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Stephen Walker

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Training in 2012


In this month's column, Stephen Walker looks at the training sector and the opportunities for business in 2012. He asks if the skills being promoted are 'good time skills' and whether 'bad time skills' would be better right now.
You don't need me to say the training sector has been through a hard time since the financial crash in 2007. Each passing year brings us nearer to the economic recovery although it is hard to predict when that might happen. The economic steering of the ship of state is described as navigation by looking backwards using figures that could be plus or minus 2% and only finalised a year later! No wonder we hit the rocks sometimes.
I have reviewed the prospects for different sectors and other countries for 2012 from a UK viewpoint. The world needs optimism, needs investment in business and needs us to spend. Let's be optimistic.

Good time skills

The last year has shown that training to gain paper qualifications is losing desirability. Even courses that carry huge government subsidies are not able to attract students. So if we call those qualifications 'good time skills',  what is it people need - and will pay for - in the bad times? What are the 'bad time skills'?
One of the advantages of writing these articles is posing myself questions and researching the answers. I do not have an answer to this question. I hope there is a good discussion here to develop an answer that is of value to us as training providers, to our clients and to the country.
"The last year has shown that training to gain paper qualifications is losing desirability. Even courses that carry huge government subsidies are not able to attract students. "

Start-up businesses

I am sure there will be a huge number of business started in these difficult times. There is a lot of money being poured into redundancy packages and many newly 'available' people will see the job market with dismay and use some of the redundancy payment to start a business.
Various government agencies (the money is still pouring out) provide business start-up courses, often free of charge to users. I am sure the quality is variable and will be based on 'good time skills'. There are opportunities here for charging new start-ups reasonable fees to learn the 'cheap and dirty' ways of doing business.


This is the obvious market for the small training company. The SMEs have struggled to keep going through the sudden irregularity of demand, the vanishing of credit insurance and the banks changing their risk profile for loans as the government demanded.
Those that are still thriving tend to be significant competitors in niche markets spanning more than one country. This is the UK's equivalent to Germany's Mittelstand companies. Unfortunately we do not have anywhere near enough of them to maintain employment in the UK.
These businesses will want to develop their staff to improve their performance in their niche. This usually comprises two sets of skills. Firstly the normal 3 Rs type skills extended to include basic IT skills and so on. Secondly the niche skills that the company uses, and will mostly be providing the training themselves. The competitive edge the niche skills give the company ensures they are kept in-house and not shared with their competitors.


What large corporations, the PLCs, need is to be fast and lean. They need skills to do this. They need to be fast (which means smaller unit size) to have an enabling leadership style and very flexible teams.
There are opportunities as they realise they need to learn 'lean and mean'. Corporates tend to use bigger training providers and consultancies that can wheel out a guru: time to look to our own PR perhaps?

Public sector

There is a tectonic shift just starting in the public sector. I don't believe we have really begun to move from an activity-based mindset to an outcome basis. Until that transition is made we will still have a bloated public sector acting as a brake on the economy, through the need for high taxes to pay for it.
2012 may see the first glimmering of the management and leadership changes that are needed to put the public sector on a firm footing for the next decade. The public sector employees deserve to be properly employed delivering valued services and free from the negative sentiment that exists in the country today.
The public sector needs to learn a culture, management and leadership achievement outcome. There is a huge opportunity here when the government is ready to make real progress with public sector performance.

Outside the UK

The Eurozone is not healthy due to the Euro's problems. Also given the UK's veto on the Euro Rescue plan we are not likely to be seen as having the solution to anything for the next 12 months!
The US seems to be warming up economically but, aside from a few global gurus, the US uses US trainers.
The BRICs countries offer an interesting set of opportunities. India and China are growing rapidly and recognise the need to improve the performance of their workforces. Don't be shocked by this. You may think they are the land of cheap labour but that is changing rapidly. They know they have to get good employee performance to get the best from their qualified employees to maintain their competitive edge.
There are good business opportunities here and the English heritage is still worth a lot.
Russia is in some political turmoil. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be. The potential rewards of business in Russia can be huge but so are the risks.
Brazil is another regional economic powerhouse with a huge need for performance-enhancing training. This is the US's backyard so expect stiff competition. Oh, and can you deliver in Portuguese?
The Middle East continues to be awash with petro-dollars. The Arab uprisings have shaken some governments and the outlook is riskier than it was. However as Willie Sutton, that Depression-era bank robber replied when asked "why do you rob banks?" – "It's where the money is". How can you deliver to the Middle Eastern market, either in the UK or in the Middle East?
The North African countries deserve a mention. The Arab uprisings have transformed some governments towards democracy and have been rewarded with ample development funds from the western world. Development means upskilling their workforce and that means training. How can you deliver to the North African market to tap into these development funds?
"2012 may see the first glimmering of the management and leadership changes that are needed to put the public sector on a firm footing for the next decade. "
Finally, and with apologies to all those missed out, consider Australasia, South Africa and Canada. They are all resource-rich countries and doing great business. Canada and Australasia are relatively lightly populated so keen to enhance the performance of the people they have got.
South Africa has a lot of people but they need a massive education and training step to achieve a world class economy.
Are you ready to deliver to these countries where an English accent is still an advantage?



Micromanage the demand

The broad geographical review fails to recognise individual local needs. As trainers we need to be much better at finding those needs and matching our delivery methods to suit those clients. We need to divide our market into ever smaller niches while trying to keep down costs.
Those clients will expect excellent content, more delivery options to fit round them and sharper pricing.


2012 is going to be a tough year for the training sector. There is a huge need for better skills in a variety of markets but a perceived lack of value in what the training delivers.
We all need to be looking more closely at our markets, sifting with a finer toothed comb to find training needs and then delivering them to suit, at a price to suit.
It follows we will be designing new training and delivering it less frequently. We need to invent new ways to reduce the cost of designing new training schemes to keep down client costs.
Haven't you been doing that since Christmas?
Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop the management of motivation to inspire greater performance. He has worked for notable organizations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. A published author of articles and Conference speaker, Stephen delivers workshops on “doing more with less” across the country. It is all about making people WANT to work he says. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blog


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