Nick Hood, senior London partner of business rescue and recovery specialists Begbies Traynor looks at whether training really is the answer to improving workforce performance.
At the end of most job interviews, candidates are encouraged to ask questions about the role on offer.
If there’s one question that nearly always comes up, it’s interviewees asking about training and career advancement. Even bosses or HR staff working for smaller companies, which might have only limited staff development budgets, expect to be questioned about their training regimes.
Not all questions about training in interviews are genuine. Some job interviewees feel they must go through the motions about career development to demonstrate they would be in it for the long haul, but increasingly these people are in the minority.
Today, candidates genuinely want prospective employers to provide the skills and experience required for them to remain employed and develop long-term careers in fickle market places. Consequently, companies of all sizes must have training plans in place that meet the needs of staff, from juniors to senior management.
Output in the early 21st Century is information-led, measured in digits, phone calls, or pieces of paper. Accordingly, today’s market places demand flexible, highly-trained and skilled workforces that can be quickly scaled up or down, or remodelled if the market place has changed. For this reason, work place training and ongoing career development have taken centre stage.
Best estimates suggest that the UK is spending about £4.5 billion a year on training. It is argued that this money will lead to the creation of strong, adaptable organisations that can keep up or even ahead in fast-moving, never-the-same-day-twice market places.
The amount we spend on workplace training has also produced a strong belief, for which read faith, in the training process. This is shared by bosses and staff alike.
Training can never be a panacea for all human resources-related problems. If a team member of a small firm is consistently turning up late for work, it might be hard to justify spending money sending them on courses about how to manage their time and their lives better. Little firms just don’t have the spare capacity or the budgets for this.
Likewise, if a member of staff can’t use the computer properly, naturally there are plenty of training courses to send them on. But is this really the right solution? Surely it would be better to recruit from the outset someone who could use common software packages?
What it boils down to for organisations is to hire well, and this usually means testing new recruits have the essential skills already in place before they join. Today’s youth, for example, are much better at IT than their predecessors. It is not unreasonable therefore to test job candidates on their use of Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and how good they are with a keyboard.
Let’s face it, HR professionals would be better off spending more time trying to make the right hires, rather than wasting money on expensive remedial fixes for employees who start without the core skills. It must be recognised that no matter how much training someone receives, if they lack talent, aptitude and real interest, they will be hard to turn into good workers.
Neither does training turn a borderline rookie into the company’s number one employee. It simply won’t. Inevitably it comes down to the quality of the individual and that is something that has been in the hands of earlier influencers: chiefly parents, schools and universities.
My advice for younger organisations is to spend more time, effort and, frankly, money on improving selection and recruitment techniques to find the staff they need, rather than relying on training to right the wrongs afterwards. To resort to the old proverb: you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Organisations need the right people. Someone who is right for one company will be wrong for another. It’s that simple, and even more so in smaller companies.
Football managers learnt this fact a long time ago. Even with today’s sophisticated talent spotting and youth academies, most clubs are not turning out the likes of George Best, Pele or Zidane. The Beckham/Giggs generation at Old Trafford has turned out to be very much a one off. For these stars, football clubs have to go into the transfer market to find the best talent.
In the case of a business, it is the job of the HR director to acknowledge that good selection processes, followed by integration and team-led cultures, tend to be what delivers the value. Firms, however, should not be blind to the importance of influences beyond their control. Young employees are still being influenced by their parents, peers and friends, most of whom have no contact with the employer.
I’m afraid a lot rests in the hands of HR, on their skills and experience when recruiting. Only by careful shopping will you get the best ingredients. And only these will produce the best meals.