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The Way I See It… Weather Forecasting for Training Managers

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Jim Sullivan, LMS product manager for Consensus, argues that integrated learning management and personal development systems can take the guess work out of complex training needs.


Jo is a Practice Nurse. Her daily role involves a bewildering range of skilled tasks – managing asthma clinics, performing baby immunisations, triaging patients to decide which should see the GP and which patients she will assess and discharge herself. Her initial training was never designed to provide these skills; she’s simply moved with the times, taking on board new skills and accreditations as the NHS ‘Skills Escalator’ has relentlessly opened up opportunities.

Jo is one of 1,700 staff at her Primary Care Trust. Of those 1,700 staff, how many different skills profiles are there? You guessed it – 1,700. So how does the Trust assess Jo’s training needs? More importantly, how do they keep an army of people like Jo moving forward in their professional careers, creating flexibility within the organisation, without also opening up whole new areas of risk?

The results of a survey carried out recently by Personnel Today showed that a worryingly low 24% of organisations said that their performance management systems were used to anticipate future skills gaps.

To do justice to people like Jo, employers – in all sectors - need a training culture that is as dynamic as their most dynamic staff. There’s only one way to move as fast as your fastest-moving person, and that is to devolve control. Jo’s organisation can track her development needs in real-time because she has online access to her personal development plan, her competency records, qualifications and training history. Jo can update her records whenever something changes, she can see what training opportunities are available and she can treat her PDP as a moving target – just like Jo herself.

Jo’s employer also needs to be on the ball. With 1,700 staff the risk from expired qualifications is real – and growing. The same IT systems that support Jo’s ambitions also alert her manager when any of Jo’s qualifications, competencies or personal development objectives threatens to expire. This then enables them to take action to instigate the relevant training courses and ensure that continuing professional development needs are monitored, at the same time insuring themselves against possible future legal action from staff or customers who might be affected by inadequate skills training.

Surprisingly, in the same survey, 83% of respondents said that their performance management system “links to organisational objectives”, but only 57% said that their systems monitor organisational objectives. So, while many organisations understand in theory that there is a need to address both individual and corporate needs, this doesn't always happen in practice.

In this context, the idea of a ‘training needs analysis’ as a fixed statement of organisational training priorities seems, well, quaint. Of course employers need to plan at organisational level, and they normally need to do this at a fixed point in time. What they can’t afford to do is ignore development needs in the intervening period. They also need to integrate training plans with corporate objectives; a training needs analysis isn’t a wish list for individuals, it’s an action plan to add value to an organisation, and should be viewed not as an add-on but an integral part of an organisation’s strategic business planning.

Jo won’t be a practice nurse forever. Over a 40-year career she will have a number of roles. Given a real-time approach to training needs analysis, her organisation will not only retain her skills, but they will be in a position to mould her into the type of person they will need in, say, two years. Long-range forecasting may be challenging, but with integrated learning management and personal development systems, it is now achievable.

* Jim Sullivan can be contacted at jim.sullivan@consensus.co.uk


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