A recently-published report by the National Audit Office (NAO) estimates that the Civil Service wastes hundreds of millions of pounds every year – some £275m  in the last year alone – putting staff through training courses that ‘do not work’. Less than half of the staff questioned by the NAO felt the training they received in the past 12 months had helped them to do their job better.


The report has prompted comments – such as those from Kevin Beales, managing director of the online assessment specialists Test Factor, who said: “These figures don’t surprise me. If anything, they’re just the tip of the iceberg of Britain’s culture of poorly-targeted staff development.


“Organisations know that, to get the best out of the staff, they need to offer them regular personal development opportunities but, far too often, they give too little thought to what their staff’s individual needs are and how best to meet them and instead adopt a sheep-dip approach.”


Beales also believes the staff should be given more support with their training. He added: “More support should also be provided to individual employees. Identifying training needs can produce personalised learning plans that will enable individuals to identify areas for improvement and signpost resources to aid their own development.”


Comment: There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. In addition to Beales’ points that training needs analysis (TNA) activities are insufficient (or non-existent) and individuals should receive more guidance and support with their personal learning plans, training courses/ learning activities also ‘go wrong’ because:

  • People don’t go on the most appropriate courses for their needs but, rather, they go on the cheapest course (to stay within budget) and/or ‘what’s available at the time’.
  • The training/ learning activity is not presented in the most appropriate way and/or via the most appropriate medium for the learner to learn.
  • Training/ learning is seen – overtly or covertly – within the organisation’s corporate culture as a punishment for those who under-perform. So people who would benefit from learning and development activities prefer not to undertake them; while those who do undertake them feel victimised and are, thus, not in the right frame of mind to benefit from the experience.
  • The training course/ learning activity achieves its objective – the learner learns – but the corporate culture, notably the learner’s immediate manager, prevents the learning being put into practice (and, thus, not only is the money spent on the training/ learning wasted but the learner is de-motivated as a direct result).


There are too many variables in the ‘learning and development mix’ for mere training/ learning providers and learners to be aware of, have any degree of control over – and even cope with.


The NAO’s conclusion is not surprising. What is surprising is that so much of our learning and development activities actually are beneficial and do bear fruit in one way or another!