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public sector management training


Dr David Towler from Cambridge Online Learning Ltd looks at Public Sector Management Training.

In the past, the public sector has tended to give management training a much lower priority than in the commercial world and they are not alone in this as the same can be said for many of the other professions in the UK. The main reason for this is that along with the rest of the professions, they have tended to promote people into management positions on the strength of their technical or academic ability rather than their ability to run an organisation. If, for example, you asked people in positions of responsibility whether they are managers or professionals, they would almost always answer‘professional’- and with good reason, because this is exactly what they are. The problem, however, is that when they are promoted into a management position, the organisation has often ended up losing a good professional and gaining a poor manager. Having said that, there are some signs that things are changing very largely due to, it has to be said, Government pressure to change. The question is whether this change is going fast enough or far enough.

The reasons for change are not hard to find. On a broader level, there is a growing awareness of the need for greater management expertise not just in the public sector, but in the UK as a whole. Michael Porter’s latest report on UK competitiveness identified a major gap in UK management’s comparative effectiveness – some 50% less than the US. A recently published survey by Proudfoot Consulting points to mismanagement as responsible for wasting 85 days a year per employee and a survey published by Personnel Today identifies a major skills gap at line manager level in areas critical to productivity and competitiveness. Cubiks research shows that ineffective managers are fuelling high staff turnover and causing widespread employee underperformance. The good news, however, is that our 2003 Annual Training Survey on management training shows a major increase in awareness of the need for organisations to focus on developing management skills.

In addition to a growing awareness, there are some very encouraging signs that the public sector management is trying to get “out of the box”, in other words to bring their management training into the wider world. For example, there is a growing trend towards establishing competence frameworks which link directly to nationally recognised standards. There are also moves towards provision which includes membership of the Chartered Management Institute and other external accreditation. Our own survey shows there is a very much stronger emphasis on evaluating management development in terms of individual performance, efficiency gains and its impact on the business. There is also some evidence to suggest that the public sector is recruiting people for their management ability rather than their professional or academic expertise. All of which is vital if the public sector is to keep up and become accepted as a top-flight employer capable of attracting the best talent.

On the other hand there are still some worrying issues particularly around their tendering arrangements. There is a tendency amongst public sector bodies to define in the finest detail exactly what they want and how it should be delivered. This is worrying because they are not opening themselves up to new ways of doing things. There is also a predisposition to try and attract the biggest and most expensive providers, again this is worrying as they are limiting themselves to new providers. A particularly good example of this, in my view, is the new Centre for Excellence in Leadership - the new leadership college for the learning and skills sector - to be delivered by a consortium led by Lancaster University Management School and the Learning and Skills Development Agency and supported by Ashridge and the Open University.

A third and related point, is that although things are improving, there is still a much higher level of wastage than the private sector from employees failing to complete their courses. Our survey showed that almost 80% of public sector organisations admitted to wasting up to half their training budgets on drop outs. So unless the public sector is prepared to open itself up to new ideas and tackle its problem of waste, the danger is that all the good work we see going on will come to nothing.


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