Workplace learning: must do better

Sep 10 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Organisations that rely solely on training courses to meet their staff development needs are doomed to failure, according to new book published this week.

Training in the Age of the Learner has been written by the the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) learning expert Martyn Sloman. It highlights that in today's global market, successful businesses need enlightened, empowered employees who have the necessary knowledge and skills to meet the needs of an increasingly sophisticated consumer base.

However, although staff can be made to attend training courses they cannot be made to learn those vital skills. It is down to the individual to want to learn, so his or her employer needs to create a climate that facilitates and encourages the right sort of behaviour.

According to Martyn Sloman, "many HR departments and trainers have come to realise that genuine learning lies in the domain of the individual. Training and Development professionals must move away from traditional "sheep dip" training, where everyone goes on a course. Instead they can offer information, guidance and the opportunity to practice.

"In some cases, face to face instruction remains the most effective way of encouraging learning,” he went on. “However, that is no longer the only way of ensuring employees acquire the knowledge that they and the business need.

Sloman’s assertions are echoed in new study by the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI), the body responsible for inspecting all publicly funded work-based training for people over 16 and learning for post-19s.

According to the ALI, training schemes for UK workers often lack an accurate initial assessment of skills, leading many disillusioned employees to abandon the programmes altogether.

In particular, initiatives such as Modern Apprenticeships and the Employer Training Pilots were being undermined by poorly understood initial assessments of what participants have already learnt.

As a result, the ALI warn that it is “all too easy” for a worker to embark on a course that is either far too demanding or just repeats what they have already done.

As Sloman says, "organisations must understand learning as behaviour, as understanding, as knowledge construction and as social practice. One or more of these approaches might result in the best overall programme.

"However, relying on training alone will lead to an uninspired workforce with little knowledge and a limited desire to improve. No organisation, big or small, can survive under those circumstances."

With figures suggesting that over 8 million British workers do not have sufficient skills to do their jobs properly - a problem now affecting two-thirds of UK businesses – this is a message that UK employers can no longer afford to ignore.