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Investing in training can boost profits

AGENDA Viewpoint

Employers should take up the offer of training grants in order to get the best from their staff, says Tony Willson

NEWS that extra funding is to be allocated by the Construction Industry Training Board for training grants should provide a boost to the industry as long as employers are prepared to explore the potential of their workforce.

It is great news that the CITB is earmarking an extra £11.5 million for 2003/4 to encourage more companies to recruit and train people. But it is vital that more employers seize the opportunity to apply for their share of the £86.5 million budget.

Research by the CITB shows that last year only 32 per cent of eligible employers applied for training grants. The CITB initiative set up to streamline the claims process is to be welcomed but for most people it is still confusing and the potential grant income could remain untapped.

Many companies still need to be made more aware of the overall business benefits of training in hard monetary terms of profitability and competitiveness, not just the 'touchy-feely' benefits.

The increased grants are also aimed at leading organisations towards an Investors in People-style approach to enhancing performance through training and development, which can only be a good thing for a business.

The number of youngsters coming into the industry has been falling and the number of employees leaving due to retirement - or disillusionment - has been growing. At all levels this has left a dearth of good people and, although various takeovers and mergers have inevitably made some experienced people available, the numbers cannot satisfy the existing requirements. According to recent CITB figures, the industry needs to attract 380,000 new recruits over the next five years just to meet demands.

Over the past few years Partners for Training Management has undertaken a number of staff surveys in construction organisations and has found that in every single one 65-68 per cent of employees said they had more to offer and that their potential was not being tapped. What this means is that there is already a reservoir of knowledge, talent and enthusiasm in the industry that can be developed - and at a much lower cost than hiring experienced new people.

The two main barriers which prevent this from happening are: a) the still-common view that spending money on training is a cost, not an investment and b) the fact that managers do not realise that part of their responsibility is to develop their people, so fail to give a priority to training, or they lack the necessary skills to identify, source and plan effective training.

This perpetuates the problem, since anyone who has potential and wishes to achieve more but does not feel supported will inevitably leave their job. I believe companies do not spend sufficient time in thinking through their 'people issues' because they feel it might distract from their 'real' business. But what they are missing out on is the extra profitability that their existing people could provide - and that is 'real' business.

Companies have to recognise that investing in training makes sound business sense and that there are huge rewards to be reaped. This is especially so at a time when there is available far more grant income than most companies have ever previously had.

Tony Willson is an Investors in People adviser and managing director of Partners for Training Management, which administers the CITB grants scheme for companies.

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