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Trainer Development: An Institute’s view – Institute of Training and Occupational Learning


Jeffrey Brooks, ITOLAs part of our trainer development feature, we've asked representatives from the major institutes involved in developing those in the HRD field to answer some key questions about the services they offer, the support available to training professionals and some of the issues affecting them in the workplace today. Here, Jeffrey Brooks, Director, Institute of Training and Occupational Learning (ITOL) gives his response.

TrainingZONE: How do you support trainers accredited through your institution?

Jeffrey Brooks: One of the primary aims of the Institute of Training and Occupational Learning (ITOL) is to create a genuine learning climate which allows our members to grow and develop. We do this by providing our members with:

One of the primary aims of the Institute of Training and Occupational Learning (ITOL) is to create a genuine learning climate which allows our members to grow and develop. We do this by providing our members with:

  • Research information via our ‘British Journal of Occupational Learning’ (a peer-reviewed learned journal)
  • tt&hr magazine
  • Free ITOL Guidebooks
  • Access to our ‘Ask an Expert’ helplines
  • Opportunities for involvement with our various ‘virtual’ working parties
  • Access to our five members-only website forums: ‘Members Discussion Forum’, ‘News from ITOL’, ‘Book Reviews’, ‘Special Discounts’, ‘Articles Library’ (an electronic library of hundreds of training related articles and papers)

  • TrainingZONE: The training market is constantly changing - how do you keep your programmes for trainers relevant?

    Jeffrey Brooks: If by ‘programmes’ you are referring to training courses, then I must draw your attention to a policy decision we took before the establishment of the institute. As an institute for training and development professionals, we decided that it would be unethical to offer our own training courses. To do so would cause us to compete with our own membership, many of whom run public courses on a variety of topics. The exception to this rule is our Diploma in Training and Occupational Learning which we will be running ourselves later this year.

    TrainingZONE: How does the Institute keep up-to-date with current training theory and practice?

    Jeffrey Brooks: A published aim of the institute is to research, develop and promote best practices in training, development and occupational learning. We are the only UK institute representing the training profession that publishes - and provides free of charge to all members - a peer-reviewed journal (The British Journal of Occupational Learning). Articles included may be based on theoretical analysis, critical accounts of practice issues, reports of research undertaken or any other appropriate subject matter which promotes understanding in the field of occupational learning. There are two types of article: Full articles, papers of between 5,000 and 7,000 words which are anonymously peer reviewed by two referees, and Commentaries, short pieces of between 1,000 and 2,000 words on topics such as summaries of research reports, accounts of innovative practice or projects, conference reports and other such items which will be of interest to our members.

    TrainingZONE: Do you provide support to in-house training departments to help identify and provide training for their trainers?

    Jeffrey Brooks: As I mentioned earlier, this kind of consultancy activity and training course provision is outside our remit. However, we have introduced the ‘ITOL Quality Award’ scheme to allow providers of in-house or public trainer-training programmes to benchmark their programmes against best practices. The Quality Award scheme deals with e-learning and distance learning programmes as well as tutor-led courses and workshops.

    TrainingZONE: What practical advice would you offer trainers who are having difficulties finding time to devote to their own CPD?

    Jeffrey Brooks: Trainers are busy people and it’s often the case that their own CPD suffers amid the many pressures of working life. CPD for trainers can be unusually complicated in that it usually requires development activity in a number of areas. The following ITOL CPD guidance notes illustrate the issues involved:

    CPD at Associate Member level (AMITOL) - Associate Membership tends to include Training Instructors and Direct Trainers who have entered the training world as a result of being subject matter experts in another discipline first. Here CPD should not only include ongoing development in direct training and facilitation skills but should also include keeping up-to-date with the member's particular subject matter specialism.

    CPD at Member level (MITOL) - At Member level, where we usually find Training Officer, Training Designer and Lecturer roles, we should expect that CPD would encompass current developments in adult learning methodologies, the latest training intervention design approaches, and best practices in evaluation methods. To ensure that the training approaches are aligned with organisation objectives we would also expect to see CPD dealing with general business skills, including the development of financial management knowledge.

    CPD at Fellowship level (FITOL) - For ITOL Fellows, usually Training Managers, Directors of Learning, Training Consultants etc., CPD should include - in addition to the latest techniques in learning development - high level development activity in business skills and knowledge, advanced consultancy and advocacy skills, developments in organisational strategy and policy etc.

    In terms of practical advice, we would suggest that trainers should consider utilising a wide variety of both formal and informal development activities. If time pressures prevent the more traditional approaches to CPD, here are a few alternatives that our members have found productive:

  • Wide-ranging reading of professional journals and books (A survey by Professor Adrian Furnham of University College London, found that many HR people lacked the knowledge to match their role. He found that their reading was shallow, with most relying on trade magazines only for their information. According to Furnham: “Their information was based on populism rather than scientific knowledge. If you speak to an accountant or engineer, you expect to hear some technical know-how. It wasn’t the same with HR people. It undermines their role”).
  • Networking with other training professionals. If work pressures prevent face-to-face meetings, consider joining ‘virtual’ meeting forums.
  • Peer-reviewing other trainers work (and having your own work reviewed).
  • Utilise the traditional slack times in the trainers calendar (usually August and December) to set aside time for your own development.
  • Maintain some form of learning log – it’s surprising how many development opportunities occur naturally in daily life.
  • Join the professional institutes appropriate to your role.

  • TrainingZONE: Do you provide opportunities for members to meet up and share experiences?

    Jeffrey Brooks: Typically, less than 1% of the membership of professional institutes ever attend branch meetings and trainers in particular find difficulty in attending meetings. With these factors in mind we decided that the institute would not organise branch meetings. Our alternative approach has been our very successful ‘virtual’ meetings of members by electronic means and we have now hosted a wide range of members ‘virtual working parties’ on development topics of interest to the institute membership. This approach, coupled with our members-only website discussion forums, seems to be much more valued by our members than face-to-face meetings (an experience that also seems to be reflected by the success of e-based forums such as TrainingZONE and UKHRD).

    TrainingZONE: Most trainers identify their own preferred methods of delivery and theories they subscribe to - for example, a trainer might chose to become an NLP practitioner or e-learning tutor. Is it difficult to create programmes which are relevant to all?

    Jeffrey Brooks: As we don’t provide such programmes ourselves (see above) this question should be more usefully directed at those institutes that do.

    TrainingZONE: Does the Institute's work involve liaison with government bodies such as the Employment NTO, Learning and Skills Council and the Learning and Skills Development Agency?

    Jeffrey Brooks: ITOL is an independent institute and we have no formal ties with any of the organisations mentioned although we have informal liaison with most. We currently attach more importance to our liaison with universities and research institutes.

    TrainingZONE: The government White Paper on skills published this month doesn't seem to address the need to develop trainers at all - do you think UK trainers as a whole are sufficiently skilled for the work they do, or does the much-vaunted 'skills gap' also apply to those involved in training others?

    Jeffrey Brooks: With the development of skills being so high on the government’s agenda, it is difficult to understand why a laissez-faire approach has been adopted for the professional standards of training and development practitioners. Germany, France, and Sweden have formal standards and mandatory qualifications for trainers, which include both practical skills and theoretical knowledge. Meanwhile, with the exception of a very small number of trainers (eg. GP trainers), the UK has none. Even part-time trainers in Germany are required to have occupational teaching qualifications in addition to their technical training.

    Training in the UK is a fragmented, disparate group of activities. Vocational trainers may be found as specialist or generalist full or part-time trainers in organisations, as trainer/lecturers in colleges, as tutors in commercial training companies, or as freelance self-employed trainers and consultants. In general there is no bar to entry to the training profession, anyone wishing to title themselves as a ‘trainer’ is free to do so. Trainers often enter the profession as a result of becoming a ‘subject matter expert’ in a particular topic or occupational area. Some go on to undertake ‘trainer training’, which may range from attendance on a short course to those who undertake much longer qualification led programmes. Many undertake no ‘trainer training’ at all.

    There is a national concern that much of the UK’s investment in training is wasted due to inappropriate or ineffective training provision.
    Addressing the issue of skill shortages is high on the governments agenda, yet trainers, the very people who can directly influence the quality of UK training provision, are uncounted, unregulated, and frequently unqualified.

    TrainingZONE: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the trainer today?

    Jeffrey Brooks: The challenges differ depending on the operational context. Employed trainers face different challenges to freelance trainers, and the challenges are different again for public programme providers.

    For employed trainers, the biggest challenge is addressing the growing skill shortages experienced by many of our occupational sectors. New and innovative training approaches will be needed to shorten learning times and there is much need for cross-fertilisation of ideas and approaches from one sector to another. Trainers will therefore need to think ‘outside the box’ to find effective solutions to this challenge.

    For freelance trainers the biggest challenges revolve around securing new work in what is becoming an increasingly saturated marketplace. Freelance trainers will need to get much closer to their clients in understanding their business and operational culture so that they can engage in more effective ‘partnering’ collaborations.

    Public programme providers are facing increasing demands from customers for shorter, so-called ‘bite-sized’, learning chunks. Balancing this demand with the need for good adult learning practices is likely to be a major challenge for providers. For e-learning providers, the challenge is to recover from the cynicism caused by too many over-hyped claims made for this learning approach. There is much good work being done in this area and it is likely that the market will shake out the poor providers in the near future.


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