This HR Zone case study sets out to throw some light on how training management software can help organisations gain better control of their training and development spend by maintaining accurate, up-to-date records of employee qualifications and courses attended.
The subject for this report will be the gas appliance fitters' inspectorate, CORGI, where automated training management functions have been rolled out within an HR Professional software suite from ASR.
In the utopias presented by consultants and software suppliers, talent management systems merge into a seamless, efficient whole where training and development are linked into a seamless chain that starts with recruitment and flows through to appraisals/competencies, succession planning and management reporting.
But the complexities within most organisations tend to undermine such aspirations. Having advised hundreds of organisations about prospective systems, Nick Crouch of software selection consultancy SpecIt says companies have kept databases on their employees' qualifications and training records for years.
Corporate pioneers such as Royal Bank of Scotland and B&Q have created impressive systems to give comprehensive views of human capital issues and measures, but smaller organisations have traditionally focused on specific tasks and challenges rather than complete systems, Crouch explains.
"You've got a chain of a certain length and people are making the connections between e-recruitment, performance management and succession planning. Fundamentally this is the same stuff that's been around for some time, but it has become more sophisticated and automated."
Software suppliers such as Select HR and ASR have brought the capabilities of corporate HR systems within the reach of small and medium-sized firms, Crouch says. But he reminds potential users, "You're still trying to maximise your people, but just because the software does a lot of that for you, there still has to be management input."
The gas industry's installation watchdog CORGI has been using HR Professional since 2003. Sarah Horne, CORGI's group HR advisor, explains that three main factors influenced the move to a new, integrated HR software system: reporting; recruitment; and training management.
Reporting was the main reason for replacing the organisation's old Compel software. "We found that managers wanted more information from reports than we held. With the old application, you had to be an IT specialist to get anything out of it," Horne reports.
This is a common shortcoming of HR systems. Lacking strong report writers of their own, they require users to run programs from other specialist suppliers such as Crystal Reports to extract the information they want from the HR database.
"We wanted something nice and easy to write reports - and manage whole recruitment process," she says. "ASR's reporting tool was in built into their product and not a third party reporting tool. That was key to our final decision."
With the new system, Horne can now produce absence and sickness reports for the company as a whole or by business unit. Data on compensation and benefits is also continuously updated to give visibility on employment costs, while HR and line managers have instant access to employees' training and personnel records.
"If an employee applies for an internal position, it can be really useful to have a look at the relevant courses and qualifications they have," she says.
CORGI is a relatively small organisation with 280 employees, Horne explains. But more than 160 of them are inspectors who monitor the training and qualifications of more than 50,000 registered gas appliance installers.
To keep up with the people they regulate, CORGI's inspectors need to ensure their own qualifications are up to date.
"All of our inspectors have to undergo an accredited training scheme covering all of the technical modules you need to work on a gas appliance. If there are any changes in legislation, they need to be aware of the updates as well. All that happens on a four-year, rolling basis."
Management professionals, including the HR team, need to keep up with regulations and employment law, so the system can help with that too, she says.
Although CORGI has been running HR Professional for three years, it has still not implemented or explored the full range of functions, Horne explains.
Training records input since the system was installed are up to date, but a lot of the historical records are not. The old Compel system held data on training and qualifications in two separate areas. HR Professional, however, stores the same information in five separate areas, so information on formal qualifications is in a different place to details of NVQs, IT training and so on.
"When we went through the data cleansing process, we didn't fully think through how to get the data from two areas into five," Horne says. Data migration is always a challenge when you change computer systems mid-stream. While going through the technical nuts and bolts to install the new system, you also have to map the information you hold in the old data tables into the new structure.
As Horne explains, this didn't happen at CORGI, so the historical records had to be updated manually after the data transfer. "The information all dropped into one of the areas in HR Professional, so we're having to take it out and cleanse it, and then repopulate the appropriate areas."
Having encountered these teething problems, it has taken CORGI until this autumn to roll out the self-service modules for managers and employees.
Now the self-service system is about to go live, Horne points out that having access to their own training records is as useful for employees as HR managers. "A lot of our people undertake NVQs. Part of the material you need to supply are job descriptions and training records - so they can now get that for themselves, and manage their own training, personnel and bank records - with suitable security checks in place," she says.
The self-service element of the system will make life easier for the CORGI inspectors, who spend a lot of time on the road. Rather than filling out and submitting HR paperwork, they will be able to do many of these tasks online.
When pressed on other benefits that have come out of the system, Horne says that HR Professional's fleet management module has saved a lot of paperwork, in addition to reductions in data entry on the recruitment side.
CORGI training manager Mandeet Kundi is responsible for running the training elements of the system, and regularly checks HR Professional to ensure that inspectors are keeping up with their obligations under the technical training accreditation scheme, Horne explains.
"We also use this for planning. Knowing how many inspectors are due to renew their qualifications this year helps with budget planning."
Having access to training histories produces other benefits. "If an employee comes to us and says they need some training on something like presentation skills, we've got all that historical information at our finger tips - if we can see there are 'gurus' who've been on courses, we can suggest people have a chat or some coaching with someone in house rather than just chucking money at them and sending them on a course."
For IT training and technical courses relating to gas appliances, CORGI has a register of approved suppliers. HR Professional has the ability to let employees raise requests to go on such courses, but this is another area where the organisation has yet to apply the system's full capabilities.
Because of the practicalities involved, the roll-out of HR Professional at CORGI has been a slow process, but one that has paid off so far. And Horne and her colleagues are still looking for ways they can extend the system's reach along their HR process chain.
"We are using HR Professional all the time. Going forward, we could use the reports we are getting from the training modules for succession planning," she says.
"For example, we've got a couple of employees going through the formal CIPD qualifications at the moment - and it's easy to see what stage they've reached. If an HR manager moves, we've got a report set up where you can automatically pick key competency areas and identify staff who would qualify."