Linking Training to Business Needs: The Secrets of HMRC Revealed. By Sarah Fletcher

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TeachingLinda Martin, Head of Learning at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) spoke to Sarah Fletcher about HMRC’s learning and development challenges, how they measure the success of their training investment and crucially just how they tie in their training to business needs.

HR Zone Q1: How has the learning and development (L&D) strategy at HM Revenue and Customs been developed?
Martin: It has been modelled to a high level in consultation with the business. The units each have their own learning strategy.

HR Zone Q2: How integrated is it with business strategy?
Martin: Very – the learning and development programme falls out of the business strategy. However, the businesses operational needs come first and learning needs follow.

HR Zone Q3: How is the success of the L&D strategy at HM Revenue and Customs assessed?
Martin: I’m not sure we overtly assess the success of the L&D strategy. We bring together a national learning plan every year, which defines what learning has to deliver. We use various performance indicators, such as the speed of training offered to new recruits or those employees moving to a new job within the company.

We have a disparate set of targets, including the number of days our trainers spend in face to face training and preparation for the programmes, the occupancy rate at our residential college which promotes learning, and our external spend.

HR Zone Q4: What are the main L&D challenges at HM Revenue and Customs?
Martin: Rapidly changing business needs, partly from the merger of Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise Departments (in April 2005) and changing service deliverance to customers. These have imposed new learning needs upon HMRC.

Persuading others that e-learning is the optimum solution in many cases has also proven challenging. People cling to the idea that classroom is learning better. Embedding e-learning in a blended learning philosophy has been important, and ensuring it is appropriately supported. We are currently working on this and getting feedback to improve the service.

Training must match the job that the employee needs to do, so we are linking together recruitment, induction and early training to ensure our staff are well equipped.

HR Zone Q5: What is the changing role of the trainer?
Martin: Trainers are now not only deliverers, but often coaches too. Very few only deliver the product then walk away, so to speak – they now provide learning support in a more mixed role. Sometimes design work is involved, as trainers that deliver our new management and leadership products frequently write them as well.

HR Zone Q6: How important is it that businesses train their staff?
Martin: It is very important - the business is changing all the time and what we expect of managers is constantly increasing and being upgraded. We must provide the training products needed to upskill, the two go hand in hand.

It is also important to refresh the understanding of employees. They may have forgotten or grown bored of details. You can’t simply teach and expect it to apply for the next ten years – it won’t happen.

Business knowledge is very important – we provide lots of “just in time” training in response to changing taxes, legislation and other new demands. For example, the introduction of new tax credits required staff training; and bringing two departments together to form HMRC demanded new products.

HR Zone Q7: Why should delegates attend your talk Linking Training to Business Needs at the forthcoming CIPD, HRD conference?
Martin: It will be an opportunity to hear a very large organisation’s response to massive change in a short time period, and how we’ve supported this.

HR Zone Q8: What are the key messages you hope to get across?
Martin: The importance of putting business strategy first, and providing learning support.

HR Zone Q9: What is the transfer of learning in the workplace?
Martin: Learning is the responsibility of managers, not of the central learning function. It is managers acting as coaches, people being given the opportunity to practice the skills they’ve learned. E-learning is great to achieve this as you can return to it whenever you like.

Linda Martin will be talking to delegates at the CIPD’s HRD conference on Thursday, 6 April at 13.45 together with Margaret Gildea, Director of Human Resources – Operations and UK Shared Services, Rolls Royce on linking training to business needs.

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