A second-class citizen? Is training the poor relation of HR?

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The underdog?
Touted as second best, training is often thought of as the underdog to HR. But is this perception fair? Annie Hayes investigates.

The first cut is the deepest

It’s largely believed that training is the first to go when times get tough. Recent evidence, from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) annual learning and development survey 2008, shows mixed fortunes, however, painting a confusing picture.

Despite a gloomy economic outlook, marginally more respondents to the survey expected the funding of learning and development to increase over the next year rather than decrease (25% compared to 20%) with the majority (51%) predicting that funding would remain stable. As an indication that learning and development is moving up the agenda the statistics couldn’t be any clearer but across the board the picture isn’t quite as rosy.

"There is no strong lobby for training institutionally as exists in the CIPD for HR (which it mostly is) so there is little external voice."

Andrew Mayo, associate Professor of HRM at Middlesex Business School

The reality in the public sector is very different: 45% of respondents reported a cut in training funds available over the past 12 months.

Martyn Sloman, adviser, learning, training and development, CIPD, tells me that in reality what is happening is that expenditure on training has become much more targeted: "The day of the randomly offered course catalogue has long past. Organisations have cut out sloppy practice." What this means, adds Sloman is that 'unnecessary' training is being axed which may be what is happening in the public sector in reaction to the Gershon review and it’s a trend that has been emerging over the last decade.

Money talks

Pay indicators provide further bewilderment. Last year the CIPD produced a joint survey with Croner Reward which showed that for the first time in 10 years learning, training and development professionals earned higher than the average HR salary, which would suggest that L&D is rivalling HR in status.

Managers in the learning and development field earned an average of £45,000 (+4%) in 2007, compared to £37,739 in 2006 (-2.4%). They have moved up the ranks from the lowest paid specialists in the HR industry to become second highest paid, alongside recruitment specialists and employee relations.

Yet a more recent study by recruitment outfit Robert Walters showed that hiring in the HR market also remains busy, with major FTSE 100 organisations and the media sector leading the demand and triggering a hike in HR salaries.

Darren Wentworth of Robert Walters said of the findings: "The HR market has been one of the leading recruitment sectors in 2007. Employers have upped their game to attract the top HR talent, who are being snapped up more quickly than ever before. It's no longer just about salary as candidates want more benefits than before. We're expecting these trends to continue in 2008."

So are we any further forward? Just which function is more important than the other? The evidence suggests that both learning and development and HR are moving up a gear, commanding both high salaries and budgets to boot. So why does the perception still exist that learning and development as well as HR are the first to go?

Number crunching:

Gary Saunders, change management and HR specialist at fe3 consultancy tells me that part of the problem is that HR has the same issues as training in that it finds it difficult to definitively measure not only impact, but which HR practices – including training - make a difference: "Were it not for the statutory obligations of organisations towards their employees, one might wonder whether HR might also suffer more in a downturn, rather than just training."

It’s just this lack of evidence which ties training unequivocally to performance, says Saunders, which often seals its fate: "So if senior management makes the assumption that training has lots of positive benefits, but that contribution to performance isn’t necessarily one of them, then it’s hardly surprising that it’s a target for cuts when the economic climate turns chilly."

"So if senior management make the assumption that training has lots of positive benefits, but that contribution to performance isn’t necessarily one of them, then it’s hardly surprising that it’s a target for cuts when the economic climate turns chilly."

Gary Saunders, change management and HR specialist at fe3 consultancy

The training voice:

Andrew Mayo, programme director at the Centre for Management Development at London Business School and associate Professor of HRM at Middlesex Business School believes that part of the problem is that training isn’t given the opportunity to raise its profile: "Training is usually (not always) seen as a subsidiary of HR organisationally, and as a discretionary activity. Whereas a large part of the HR budget goes on the admin which has to be done. It is also the case that there is no strong lobby for training institutionally as exists in the CIPD for HR (which it mostly is) - so there is little external voice."

This is not how it should be, adds Mayo. But it’s an argument that Sloman just doesn’t buy. In the last six months he says the CIPD have produced two in-depth reports focused on the value of learning and learning on line management. Yet it seems that Mayo has a point. It’s a sensitive issue that many in the training and development field agree with, lamenting the lack of profile it gets within the professional body.

The debate over whether training deserves its image as second best to HR continues. Practitioners from both camps vary widely on opinion and the evidence provides further confusion too. The only thing that can be concluded is that the value of training, learning and development varies from sector to sector and organisation to organisation – what L&D is doing well is cutting out expensive and often ineffective training courses and this can only help raise its profile, which many believe lacks a little va va voom.

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