Time to shout about training

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Written by Richard Griffin on 10 September 2014

I am a bit of a stoic. If something goes wrong, I try to look for some good in the situation. Sometimes it’s easier to find than others. A week ago, First Great Western trains delivered me to Oxford so late for a meeting that I arrived after it had ended. Rather than turn straight back I decided to make the most of being in Oxford and visit what I regard as the greatest bookshop in the world (GBSITW) - the one at the end of Broad Street near the Bodlean library for those of you who know Oxford. 

I normally browse randomly in bookshops as you never know what you will find. This time though I headed straight for the education section (I will be honest the reason for this was pure vanity - to see if my new book was in the store). 

The education section comprises an impressive twelve bookcases. At the bottom of the tenth there is a section labelled "vocational learning". It comprised, when I was there, a grand total of sixteen books. This is no reflection on the GBSITW's commitment to learning but rather I suspect a fair reflection of supply and demand. A quick trip to the one remaining chain of high street bookshops at the other end of Broad street on my way back to the station revealed just a handful of 'how to' L&D guides in its business section but proportionally no more than in the GBSITW. In contrast you could have filled a fleet of medium sized removal vans with the number of books about leadership in either shop. 

This got me thinking. The workplace is becoming THE place where we learn. Schools and further and higher education institutions can only go so far. The world of work moves too quickly for them to be able to equip young people with knowledge and skills that can endure over a career. Furthermore we all know that governments see workplace learning and skills development as a route to improved economic performance. Companies spend £45 billion on training each year- that’s quite a market. Frankly, given all this bookshelves, real and virtual, should be heaving with titles on vocational qualifications, workplace learning pedagogy, evaluation, apprenticeships, skills policy and so on but instead the GBSITW has just sixteen rather forlorn looking titles.  

This paucity of titles and their location at the bottom of the book case seemed to say something about the status of L&D (either that or the profession only buys e-books these days, which I very much doubt).

Why the paucity? Is it because we know all we need to know about adult learning? Hardly. This is a fast moving field where we are gaining lots of new insights (for example and most recently how we read and understand text differently if it is on paper or on screen). Is it because training methods have standardised requiring no further information? Again no, new delivery methods and styles are emerging all the time. Is it because training does not really matter? Of course not, the government has a skills minster for goodness sake.

Why then? Partly I think because L&D professionals don't shout loudly enough about what they do. Too often training is seen as a 'worthy' thing. Too infrequently is it seen, or more critically promoted, as a key lever for change and performance. Lack of promotion means it’s not seen as exciting as, oh I don't know - social media advertising (worth two whole shelves in the GBSITW). 

Training is planned, training is delivered and then L&D professionals quietly move on to the next programme. We celebrate learners achievements and rightly so, but do we celebrate the art and science of training in and of itself enough? No. Think about some learning you were involved with you thought was great. Did you shout about it? Did you put something in the company newsletter, or on the website, or write an article for The Training Journal saying why it was so good? Did you let the board know or submit it for an award? Probably not.

The status of L&D in organisations needs to be raised. Bringing the stoic out in me the current situation means there is a real opportunity for all of us to fill the gap and really promote the importance of training. We need to start shouting. 


About the author
Richard Griffin is director of the Institute of Vocational Learning and Workforce Research. He can be contacted at Richard.Griffin@bucks.ac.uk @IVLWR

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