the recession we are in will be deeper and longer than first expected. We are probably facing 18-24 months of extremely tough economic conditions. In these circumstances we can make some fairly reliable predictions about what will happen to training and development.

Photo of Garry Platt"Trainers and consultants with an emphasis on financial evaluation and business-focused outcomes will have an edge in this market."

Without doubt budgets will be cut back and in some situations training will be stopped altogether. It is certain to be the case that some trainers will find their income reduced significantly and training organisations will need to review their financial predictions and expectations. There is nothing apparently very positive about this situation and in the short term I would agree. Longer term, however, there may be some good to come out of this.

The purpose of training is of course to benefit the host organisation on whose behalf the training is being delivered. Some trainers would decline to agree with this and place the individual’s needs above the company. In terms of facilitating their learning and retention of knowledge and skill I believe they are correct in doing this. But the outcomes and results of that learning should be entirely focused on the requirements of the organisation with the learner acting as the conduit. This is an elementary but important goal for training and yet (as we all know) there is frequently an absence of connection between what the trainer does and the benefits accrued to the company.

Superficially there are typically proposed connections but the words used to describe the commercial outputs are to say the least ambiguous: synergy, dynamism, maximised potential, strategic, impactful and commercial. These words sound good but aren’t traceable. They essentially mean nothing. Will this kind of unfocussed training still exist and prosper in the future climate?

When managers look to develop staff will they do it against indefinite outcomes and non-specified results? Incredulously, in many cases they will. Knowing no better and being creatures of habit we can be fairly certain that it will be 'work as normal'. But what we can also be certain of is that in a significant number of organisations senior managers and finance departments will be looking very closely at the training which is done and much more importantly asking: Why? That downward pressure will I hope add momentum to the outcome driven approach to training.

"Events which are not directly linked to defined results will be increasingly exposed to close scrutiny. Tough questions will be asked of this training, which for years has flown under the radar without much attention being paid to it."

Over the next 18 months events which are not directly linked to defined results will be increasingly exposed to close scrutiny. Tough questions will be asked of this training, which for years has flown under the radar without much attention being paid to it.

In a time of recession can training as a legitimate departmental partner deliver team building events which frankly we have no certain proof and even less interest in proving the benefits of? Can we, in the face of mass redundancies, continue to train time management when we have no evidence that the content is being transferred into hard outcomes in the workplace? When financial cut backs are the order of the day can we train more coaches when in fact there is nothing to show that it is making any impact on the bottom line?

In many cases the answer will be 'of course we can'. It will be argued that many benefits are 'incalculable' or the criticism that accountants 'know the cost of everything but the value of nothing' or arguments citing the flaws in ROI because of the Hawthorne Effect.

But I can also say with some certainty that trainers and consultants with an emphasis on financial evaluation and business-focused outcomes will have an edge in this market. This downward turn of events may indeed be the spring board for a further step forward in the ranks of trainers towards fully fledged status of legitimate function alongside sales, marketing, premises, etc.

At the moment, in many organisations training is seen as very much a second-class cousin to many other areas. Just watch which budgets get cut first during this period to evidence this statement.

"We face an almost Darwinian period in the times ahead where only the slightest advantage is likely to mean the difference between staying in business or simply ceasing to exist."

I am absolutely certain we will see many individual trainers leaving the business and many commercial providers going bust. We face an almost Darwinian period in the times ahead where only the slightest advantage is likely to mean the difference between staying in business or simply ceasing to exist.

It will also be true that many trainers will lower their rates to a point at which their business model will eventually fail. This might be possible to do for a short period of time but if the CBI is correct they will not be able to last out the recession on this tactic alone.

So where will we be in two years time? There will certainly be fewer of us, and those that do remain are likely to be skilled in sales and focused on providing direct support for their clients with clear outcomes and achievements. As the Chinese proverb states: 'we live in interesting times'.

Garry Platt is a training consult working for EEF Oakham at the Barleythorpe Training Facility. He specialises in management development and trainer training. He may be contacted on 01572 723711.

To read some of Garry's previous features on TrainingZone.co.uk, click on the following titles:

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