Last week I attended a talk by Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills at the Institute of Directors. It sparked a lot of interesting questions from the audience and got me thinking about a few things.
Firstly, it’s refreshing to have a government that understands that the public sector, whilst important to the nation’s wellbeing, is not the economy and that it’s the private sector that will have to trade the country out of its deficit.
Whilst much of Vince Cable’s speech and the subsequent Q&A demonstrated that business is tough, foreign competition aggressive and finance hard to secure at reasonable rates, it was notable that the audience, made up of IOD members, seemed resilient, determined and cautiously optimistic about tackling current challenges and building a sound future.
OK, so training alone could never be the answer to the nation’s financial deficit but skills development and training is high on the government’s business agenda – from the age-old challenges of equipping school and college leavers with essential employment skills through to the specialist expertise needed to drive innovative growth within business, particularly in areas with greatest export potential.
According to Cable, the coalition government is committed to the principle that government should create the right framework and environment for business to succeed and then get out of the way. In my view, it’s a philosophy that’s good for staff development programmes too – equip people with the environment, the operating frameworks and skills and support them to work to the best of their ability, without being prescriptive. Employees who are competent, confident and trusted to use their judgement within consistent parameters are more likely to help their companies to succeed in these demanding and fast-changing times.
So what does the training community need to do to rise to this challenge?
I believe the recent economic downturn has been good for training. Too long regarded as a fluffy and intangible ‘nice to have’, something to tick off at the annual appraisal or to wrap around a ‘jolly’ to keep the troops happy, training has to deliver real value to the business. That doesn’t necessarily mean a hard financial metric but it does mean clearly helping the company deliver against its strategy, outsmart the competition and drive revenue, customer loyalty and profitability. It means being clear about the reasons for training, specific about the desired outcomes in the context of the business objectives and setting training in a broader context of creating the right environment.
In my view that’s a good thing. As a trainer it’s nice to know that people have enjoyed training with me but it’s much more important and personally rewarding to know that they are now using that training to achieve what we set out to do – make a real and tangible difference to their organisation.
Companies recognise the importance of having the right skills in place but there’s still some way to go in addressing the gaps. Are you up for a discussion? I’d love to hear your views – How does the training profession equip the nation’s workforce to trade out of the deficit, now and for the long term? What involvement should government have in training and skills development? Are the UK’s trainers of the right calibre to rise to this challenge? What training do you give your staff – why and how do you measure it? What challenges do you have in developing the right skills in your workforce?