Posted on December 16, 2022  
by Noel Guilford

When I left university I joined Arthur Andersen & Co to start my training as a chartered accountant. They had a reputation amongst undergraduates for recruiting the brightest and the best, being difficult to get into and having the best training programme.

When I left the firm in the mid-80s I was fortunate to have had an outstanding training experience from which I – and my clients – have benefited. The firm’s ethos was that if you train people to a very high standard most will leave (which is a good thing) to work in industry or commerce and become the clients of the future.

Several years later I spent a – thankfully – short period of time with a mid-tier firm to set up their corporate finance practice. They had a very different view of training. It was ‘why would we pay for training for staff who’d end up leaving?’

Needless to say, I faced an uphill struggle to implement my staff training programme, which nevertheless, despite some opposition, proved both successful and attractive to staff. Withing a few years three of my staff moved on to big-4 firms and have all had successful careers.

The firm remained unimpressed with training as a business strategy and no longer exists!

Excellent training, however, isn’t enough on its own. You must also create a culture in which people can thrive. If your staff about a clear about your culture and what is expected of them, you’re much more likely to attract and retain the staff who will be key to your success. I’ll say more about creating a winning culture in next week’s Sunday Supplement.

I liken these examples to two football clubs: the mid-tier firm were in the second division, which is where they believed they belonged. Arthur Andersen & Co were not only in the premiership but expected to play in the Champions League. Recruiting the best and then leading and training them to the highest standard possible was what mattered most.

So, I was interested to read last week of a report published by the Resolution Foundation and the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics entitled Train in Vain.

It makes depressing reading. Here is an extract from its conclusion:

…those leaving education with low-level academic and vocational educations appear left behind as technological change continues apace. This suggests that that there is a growing need for training to help upskill the workers most at risk in the changing labour market. Unfortunately, training provision in the UK is not currently playing the role that it could do. Rates of training are falling and, even though the gap is narrowing, those who need training the most are the least likely to receive it. What’s more, most of the training is not explicitly focused on skills and has only a marginal association with the probability of changing one’s skill set.

Perhaps because of the education I was fortunate to receive, particularly at a post-graduate level, I have become a lifelong learner, and truly believe that training is a competitive advantage in business.

But to solve the current skills crisis in the UK, both for the high-tech roles of the future and other roles in hospitality and catering, it needs to be the right sort of training and not the sort that puts academic education ahead of technical skills. My years of post-graduate technical training have been of far more use to me than my university education.

It is, unfortunately, likely that as the economy enters yet another recession, businesses that don’t see the competitive advantage and benefit of training will cut their budgets even more.

The wise ones – and there are some that are working hard to train their staff, as one put it “Its an investment…to try to create the next generation” – will become the successes of the future. Investment in training, as with marketing, should be increased during a recession not seen as discretionary expenditure which can be cut.

Sadly for too many firms in 2023 that will fall on deaf ears.

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Noel Guilford


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