Consultant Skills Journey Ltd
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Transforming learning and development pt1

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17th Sep 2012
Consultant Skills Journey Ltd
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Clive Shepherd has some advice for those struggling with budget cuts and the ever changing world of L&D.
Do any of the following apply to you?
  • Budgets for training are flat or reducing.
  • Managers are finding it harder to release their staff for days at a time to attend training programmes.
  • Travel budgets are under pressure making it harder for participants to travel to central training locations.
  • L&D staff are apprehensive about the idea of using new learning technologies.
  • You have had a poor experience in the past of using rather tedious self-study elearning.
  • You are reluctant to compromise on the quality of the solutions you offer.
  • You know you really do have to make changes but you’re not sure where to start.
If your answer to any of the above is 'yes', then it will be small comfort to know that you are not alone. The fact is that changes are necessary and the time to make those changes is now.

Learning providers at the crossroads

Over the past four years, as we in the learning and development profession have battled with almost unparalleled levels of uncertainty and pressure on resources, I have found myself engaged more and more often in discussions with learning providers, both external and in-house, looking to reinvent their offerings for their particular markets.
Of course this is not the first time that learning providers have had to struggle with tight market conditions. But this may well be the first time that customers – internal and external – are beginning to question the basis of the service offering. So what's changed?
 
"However much we might complain about the importance of learning as an investment in the future, I doubt if any company ever went bust because they delayed formal training when times were tight. We have to accept that fact and realise that learning is typically a medium- to long-term investment"
First of all, customers cannot any longer afford for their employees to be off-job for protracted periods. That's because they don't have the spare capacity they once had to cover the time lost, and they need all hands on deck. They are also short on budget and, as we all know, training (particularly when external) is one of the easiest expenses to cut. However much we might complain about the importance of learning as an investment in the future, I doubt if any company ever went bust because they delayed formal training when times were tight. We have to accept that fact and realise that learning is typically a medium- to long-term investment, and some organisations have not been so sure they are going to have a medium to long term.
Customers are also more aware of the environmental impact of excessive employee travel. A good proportion of those cars on the motorway or planes in the air are carrying people to learning events, and not always in situations where face-to-face contact is essential to success. The environment may not be the biggest issue on anyone's agenda right now, but it will return as economic conditions improve. By then, many organisations will have got used to the idea that many meetings and other events can be handled perfectly adequately using web conferencing.
Finally, there is an increasing awareness that standalone classroom interventions have a limited impact on job performance. However enjoyable they may be at the time, and however high the knowledge assessment scores might be at the end, these are no guarantee that what is learned will be retained, applied and then put to good use.

What does this mean?

So, what is the impact of all these changes? Well, one obvious result if you are an external provider is that customers will be ordering fewer of your courses. And, as any business-savvy provider is well aware, the real profits are made when classrooms are close to full, when all fixed costs have been covered and every additional participant makes a direct contribution to the bottom line. Half-empty classes are the road to ruin. If you provide your services inside the organisation, it may not be your bottom line that suffers but your very existence.
The second effect is that customers want their courses to be shorter, often much more so. From a commercial perspective, this means less of a return for each sale made as shorter courses will obviously be cheaper than longer ones. It might also impact on outcomes, because only so much can be effectively taught in a given time and trainers are not miracle workers.
To cap it all, customers are also asking for more flexible, lower-cost alternatives that take advantage of new learning technologies. This is not unreasonable given the proliferation of new learning media and the opening up of bandwidth.

This feature will be concluded next week.

Clive Shepherd is a director of Onlignment, a consultancy that helps L&D providers, both in-company and external to transform their offering 

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