How Did I Get Here? Sandra Nixon, Head of Training at QVC

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Sandra Nixon is head of training at QVC.

How did you come to work in training?
I was working as a team leader in QVC’s call centre in Knowsley when a training position was advertised. As I had already been providing coaching on an individual basis and enjoying it, I wanted to spend more time in development. Although I hadn’t yet gained my CIPD certificate, the key to getting this role was my attitude and competencies and it was all about me demonstrating the characteristics the company was looking for.

Describe your role.
I lead, manage and develop the HRD&T function, which includes developing and implementing the HRD&T strategy. I set the direction and am accountable for the development needs of both our employees and the business. I also work with senior managers identifying the role of development in maintaining the success of QVC.

What activities do you spend most of your time on?
I mainly act as a consultant. This includes working with managers at all levels of the business, providing coaching, identifying senior management development needs and designing management development solutions in line with individual and business needs. I am also responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the development and training department, along with the budget.

Is training in your organisation mainly organised according to a strategic plan, or mainly arranged when a need has become evident?
Both really. We aim to be proactive in identifying business and individual needs, however things will always crop up and we also need to adapt to meet those needs.

Is any of your training accredited by external bodies?
QVC is an accredited centre for NVQs. Staff not only complete NVQs, they can also progress to becoming verifiers and internal verifiers, which can be fantastic for job variety. Our staff complete their NVQs in conjunction with St Helens College and further education is provided for some positions, e.g. CIPD, AAT (finance). However, we do try to provide the majority of training in-house.

Do you feel that training has a high enough profile in your organisation?
Training has a high profile in the organisation due to the need for training on-the-job. On-going development is seen as important, but some departments/managers are more open to this and see more of the long-term benefits than others. I find that promoting various development solutions is key to gaining commitment and buy-in from line management for training.

How do you demonstrate the value of your department to your organisation?
A variety of reports are produced for the business. We try to use ‘their’ language in order to promote our value. These can include reports outlining the cost of non-attendance, analysis of the productivity of the HR development and training team or quantitative reports for training within our Operations Centre, all of which demonstrate how we materially affect the bottom line.
Management development is harder to assess. For these we tend to use quarterly reviews with key managers and progression ladders as a means for assessment.

What influences do you think have had the greatest impact on the training sector in recent years?
I think that the government has had a huge influence through moving away from Training & Enterprise Councils and promoting the Learning Skills Council, which has placed more emphasis on people gaining ‘key skills’.
More and more people are attending university, and there are many more part-time students who hold down jobs. Organisations too are putting more focus on continuous development and this has often required integration between internal courses and further education.
The focus on leadership development and the behavioural skills that managers and leaders need to develop to encourage a motivated and productive workforce have also been considered very important recently.

Do you think that training professionals should have a greater say in planning national training policy?
Absolutely, this would really support the drive to ensure that relevant skills are targeted. I also believe that the industry needs to play a role in education. The number of school leavers who struggle with Mathematics and English is a real problem because employers are expected to pick this up and tackle it through basic skill courses after children have left school. Financially, not all companies can afford to release staff for this level of training.

How do you see your work changing or developing in the next few years?
I expect to maintain a continued focus on management development constantly looking for new solutions and approaches. I would like to build the company’s competency model into succession planning and finally, I want to continue to promote cross-departmental development as opposed to a hierarchical format.

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