Until the 1980s, training and development in British organisations were inadequate compared with some other industrialised countries. This negative attitude towards training was confirmed by a number of surveys at the time (Coopers & Lybrand, 1985; Industrial Society, 1985; Mangham and Silver, 1986; Constable and McCormick, 1987; Handy, 1987), which collectively had a considerable impact on the nation’s consciousness.
This added to an increasing awareness of the importance of change and the key role that training had played in helping that process. Encouragingly, surveys in the early 1990s revealed that British companies seemed to be taking training more seriously (Saggers, 1994). The Price Waterhouse Cranfield Project Surveys indicate that training and staff development are the leading issues for most personnel departments across Europe, including the UK (Brewster and Hegewisch, 1993).
Much of the training reported was for organisational rather than individual development, suggesting that many employees would not regard the training they receive as training at all, since it neither imparts transferable skills nor contributes to personal and educational development. (Rainbird and Maguire, 1993) This growing awareness of the importance of training over the past decade was also supported by reports that employers were spending more in aggregate terms on training activities (Training Agency, 1989).
However, the measurement of training expenditure is still controversial, and those figures that do exist are open to question, interpretation and political manipulation (Finegold, 1991; Ryan, 1991). Thus there seems to be a gap between the perceived importance of training and the willingness to do something about it. The view strongly persists in the commercial and industrial culture of the UK that training is a ‘cost’ and not an ‘investment.’
Recognition of the importance of human resource development (HRD) in recent years has been heavily influenced by the intensification of overseas competition and the relative success of economies such as Japan, Germany and Sweden, where investment in employee development is emphasised. Technological developments and organizational change have gradually led some employers to realise that success relies on the skills and abilities of their employees, and this means considerable and continuous investment in training and development.
This has also been underscored by the rise in human resource management, with its emphasis on the importance of people and the skills they possess in enhancing organizational efficiency. Such HRM concepts as ‘commitment’ to the company and the growth in the ‘quality’ movement have led senior management teams to realise the increased importance of training, employee development and long-term education.
There has also been more recognition of the need to complement the qualities of employees with the needs of the organisation. Such concepts require not only careful planning but also a greater emphasis on employee development. Indeed, some commentators have seen this aspect of HRM as so important that they see HRD as an equally important discipline in its own right (Hall, 1984; Nadler, 1984).
In HRM companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, IBM, Caterpillar and The Body Shop, HRD is seen as a major key to the success of the organisation, and is emphasized at all levels. HRD has also served as an agent for change or even survival in organizations such as Harley Davidson and Euro-Disney. HRD programmes are continuous, and shaped to fit the culture changes in the organization in relation to the needs of the individual.
In this way training and HRD become tools for effecting change, and the policy ramifications can be wide-ranging and strategic. As a result, HRD takes on a variety of forms and covers a multitude of subjects. HRD is just one of the instruments at the disposal of the HR department and the organisation in creating HR strategy.
As noted in the previous chapter, HRD has significance for employees in fulfilling their own needs. One problem is that individuals are often unaware of those needs. It is important to help them towards some awareness, especially in terms of the emphasis on self-development, another important issue raised in the previous chapter. Sadly, the further down the organisational ladder one descends the less money is spent on training.
Thus managers and professionals generally receive more financial support for training than clerical and manual workers do (Price Waterhouse Cranfield Project, 1990; Brewster, 1999: 16). Given the need to encourage individuals to recognise their training needs and, more importantly, to seek ways to improve their knowledge and skills to advance their career prospects, the advantage seems to lie with individuals further up the organisational hierarchy.
The divide between professional and non-professional workers is increasing with the growing use of flexible work patterns, which emphasise core and periphery workers engaged on part-time or restricted contracts (see Chapter 4 and elsewhere). As a result of these changes, management is less likely to be committed to training periphery workers, and this is reflected in the time and money devoted to training and developing these groups (Syrett and Lammiman, 1994).
Another issue that further emphasises the status divide is that non-professional and non-managerial employees are less aware of the need for training and, more importantly, less able to do something about it, which places considerable barriers in the way of improving their working life prospects. Professionals are imbued with the value of education and self-development, which is often acquired in the routes to, and in, higher education. This need for continual self-development is becoming increasingly important throughout the working life of most professionals, who continue to embark on courses of varying kinds into their 40s and 50s.
Importantly, this process also helps them to cope with change. Awareness of the power of education and training leads to self-activation in meeting career changes and organisational change. By contrast, non-professional workers often rely heavily on the services of external agencies to help them cope with redundancy resulting from skills obsolescence. In the UK in the past agencies such as Employment Training have been less than adequate in dealing with the needs of the long-term unemployed and those wishing to retrain for employment that needs new skills, such as a redundant coalminer seeking to learn computer skills.
Most importantly, once new skills are acquired there must be opportunities to practise them. This is difficult in areas undergoing structural change or industrial decay, such as mining and shipbuilding areas. This subject will be explored more fully later in the chapter.
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