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Put your money where your mouth is

crisis

Despite a glimmer of hope on the ecomonic horizon, training still seems to be too far down organisations' list of priorities. The CMI's Ruth Spellman argues that it's time for L&D to make a stand.

With reports suggesting that house prices are showing signs of recovery and some retailers hinting at a gradual upturn in fortunes, talk is finally turning towards a better third quarter. Like all of us, I hope this is a sign of things to come. But talk can be cheap.
Recovery may be on the way, but doesn’t mean organisations will easily loosen the purse strings around their development budgets. After all, when budgets are cut – as they have been for much of the past 18 months – training and development seems to suffer first and, when circumstances improve, thought of last.
So you can imagine my dismay when the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) recently requested training providers to stop taking students onto the Train to Gain scheme owing to a lack of available funding. The purpose of Train to Gain has always been to encourage employers to up-skill their staff. Yet, if those at the heart of the push for skills development in the UK are holding back, why should organisations listen to the voices emanating from HR departments around the country?

In many ways this is a frustrating question. HR’s battle to be taken seriously in the Boardroom has been well documented and now is not the time for employers to ignore their contribution. Put simply, a failure to invest in training and development might lead to short-term savings, but the cost to business over the long-term will be far greater.

"Just because the LSC is not in a position to encourage employers to drive training programmes forward does not mean development should stop."

Earlier this year, the CMI / CELRE National Management Salary Survey revealed that 46% of organisations have lost staff because promises of training and development disappeared into the ether. Pay is important – we all have bills to pay – but increasingly individuals are motivated by the growth opportunities made available to them. 

The problem is that if an employee doesn’t feel that their organisation is able to offer stimulating training they will jump ship and in an era where ‘employee engagement’ has become the phrase of the moment this should surely sound alarm bells. One thing is for sure; the longer employers fail to appreciate the issue, the more they will bemoan the lack of talent at their disposal. 

Certainly, at the very time the UK’s skills gap is under the microscope because of redundancies and recruitment freezes, the impetus should be on employers to find every way possible to keep hold of their talent staff. As CMI’s Salary Survey shows, this rarely comes down to money (just 1 in 5 are motivated by pay), but retention of top talent will be vital for post-recession recovery. Employers need to realise that training and development cannot simply be viewed as a cost. More accurately it is an investment in long-term growth, a way of stimulating staff engagement and, at the same time, reducing costs associated with recruitment.
"HR’s battle to be taken seriously in the Boardroom has been well documented and now is not the time for employers to ignore their contribution."
Over many years CMI has explored the value of development and the core findings remain the same. By offering training programmes, the majority of employers recognise that productivity, their ability to attract good staff and their professional reputation all improve. This is particularly the case when development is targeted at managers and leaders because of the ‘spill-over’ effect – the fact that what they learn is cascaded down to team members. By ignoring the value of management qualifications to save some cash today, employers are doing nothing more than restricting cash flow tomorrow.
Of course, training for training’s sake is not the answer either. All that matters is that the development on offer is good quality, relevant and practical. It also doesn’t have to involve training providers and, here, HR has an opportunity to ensure their Boards take note. If employers realise that development can take place via formal mentoring programmes, work shadowing or even voluntary placements, they will quickly recognise that whilst it need not be expensive, good training is priceless. 
Just because the LSC is not in a position to encourage employers to drive training programmes forward does not mean development should come to a halt. If that is allowed to happen, it will not be long before the green shoots of recovery are trampled upon, leaving organisations across the country struggling to cope with a disengaged workforce lacking the skills to take Britain forward.

Ruth Spellman OBE chief executive Chartered Management Institute.

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