Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Research: Training volume on the decline in Britain

The British Journal of Industrial Relations recently published an article entitled “The Declining Volume of Workers’ Training in Britain”. Instead of examining the percentage (or “rate”) of workers receiving training (which is the conventional measure), the author’s examine the volume (or “duration”) of training to reveal that that quantity of training workers received fell by about half between 1997 and 2012.

This result is hard to reconcile with the rhetoric about knowledge economies and learning organizations. Basically, the state and employers argue that ongoing worker skill development is necessary to maintain economic competitiveness. Consequently, we should see an increase in the amount of training that workers receive.

Yet, until this study, there has been no published research on the volume or quality of worker training. While the training participation rate remained relatively steady, the best estimate available (based on analyzing multiple surveys) is that average training hours per week per employed person in Britain fell from 1.24 in 1997 to 0.69 in 2009—a 44% drop.

So what explains this change? Age, gender and industry don’t seem to matter too much. It appears to be an actual reduction that sits uneasily with the rhetoric about training. The authors posit four potential explanations:
  1. Employers decreasingly believe training adds value.
  2. Existing skills levels may be sufficient, especially if (1) workers arrive with more skills than in the past and/or (2) the complexity of many jobs is falling.
  3. Training has become vastly more efficient over time, so less volume is necessary
  4. Learning is decreasingly occurring through training.
It is possible that there are multiple explanations for the decline. My own guess is that employers are acting in their interests (i.e., to maximize profitability) and are reducing training expenditures while deskilling jobs as much as possible (so a combination of 1 and 2). This suggests that the knowledge economy and learning organization rhetoric is perhaps more prescription than description.

-- Bob Barnetson

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