“I really can’t see the need for all this training lark! I learned on the job; there is no better teacher than experience!”

I have heard that remark in one way or another for most of my training career. The old argument of experience versus training rears its head especially when economic forecasts are gloomy. People who favour that argument see training as an expense rather than an investment.

But those organisations that are most successful understand that by investing in the improved performance of their workforce they are providing a means by which they can survive economic downturns.

It is in the best interest of any organisation to provide opportunities for their employees to optimise their performance and thereby achieve the organisational goals. If this also leads employees to achieve their own personal goals, then both gain by the experience.

One of the problems that has faced the training industry is the outburst of behavioural theories about the way in which learning takes place, and any trainer who has been involved in workplace training since the 1980’s has probably been through a number of “absolutely the last word” theories in their time!

Human resources, while recognising the importance of working with people, has in one sense depersonalised the workforce. When you organise, plan for, theorise about, and try to control people, it is all too easy to focus on the theory rather than the people, and when the theories fail to deliver, to blame the people rather than the theory.

All this confusion muddies the water of the importance of training within the workplace. The contribution it makes to job satisfaction is often misunderstood and between Maslow and John Hunt, the Harvard School of Business and the London Business School, even we can become confused between the theories of yesterday and today. Does Theory X or Y still have a place; or must we all embrace NLP?

While these questions are hotly debated between trainers over a glass of red; they are not of the slightest interest to most people within the companies we train for. I suppose it is like my computer. I really have no idea about the theories surrounding HTML and I certainly can’t programme in it. All I want to do is to get the best performance out of my equipment – likewise all most management wants is to obtain the best performance out their workforce.

The best explanation of the need for training I have read was by Kenneth Robinson in his book, A Handbook of Training Management; where he discusses the willingness of management to embrace the expense of equipment maintenance. He looked back over 25 years of working within the training field in the UK, and how that the companies he worked with were fanatical about the upkeep of their machinery, how they worked hard to achieve minimum down time. He saw how they gradually changed from ‘spot maintenance’ where breakdowns were fixed immediately, to the more pro-active stance of ‘planned maintenance’ where machinery was routinely serviced to prevent the breakdown occurring.

The question that he asks is “Why should the human resources not attract the same care and attention as these fixed assets?”

He was possibly the first trainer I read that pointed out the correlation between fixed and human assets. “Optimum performance from people can only be obtained when they are properly selected and adequately equipped by training to carry out their part of the job.”

So what does he see as the future of training? He highlights the cost involved to industry by failing to provide adequate training for their staff; he demolishes the claim that the best way to learn is to do the job and learn by your mistakes, and he lists those companies in the UK who are outperforming their competition and strengthening their place for the future with strong training programmes.

If you are uncertain if training is a real benefit to your company, see if you can find a copy of “A Handbook of Training Management” by Kenneth Robinson (Kogan Page 1988) and maybe it will change your mind about the value of providing your workforce with the skills needed to move forward into the 21st century with confidence.

It might be a good investment.

Michele @ Trischel

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