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Training when budgets are tight

Training can often be the first cut made when budgets are tight but there are particular advantages to training during difficult economic circumstances. David Thomas, ECA education and training manager.

Training is vital for the future prosperity and even key to the survival of businesses, as it provides practical skills that will allow organisations to respond to new market opportunities and ultimately, improve performance. To avoid future skills shortages it is important to maintain training in key areas to support and develop future prosperity across all industries.
Vocational training can take different forms; from formal training programmes that follow an approved training framework for apprentices or adult trainees, through to professional development for staff in different roles and at different levels. Training keeps employees engaged in the organisation’s business; it provides opportunities for existing staff to develop and introduces new ideas into the business. This makes training a part of the organisation’s development and culture. When training is valued and engaged with by staff across the organisation, it becomes most effective, but too often training is consigned in the ‘too difficult to bother with box’ and thus its benefits and effectiveness are lost.

The electrotechnical industry has a long established training history of electrical apprenticeships and adult training programmes. The Sector Skills Council for the Building Services Engineering sector, SummitSkills, governs the electrotechnical apprenticeship frameworks that all people who are working unsupervised installing and maintaining electrical systems within the industry are expected to be trained on. Once qualified, individuals can apply for an Electrotechnical Assessment Scheme (ECS) card from the Joint Industry Board (JIB), which industry employers ask their workforce to hold, as it shows the qualifications held and the ‘grade’ a person is working to.

Technical electrotechnical qualifications will not be required by people working in support roles or in allied sectors of the electrical industry. An NVQ Level 2 in Customer Service from Skill Smart Retail, or the Warehousing & Storage Apprenticeship from Skills for Logistics, may be useful for personnel of organisations in the supply side of the industry.

Any training programme needs to be focused on the business needs of the organisation, and should be implemented through a formal development plan drawn from the corporate objectives of the organisation. Training outside of this focus still has value in engaging staff, but in order for businesses to see a return on their investment, there needs to be a valid business case that supports the training need.

Providing better front office communication, for example, is a quick way to gain a return on a training investment. All too often the way customers are dealt with by staff may not be to the standard expected by the organisation. Training on how the organisation expects phone calls, emails and face to face interactions with customers to take place can have a positive outcome on customer service and bring an improvement in customer perception of the organisation.

The ECA has developed a training programme specifically to help electrical contracting firms to develop potential supervisors and help indentify future managers within their teams. The ECA Management Development programme was developed in direct response to the requests of ECA member companies, who asked for practical support training for their staff. The programme is a hands-on and practical, designed to provide an insight to how a business operates, and how to get best out of the members of a team. The programme can lead onto a formal qualification with the Chartered Management Institute if required, but this is not the initial focus of the training.

The ECA Management Development programme has been well received amongst ECA members companies, with feedback showing that it has been effective in providing the kind of support and insight required by industry firms in the development of their staff.

The cost to a firm of neglecting training should be considered if there is uncertainty about the case for training. This can be tested by asking the following question: will the company’s competitive advantage be maintained if employees are not kept up to date on the organisational requirements and the latest skills and techniques? Quite often the answer to this question is ‘no’, but in difficult times the problem is ignored and it is when things start to go wrong, that it is realised that the organisation has fallen behind its competitors. By now the company may be at the stage where it does not have the skills internally to respond to the situation and win back market share.

Investment in the future skills of an organisation are critical for its continued success. In these challenging economic times, an organisation that looks ahead will view its staff as its most valuable asset, and develop its people along with its business and profitability.

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