Employee training gets smart

CARDIFF U. (UK) — Fears that companies in the UK would slash investment in skills training as a result of the recession have proved to be largely unfounded.

Instead, employers are “training smarter,” by focusing on key business needs, organizing more in-house courses, and using their own staff as trainers, according to a new study.

Contracts with external trainers have also been re-negotiated and e-learning involvement increased.

“A majority of these employers believed that they would persist in “training smarter” when the economy recovers,” says Alan Felstead, professor at Cardiff University.

A wide range of public and private-sector employers representing large and small organizations were interviewed for the study.

Researchers also examined responses to several surveys that gather information on staff training: the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) Industrial Trends Survey, the British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey, the National Employers Skills Survey, and the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, which questions 60,000 workers about a range of issues including recent job-related education and training.

At the start of the recession many employers were anticipating sharp cuts in training expenditure, judging by the CBI data. The British Chambers of Commerce survey responses were a little more optimistic while the National Employer Skills Survey (NESS) provided further evidence that the reduction in training was not as severe as many feared.

“Although a minority of NESS employers had cut spending in the previous 12 months, most reported no significant change and some had even increased their commitments,” Felstead says.

The new study suggests that the UK has seen a slow decline in training from a peak in 2001/2, rather than a recession-related crash. Total expenditure on all types of company training in England amounted to £39 billion in 2009—only 5 percent less in real terms than in 2007.

The study concludes that an “overwhelming majority”” of employers recognize that some types of training are essential, even in a recession. These so-called “training floors” include training that helps firms:

  • comply with legal requirements
  • meet operational needs
  • counter skills shortages
  • address market competition
  • fulfill managerial commitments
  • satisfy customer demands

Some of the 52 employers interviewed also believe training needs to “multi-skills” their workforce.

“If anything, the recession has taught me that we need to make sure that our whole workforce is trained in several tasks,” one employer says. “If we do have to make redundancies in the future we will then have the people to fall back on if we lose key employees.”

Researchers at the University of London contributed to the study.

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