Does training improve your workforce?

Nick Hood of Begbies Traynor asks what startups really get out of staff training schemes

If there’s one question that comes up predictably at the end of most job interviews, it’s candidates wanting to know about the training on offer. Even bosses of startups will be questioned by candidates about the quality and quantity of training.

For those running smaller businesses, even ten years ago it would have been unthinkable to face expectations of this sort about structured training programmes and career progress. The job on offer was the job, take it or leave it.

Not all questions about training in interviews are really questions about training, however. Some job interviewees feel that to look interested and keen in the position offered, they are obliged go through the motions about career development to show they are in it for the long haul.

But increasingly those people are in the minority. Today, candidates genuinely want to know whether a prospective employer will be able to provide the skills and experience required for them to remain employed and develop long-term careers in fickle market places.   Consequently, companies of all sizes, including startups, must have training plans in place that meet the needs of staff, from juniors to senior management.

Output in the early 21st Century is information-led, measured in digits, phone calls, or pieces of paper. Accordingly, today’s market places demand flexible, highly-trained and skilled workforces that can be quickly scaled up or down, or remodelled if the market place has changed. For this reason, work place training and ongoing career development have taken centre stage.

The best estimates suggest that the UK is spending about £4.5 billion a year on training. The argument is that this money will lead to the creation of strong, adaptable organisations that can keep up or even ahead in fast-moving, never-the-same-day-twice market places.

The amount we spend on workplace training has also produced a strong belief, read faith, in the training process. This is shared by bosses and staff alike.

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For startups, training can never be a panacea for all human resources-related problems. If a team member of a small firm isn’t performing or is consistently turning up late to work, it will be hard to justify spending the time and money on sending them to courses on how to manage their lives and their careers.

Likewise, if a staff member can’t use the computer properly, there are plenty of training courses to send them on. But is this really the right solution? Surely it would be better to recruit from the outset someone who could use common software packages, and who was already motivated?

It boils down for bosses to make sure they hire well, and ask anyone who joins their organisation to already have the key skills in place. Today’s youth, for example, are much better at IT than their predecessors. It is not unreasonable therefore to test job candidates on their use of Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

Let’s face it, bosses of startup companies are going to be better off spending more time on whom they hire, than wasting money on expensive remedial fixes for employees who start without the core skills.

It must be recognised that no matter how much training someone receives at work, if they lack talent or aptitude, they will not become skilled.

Neither will training turn a borderline rookie into the company’s number one employee. It simply won’t. Inevitably it comes down to the quality of the individual and that is something that has been in the hands of earlier influencers: chiefly parents, schools and universities.

My advice for younger organisations is to spend more time, effort and, frankly, money on improving selection and recruitment techniques to find the staff they need, rather than relying on training to right the wrongs afterwards. To resort to a useful proverb: you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Organisations need the right people. Someone who is right for one company will be wrong for another. It’s that simple, and even more so in smaller companies.

Football managers learnt this fact a long time ago. Even with today’s sophisticated talent spotting and youth acadamies, most clubs are not turning out the likes of George Best, Pele or Zidane. The Beckham/Giggs generation at Old Trafford has turned out to be very much a one off. For these stars, football clubs have to go into the transfer market to find the best talent.

In the case of a business, it is the job of the boss to acknowledge that strong selection processes, followed by integration and a team-led culture, are what deliver the value. Bosses should also not be blind to the importance of influences beyond their control. Young employees are still being influenced by their parents, peers and friends, most of whom have no contact with the employer.

I’m afraid a lot rests in the hands of HR, on the skills and experience of staff charged with recruitment. Only by careful shopping will you get the best ingredients. And only these will produce the memorable meals.


Nick Hood is senior London partner of business rescue and recovery specialists Begbies Traynor –


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