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Article : UK Workforce Consists of Training 'Haves' and Have Nots'

Who learns at work? A survey released by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development of 743 people in employment shows a substantial gap between the 'training haves' and the 'training have-nots'. 

Those working in smaller businesses are less likely to receive training than people in large companies or the public sector, so are part-time employees and people with fewer educational qualifications, whatever the sector or size of employer. 

However there is a real thirst for learning within the employee groups that are less likely to get the training. More people in these groups said that their employers did not provide them with enough training opportunities and they were three times less likely to turn it down compared with their graduate counterparts. 

Survey author, CIPD Adviser on Training and Development, Mike Cannell said :"Where does most of the effort and expenditure go on training? Anyone who has spent any time in the training business will tell you that the answer is management training. 

"Mostly, this is justified: the well-being of organisations depends on properly informed managers making the right decisions. But this emphasis may mean that the needs of other parts of the workforce are overlooked."

The survey also asked learners about their best and least appealing methods of learning. It showed that "being shown how to do things and practicing them" is by far the most popular, with just over half of all respondents finding it the best method. A further 16 per cent rated "learning from colleagues and people you work with".

Over ninety per cent of the respondents thought their training had been very or quite successful. This is a powerful advertisement for the value of training. 

Says Cannell: "Organisations that do not train should take note. Training works - and for all categories of employee." 

Further Conclusions 

It has long been known that better-qualified people are more likely to be offered training; employers perceive them as more important to the business, they pay them more and accordingly invest more in them in terms of training. But there is a demand for training among the lower-skilled which is not being met by employers - and employers would benefit from meeting it.

The government's Basic Skills Unit says that 15 per cent of adults have low or very low levels of literacy, while almost a third have numeracy problems. Many of these people are in employment. Though many are skilled at hiding their deficiencies, their lack of basic skills adversely effects their performance at work. Take the story of the baker who could only count in thousands. When given an order for 5,500 doughnuts, he would make 6,000 and throw the surplus - and the profit - away. Repeat such stories across the economy and the extent of the problem can be seen.

So there is a strong business case, as well as a social case, for employers re-examining the needs of their lower-skilled employees. Certainly, those who experience training overwhelmingly believe that it helps them to do their jobs better and presumably makes them more productive. 

The survey confirms that the most used forms of training by employers are, more or less equally, classroom training and on-the-job training. But on-the-job training is by far the most popular form of learning with trainees, particularly those in lower-skilled jobs and the less well-educated. Although on-the-job training will not always be a viable option, the findings do raise the question of whether more resources might be put into on-the-job training (a more cost-effective form of learning) at the expense of classroom training, particularly given people's learning preferences. 

If potential learners are thought of as customers, those responsible for training need to bear in mind what the customers want.

The survey also shows that on-the-job training is more popular with small companies, partly perhaps because it is less expensive and more immediately relevant. Current government initiatives such as the New Deal and learndirect are aimed at least partially at the long tail of under-achievers, but the survey suggests that there is a long way to go and a great deal of work to be done before such schemes make any real impact. 

Agencies such as local Learning and Skills Councils and Business Links that wish to encourage small business growth and improve basic skills should therefore consider how best to stimulate the further use of on-the-job training. Blending on-the-job training with other forms of training could be an important way to improve basic skills. It may also be a way of encouraging small businesses to carry out more training. Re-thinking how training is best delivered could prove to be one of the biggest challenges facing agencies like LSCs, as well as employers.

About the Author

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has over 110,000 members and is the leading professional institute for those involved in the management and development of people. Who Learns at Work? is available in PDF format from Mark Buckley on the website

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Published: Saturday, August 10, 2002

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