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A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to speak at The Voice of Apprenticeships conference held in the impressive London Film Museum. The conference itself is a remarkable event in that it is organised by a single, hugely committed lady – Lindsay McCurdy, and is the product of a Linked-In group called Apprenticeships 4 England which now has over 17,000 members. It speaks volumes about the power of social media that a Government Minister and a wide range of distinguished speakers put aside time to attend such an event.

My presentation, like several others, focused on the proposed reforms to the Apprenticeship programme which are currently in the early stages off implementation. Whilst the deep concerns which I expressed about the proposal to replace Functional Skills with GCSE’s within Apprenticeships were clearly supported by delegates to the conference, I fear I was in a rather small minority in my general support for the reform proposals.

Apprenticeships Have To Change

My argument is that in order to stay relevant and to transform Apprenticeships into world-class qualifications, the programmes have to continually evolve and develop. Giving employers the responsibility for managing Apprenticeship training and funding is simply another stage in that process of evolution. Moreover, this shift of power from provider to employer will open up huge opportunities for those providers who do not currently have direct access to funding but have to subcontract and often pay extortionate “administration fees” of up to 30% of the total funding, for the privilege of doing so. Employer Ownership will create a level playing field whereby all providers, no matter what their size will be able to negotiate directly with any employer and agree a commercial rate for delivering their training requirements. Training bids will be won by the provider who can best convince an employer that they can deliver high quality training, not by the provider who happens to have a large amount of government funding in their pockets.

What Will Be The Impact Of The Changes?

Opponents of the Employer Ownership proposals are predicting a catastrophic fall in the number of Apprenticeships if the scheme proceeds. However, I cannot help but experience an acute sense of déjà vu. when I hear these arguments. 2-3 years ago, exactly the same dire warnings were being issued about the impact of Functional Skills. We were told then that there was no need to change, that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Key Skills and that if they were replaced by Functional Skills, it would be the end of the Apprenticeship programme.

But of course we know now that Key Skills had failed totally to raise levels of maths and English competency. Hardly surprising really for what was basically a tick-box exercise linked to a Multi Choice test in which you could achieve 25% simply by answering questions randomly. Moreover, the introduction of Functional Skills did not result in the death of the Apprenticeship programme but instead boosted its overall quality and gave learners a meaningful qualification and a real sense of achievement.

Let’s Look To The Future, Not To The Past

So whilst I retain concerns about certain aspects of the Employer Ownership proposals, in general I support the changes. It seems totally appropriate to me that the people who employ apprentices and who ultimately understand far more about their organisations’ training needs than providers, should be the driving force behind the programme. Our role as training providers is to support them and provide a high-quality service. That’s where our focus should be – not on the daily grind to secure sufficient funding.

Currently only 13% of UK companies participate in Apprenticeship programmes. That number is far too low and I am hopeful that the planned reforms will address that issue. With that in mind, it is hugely encouraging to see that over 400 organisations have already signed as Trailblazers who will lead the reform programme. They include many smaller companies and many who are clearly new to the Apprenticeship concept. Employers are the only people who can impact on Apprenticeship numbers and by giving them the responsibility to run their own programmes, I am confident that they will rise to the challenge.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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Last week, I attended a conference organised by the Association of Employment and Learning providers (AELP) to debate the Apprenticeship Reform proposals which are in the early stages of implementation. The centrepiece of the plan is to put employers (rather than providers) at the heart of the Apprenticeship programme whilst at the same time giving them responsibility for managing the funding process.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these proposals have met with a less than enthusiastic response from many Private Training Providers (PTPs) and colleges and their views were encapsulated in an impassioned speech by John Hyde, the chairman of a large PTP who argued vigorously for the maintenance of the status quo and the retention of the funding pot by providers. In essence, his argument was that the current system ain’t broke and therefore doesn’t need fixing, that employers don’t want to take on these responsibilities and that Apprenticeship numbers will plummet. He also believed that the system would be wide open to corruption.

However, whilst I respect the sincerity with which these views are held, I believe they are fundamentally wrong and would therefore like to set out an alternative view.

Why Employers Should Be In Charge

Let’s be clear. This is already happening. Many of the largest and most successful Apprenticeship programmes in the UK are run and managed by individual employers – BT, Rolls-Royce, BAE, Whitbread, Barchester and many more operate excellent award-winning programmes. Moreover, the first two phases of the Employer Ownership Pilot attracted bids from hundreds of employers  and over 70 signed up to the  Trailblazers project (the first phase of the Reform programme) So the suggestion that employers do not want to run these programmes is simply not supported by the evidence.

We are fortunate to work with employers who “own” their own programmes, who totally support the Apprenticeship project and who have invested huge sums of money in the programmes, believing them to be a key component of their overall talent management strategy.

Sadly, I know there are many other employers who have been “sold” the benefits of an Apprenticeship programme on the basis that it is “free” training, paid for by the government.  Because they have no real involvement in the programme, there is no commitment and critically, little support for the learners. All employers are expected to contribute 50% towards the costs of Apprenticeship training, but in reality most employers in this latter group fail to do so. The government has indicated that they intend to make this 50% cash contribution compulsory and I accept that if this happens, many of the employers in this group will withdraw from the programme.

But is that such a bad thing? If we genuinely want a world-class Apprenticeship programme, we have to change the culture that Apprenticeships represent “free” training from the government.  Far better surely to accept a short-term reduction in overall numbers and provide further support to those businesses who support the programme not just in name but in hard cash.

The Opportunity for Providers

I do not buy the argument that Apprenticeship Reform will be a disaster for Training Providers. On the contrary, I believe it represents a huge opportunity. At present, only a small number of private training providers have direct access to funding from the Skills Funding Agency. The majority of providers have to be content to pick up the crumbs via subcontracting arrangements, often paying anything up to 30% commission to the prime contract holder simply for the privilege of gaining access to funding.

Employer ownership of Apprenticeships will remove the inequities of this system at a stroke. Any training provider will be able to tender for business with an employer and agree a fee based on a commercial arrangement with the company. Moreover, knowing that the company will be contributing 50% towards the costs, they should be able to negotiate far higher fees than they do at the moment.

So far from representing a barrier, I believe this represents a sizeable opportunity. PTPs will now be operating on a level playing field and will be able to access an employer base which had previously been denied them. Winning new business will be based on quality of provision rather than availability of funding.

So Why Only A Cautious Welcome

I have no doubt whatsoever of the need for reform of the Apprenticeship programme. Those that say “It ain’t broke, so it doesn’t need fixing” conveniently forget about some of the major issues which have afflicted the sector over the last 12 months. Since these are subject to SFA investigations and ongoing criminal proceedings, I cannot comment on individual cases but we all know who they are. Moreover, currently less than 13% of UK employers participate in the Apprenticeship programme. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the status quo.

But on a more positive note, a world-class programme requires a commitment to constant change and development. If we refuse to accept the need for change, then we will stagnate and watch on the side-lines as the rest of the world rushes past us. Only a year ago, many so-called Apprenticeships were nothing more than a 6 month “sheep dip” with the late-lamented Key Skills as an almost derisory maths and English component. We have moved on from there and we now have the chance to move further. We all now accept that there is a major skills crisis in the UK and building a world-class Apprenticeship programme could potentially go a long way to tackling that problem.

However, whilst I support the principle, I still have serious concerns about the detail of the government’s approach. I’m yet to be convinced that grading of Apprenticeships (Pass, Merit, Distinction) will have any real benefit and I am bitterly opposed to the planned replacement of Functional Skills by A-C grade GCSEs in maths and English.  But those are issues which we can continue to debate. In the meantime, I believe we should resist the temptation to make a poor impersonation of King Canute, embrace the principles of Employer Ownership and rise to the challenge of developing the best Apprenticeship programme on the planet.

 

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

 

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The results from the latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation an d Development (OECD) Literacy and Numeracy Survey published towards the end of last year, makes for depressing reading. In the critical 16-24 age category out of 24 of the most highly developed nations surveyed, the UK ranked 22nd for Literacy and 21st for Numeracy. Moreover, we were the only country in the survey where the age group nearing retirement performed better than the 16-24 group. So whilst other nations progress, we appear to be going backwards.

Even more depressing were the responses of our politicians. These seem to fall into two camps:

The survey methodology is questionable and the results aren’t valid (Labour)

• It’s all the fault of the previous government (Coalition)

In fact, neither response is valid. These results simply echo many previous surveys which have highlighted the fact that we face a skills crisis in the UK and the problem has been there for the last 20 years, so no political party can escape responsibility.

20 years ago these figures would have been of interest but arguably little value. However, today we operate in a global economy and the competition for skills is as fierce as the competition for business. Nothing could demonstrate this issue more clearly than the situation at Dysons. Sir James Dyson is arguably one of our most successful entrepreneurs. His company have just issued another excellent set of results with both revenue and profits up by nearly 20% and if the reaction of my wife is anything to go by, his new hand-held cleaner is going to sell like hot cakes.

As a result, Dysons are looking to recruit more engineers, split between their UK headquarters and their plants in Malaysia and Singapore. Sir James reckons he’ll have no problem recruiting in the Far East, but will struggle to find the 300 people he needs in the UK. Even more worrying is the fact that he says he has the technology and ideas that would enable him to recruit a further 2000 people in the UK if he could only find people with the relevant skills.

Time For Action – Not Just Words

So what are we doing to address this crisis? Well, the government will point to changes in the curriculum, more robust examinations and a focus on basic skills but I am not convinced that this will have the impact they are hoping for. We are in serious danger of relying upon “exams” as the sole measure of performance rather than a useful indicator of progress. The Council for Science and Technology, which provides strategic advice to the government, have recently warned that practical experiments in science are being dropped in favour of concentrating on exam preparation. As the council says, this would be like “studying literature without reading books”.

At the same time, the government is proposing to publish “earnings tables” which will rank future earning potential against different subjects. I’m sorry, but I just can’t see this working either. Whilst teenagers may be concerned about their future job prospects, I don’t believe they lie awake at night pondering whether they will earn more by studying Maths instead of French. I became a scientist not because I thought it would make me rich beyond my wildest dreams, but because I had great teachers in the subjects, enjoyed experiments and most importantly, my mates were all doing the same subjects.

Do We Need To Re-engineer Our Approach to Skills?

So what should we being doing? Clearly the basic building blocks of English and Maths have to be in place and few people would disagree that pupils should continue to study these subjects if they fail to achieve a decent GCSE grade first time round. However, for whatever reason, these young people are likely to have had a negative experience of English and Maths and probably see themselves as failures at least in these subjects. Simply subjecting them to more of the same is unlikely to have any impact. As an old mentor of mine used to say – “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got”. Unless we radically rethink the learning experience, we will be in danger of producing failing 17 year-olds rather than failing 16 year-olds.

So we need to find new ways of encouraging young people to engage with these subjects. That means using technology such as mobile which they are familiar and delivering the learning in an innovative way which provides understanding rather than simply knowledge and which relates the subjects to the workplace in which young people will hopefully be working.

I believe that Functional Skills could be the answer. Not surprising you might say from a company which specialises in this area, but the pressure for Functional Skills is not coming from training providers, it is being led by employers who see the qualification as being far more relevant to the workplace and therefore of more value than the academically focused GCSEs.

Whatever steps we are going to take to address the skills crisis that prevents one of our best entrepreneurs from recruiting more UK staff, we have to act now. Tweaking the exam system and publishing “earnings tables” isn’t going to solve the problem. We need a fundamental rethink of the way we develop a workforce with the appropriate skills if we are genuinely going to compete against the world.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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Learn

A couple of weeks ago, the government published its Apprenticeship Reform Implementation Plan. The plan was in response to the recommendations made in the excellent Richard Review. The latter is a must-read document for anyone who has an interest in vocational training. It is concise (just 19 pages ), well- constructed and easy to read. As such, it’s a wonderful antidote to the usual verbose, tedious and seemingly never-ending tracts written by faceless mandarins and which normally comprise a government “Review”.

Implementing The Richard Review

In essence, the Richard Review recommends that employers should be at the heart of an Apprenticeship programme whose quality and standing should continue to improve. Whilst some commentators have expressed concerns that employers should have such a powerful role in the programme, I wholeheartedly welcome the findings of the report. If Apprenticeships are going to continue to develop into a genuine alternative career path to academic training, then it makes sense that employers, who understand their business sector and their future skills requirements, should be playing a central role. As such, I applaud the government’s decision to implement the recommendations in full.

GCSEs Are Not The Only Answer

However (and there is a huge however coming up here), I am deeply concerned that the government has made a massive blunder with regards to future Maths and English requirements for would-be Apprentices. Few people would deny that we have a basic skills crisis in the UK. The most recent government data showed that nearly half the adult working population have the numeracy levels required by an 11 year old and external data such as the recent OEDC survey, placed the UK close to the bottom in numeracy and literacy skills amongst the top 24 developed countries in the world.

Academic v Vocational Careers

Clearly we have to change this situation if we are to remain competitive in the global marketplace, but equally, it’s essential that the changes we make will have a real impact. As a starting point, we need to be clear that young people now have a clear choice when it comes to drawing up a career plan. They can go down an Academic route which will take them via A-Levels through to University or they can go down a Vocational route whereby they develop skills and experience (probably via an Apprenticeship framework) through on-job training.
These two routes are very different and as such require an individual approach to basic skill development. Until recently, this appeared to be government thinking as well as mine. GCSE’s in Maths and English were the appropriate qualifications for the Academic pathway whilst Functional Skills provided an alternative (but equal) qualification for people taking the Vocational option.

However in the last few weeks, the government appears to have rapidly changed its position. In the Apprenticeship Reform Implementation Plan, they state quite clearly that once the reformed GCSEs are introduced, it is:

“Our ambition that all apprentices will use GCSEs rather than Functional Skills to meet the English and maths requirements in Apprenticeships”

This is a hugely significant change in policy and one which could potentially prove to be disastrous. Moreover, It seems to have been implemented with very little consultation with employers (who let’s remember are now supposed to be the beating heart of Apprenticeship programmes)

The Functional Skills Alternative

Functional Skills were brought in following the damning Wolf Report on standards of numeracy and literacy, as specific English and maths qualifications for learners taking a vocational career path. They have only been fully operational for a little over 12 months so as yet, there is no statistical data as to their impact. However, having delivered Functional Skills for nearly two years to a variety of large employers, all our evidence to date has been that they have been a huge success. Our clients report that their learners are more motivated (having achieved a real qualification as opposed to the worthless Key Skills), more likely to complete their Apprenticeship and more likely to continue their learning journey.

All of this could be put at risk by the government’s seeming obsession with GCSEs. Don’t get me wrong – the planned changes to GCSEs are timely and appropriate and will, I believe, bring about a desperately needed rise in standards. However, they are Academic qualifications and designed for learners choosing that path. Functional Skills on the hand, were specifically developed for learners taking the Vocational pathway. GCSEs are designed primarily for classroom learning over a minimum 12 month period whereas Functional Skills can be delivered in the workplace over a much more intense but shorter period. GCSEs are examined twice a year whereas Functional Skills exams can be taken at any time that best suits the learner.

Many of the learners we work with have failed their GCSEs in Maths and English. For whatever reason, the system of classroom learning failed to develop their skills in these key areas. Functional Skills has provided them with a lifeline and an opportunity to repair their confidence and show that they can apply these skills to many different work situations. Are we now to tell these young people that the only way they can complete an Apprenticeship in the future is if they return to the classroom environment and revert to an academic qualification in which they have already failed? I simply don’t believe that they will be prepared to do this and as such, the whole Apprenticeship project could be put at serious risk.

An Alternative Solution

So my message to the government is very clear. Accept that academic and vocational career paths are vastly different and require their own unique approach, assessment methods and qualifications. By all means seek to raise the standards for GCSEs but accept at the same time that they are an academic qualification designed for people on that career path. Functional Skills should not be side-lined into the Traineeship model, but should remain as the “gold standard” for learners on a vocational journey. To misquote Jeanette Winterson – GCSEs are not the only fruit.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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So sang Coldplay but when it comes to key employment skills, they may have a point. Every 4 years, the much respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation an d Development (OECD) carries out a series of global tests in maths, science and reading/writing for pupils across the developed world.

In the latest tests, carried out recently, an average of 4% of pupils in all countries were classified as “academic all-rounders” having gained top marks in all 3 disciplines. The good news is that in the UK, the average was 4.6%. placing us just above the international average. The bad news, is that we were significantly behind many countries in the Far East such as Singapore (12.3%), and Japan and Hong Kong (8.4%). In parts of China the figure was nearly 15% and interestingly in Finland, with its fascinating exam-free education system, the figure was 8.4%.

20 years ago these figures would have been of interest but arguably little value. However, today we operate in a global economy and the competition for skills is as fierce as the competition for business. Nothing could demonstrate this issue more clearly than the situation at Dysons. Sir James Dyson is arguably one of our most successful entrepreneurs. His company have just issued another excellent set of results with both revenue and profits up by nearly 20% and if the reaction of my wife is anything to go by, his new hand-held cleaner is going to sell like hot cakes.

As a result, Dysons are looking to recruit more engineers, split between their UK headquarters and their plants in Malaysia and Singapore. Sir James reckons he’ll have no problem recruiting in the Far East, but will struggle to find the 300 people he needs in the UK. Even more worrying is the fact that he says he has the technology and ideas that would enable him to recruit a further 2000 people in the UK if he could only find people with the relevant skills.

Time For Action – Not Just Words

So what are we doing to address this crisis? Well, the government will point to changes in the curriculum, more robust examinations and a focus on basic skills but I am not convinced that this will have the impact they are hoping for. We are in serious danger of relying upon “exams” as the sole measure of performance rather than a useful indicator of progress. The Council for Science and Technology, which provides strategic advice to the government, have recently warned that practical experiments in science are being dropped in favour of concentrating on exam preparation. As the council says, this would be like “studying literature without reading books”.

At the same time, the government is proposing to publish “earnings tables” which will rank future earning potential against different subjects. I’m sorry, but I just can’t see this working either. Whilst teenagers may be concerned about their future job prospects, I don’t believe they lie awake at night pondering whether they will earn more by studying Maths instead of French. I became a scientist not because I thought it would make me rich beyond my wildest dreams, but because I had great teachers in the subjects, enjoyed experiments and most importantly, my mates were all doing the same subjects.

Do We Need To Re-engineer Our Approach to Skills?

So what should we being doing? Clearly the basic building blocks of English and Maths have to be in place and few people would disagree that pupils should continue to study these subjects if they fail to achieve a decent GCSE grade first time round. However, for whatever reason, these young people are likely to have had a negative experience of English and Maths and probably see themselves as failures at least in these subjects. Simply subjecting them to more of the same is unlikely to have any impact. As an old mentor of mine used to say – “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got”. Unless we radically rethink the learning experience, we will be in danger of producing failing 17 year-olds rather than failing 16 year-olds.

So we need to find new ways of encouraging young people to engage with these subjects. That means using technology such as mobile which they are familiar and delivering the learning in an innovative way which provides understanding rather than simply knowledge and which relates the subjects to the workplace in which young people will hopefully be working.

I believe that Functional Skills could be the answer. Not surprising you might say from a company which specialises in this area, but the pressure for Functional Skills is not coming from training providers, it is being led by employers who see the qualification as being far more relevant to the workplace and therefore of more value than the academically focused GCSEs.

Whatever steps we are going to take to address the skills crisis that prevents one of our best entrepreneurs from recruiting more UK staff, we have to act now. Tweaking the exam system and publishing “earnings tables” isn’t going to solve the problem. We need a fundamental rethink of the way we develop a workforce with the appropriate skills if we are genuinely going to compete against the world.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills gf

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learning1-300x225

This blog was first published by Westminster Briefing and many thanks to them for doing so.

I have always believed that Apprenticeships were not so much about a qualification, but more an opportunity for young unemployed people not just to get a job, but to develop a successful career. Many of these people are, for whatever reason, carrying a negative experience of education and Apprenticeships have represented a chance to re-engage with them and show that learning can be both valuable and fun.

However, I always felt that the Apprenticeship ladder, now stretching through to Level 6 and 7 qualifications, was missing a vital first rung. Last year, when the government quite rightly implemented a series of quality improvements to the Apprenticeship framework, the bar was set even higher.

I was therefore delighted when at the end of 2012, the government announced a consultation process for the proposed Traineeship programme. Here I felt was that vital missing link and the key to unlocking the potential of Apprenticeships. The suggested content of the course – robust work experience, employability skills and a focus on Functional Skills in English and Maths – seemed totally appropriate. It was also clear that employers would become the beating heart of the programme. This was a proposal which seemed sensible and timely in light of the recently published Richard Review of Apprenticeships. Moreover, rather than the procrastination and continued delays which blighted the implementation of Functional Skills, the government seemed committed to having the programme up and running within a rapid if demanding timeframe.

So far, so good. But sadly, since the plans were published early in May this year, concerns and confusion have started to creep into what should have been a very straightforward concept. Firstly, the government chose to initially limit Traineeships to 16-18-year-old learners. Like many of my colleagues across the sector, I was bitterly disappointed by this decision. Whilst it barely seems fair to seek priorities amongst GREETS (I prefer “Getting Ready” to the negative connotation of NEETS – “Not in Education, Employment or Training”), surely it is the 19+ age group that is most vulnerable, most disillusioned and most likely to become unemployable without the appropriate skill training?

So when the government reversed this decision as part of the recent Spending Review, there was widespread relief and a feeling that a level playing field had now been set. It was therefore particularly frustrating to be presented with a revised Framework for Delivery document shortly thereafter. This was because the release of the framework revealed that eligibility criteria for 19-24 year olds would be more demanding than for 16-18 year olds, with learners in the former group deemed ineligible for Traineeship funding if they had already achieved a Level 2 qualification.

Leaving aside the flawed rationale behind these latest restrictions, which appear to suggest that for some reason 16-18 year olds are more likely to need to complete a traineeship, these differentials in learner eligibility will simply plant more confusion at a time when clarity is desperately needed. There is common agreement that employers are central to the success of Traineeships and our experience, having worked with a wide variety of major companies, is that they want programmes which are simple and straightforward to manage and which do not disadvantage specific groups of learners.

It is particularly ironic that these latest restrictions were made public the day after Nick Clegg announced a review of options available for 16-24 year olds, following the release of a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research. This found that the plethora of existing schemes was failing to deliver sustainable results. By adding unnecessary restrictions to Traineeships, I believe we run the danger of simply adding to this list.
Whilst I don’t believe that Traineeships will provide a cure-all-ills panacea for the problem of youth unemployment, I remain convinced that they could play a major role in providing young people with a genuine chance of a career. To do that we need a scheme which is easy to understand and manage and which treats all participants as equal, no matter what their age or previous achievements

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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Talent Management

As someone who always thought that a “stakeholder” was a person who held the stick whilst the vampire met their maker, I have held a long-standing aversion to “management-speak”. I guess it probably started when I was first told that it was “time to pick the low-hanging fruit” and it reached its height when a colleague suggested that we adjourn a meeting for a “bio break” (sadly, I kid you not!).

So when the term “Talent Management” first started to creep into the management lexicon a decade ago, my antennae were bristling. Surely this was just new jargon to cover a set of processes which any decent HR function had been following since they morphed from being the Personnel Department. However, if that was bad enough, the situation soon became far worse when software companies started jumping on the new bandwagon and convincing us that the only effective way to manage talent was through the purchase of a “System”. And thus were a range of incredibly expensive and complex “Talent Management Systems” inflicted on organisations across the Western World.

Why Has the TMS Failed to Deliver?

Sadly, the “TMS” is now being revealed for the dinosaur which I always believed it to be. I think there are two key reasons for this.

Firstly, the dreaded “Annual Performance Review” is a central plank of most TMS’s and the structure around which “talent development” plans are hung. The concept of Annual Appraisals is now being challenged across the whole HR sector. I would go further and suggest that not only has it failed totally to raise individual performance, it has probably done untold damage to both individuals and their organisations. Invariably, both parties enter an Appraisal poorly prepared and hoping it can be completed as quickly as possible. The result is a mediocre box-ticking exercise which leaves everyone unsatisfied and rarely if ever results in behavioural change. The fact that Michael Gove now appears to want to introduce this anachronism into the teaching profession fills me with dread.

What of course we really need is effective and continuous “Performance Management”, a much more informal and less rigid practice which enables people to develop their skills through a wide range of different processes of which manager feedback is just one small component. Unfortunately, most TMS’s are far too rigid to track employee progress in this way.

Secondly, the TMS fails to deal with the very rapid changes which are taking place in the way in which we learn. The TMS tends to point employees in the direction of formal training programmes which will supposedly assist in their “development”. However, recent surveys suggest that less than 20% of workplace learning is now acquired through formal (whether classroom-based or eLearning) programmes. People now learn socially, informally or collaboratively and there are far more flexible and effective ways of capturing and tracking this learning than via a rigid TMS.

Is Talent Management Still Important?

So I believe we need to forget about Talent Management Systems and revert to thinking about what Talent Management really means. If it’s about recruiting the very best people, providing them with the appropriate skills and opportunities to learn and retaining them in the business, then of course it is more important than ever. Globally, we face a huge skills crisis and the task of finding and retaining talented people has become critical for most organisations.
I don’t believe we will achieve that by investing in Talent Management Systems. Instead, we need to focus on the drivers which persuade Generation Y (who will soon make up the majority of the workforce) to join and stay in a business. That’s about values and culture, genuine engagement and empowerment and satisfying and rewarding work. Does anyone know of a TMS which is based around that concept? if not, then let’s start thinking outside of the box and adopt a different approach to the way we manage our talent.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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