A quarter of all training is pointless

UK firms waste about £10bn a year on training that doesn't improve performance, a report claims.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

With employee morale currently at a pretty low ebb, some argue that investment in training is a good way to engage your staff. But a new report by learning specialist KnowledgePool claims that 25% of staff who undergo training see no performance benefit whatsoever – either because they don’t use their new skills, or because they don’t do any good. Since the Learning and Skills Council reckons UK firms spend an annual £38bn on training, that means the best part of £10bn a year is wasted on pointless learning. Just what UK plc needs at the moment.

KnowledgePool has been studying 10,000 UK employees who’ve done some kind of work-based training – which means asking them about their own experience, and asking their line managers whether it had made any discernible difference. The good news is that 69% have used what they learned and seen a significant improvement. Another 6% said they haven’t used their new skills, but have improved anyway. Of the remaining 25%, 9% said they used what they learned but didn’t see any improvement, while 16% neither used nor saw any benefit from their training. That’s a lot of wasted cash.

So what’s going wrong? KnowledgePool claims staff have four common problems: they don’t get enough support from their line manager, they attend courses that are ill-suited to their needs; they attend courses that they know they won’t use; and the timing isn’t right (so the course comes too late, or they’ve forgotten everything by the time they need it). As far as we can see, this basically all amounts to the same thing: line managers need to work more closely with their charges to make sure that they go on appropriate courses, and can utilise their new skills afterwards.

From an organisational point of view, this also raises a broader question: are companies doing a good enough job of measuring the impact of their training – particularly at a time when budgets are tight? Jane Massy, of training evaluation specialist Abdi, thinks not. ‘Why would anyone spend anything without knowing the business impact it is supposed to have? Yet we see it time and time again’. She’s urging companies to ‘weed out waste’ – an instruction the FD would presumably echo.

This isn’t about doing less training. It’s about spending training budgets better, on courses that bring clear and measurable value to companies and individuals – whether that means specific skills, or even just valuable thinking time away from your desk. Either way, some companies clearly need to get a bit smarter about how they provide training.

In today's bulletin:

No relief for Brown as King weighs in and bankers hit back
Women and ethnic minorities lose out as inequality grows
Airlines lose $11bn in 'worst ever year'
A quarter of all training is pointless
Silver surfers shine as mentors online

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