Why on-the-job training is not enough

15 Jan 2019 By David Willett

David Willett explains how to bring inexperienced managers up to speed to help navigate change

For too long now, organisations have expected employees to learn management skills on the job. And they do – but it's not without an inevitable period of 'settling in', as uncertain managers try to take the reins for the first time. 

These new managers have often worked their way up the ranks, finding themselves in the role almost by accident. They are probably technically strong, know the organisation well, and are eager to succeed, but they have little or no management experience. 

With limited guidance, they often have to figure it out for themselves, but the time spent finding their feet is a huge productivity drain for businesses. And now, at a time when many organisations are facing unstable conditions, it makes a big difference. 

Management skills are essential for navigating change, especially at a time of significant uncertainty. The UK's organisations must be primed to seize the opportunities, overcome the challenges and remain competitive – and without strong managers, who are able to act decisively and communicate effectively, they may struggle.

Old dogs, new tricks

But the UK has a chronic shortage of higher-level skills, particularly in management and leadership – and with a supply and demand issue it can be expensive to buy them in from elsewhere. So, instead, many organisations promote deserving candidates internally – this is how accidental managers are made.

The most important management skills can be tricky to learn on the job – particularly people management, finance or change management. Even the most senior, experienced employees will undoubtedly require top-up training at some point in their careers, particularly when taking up a management or leadership role. So why not invest in formal management training for these workers? 

And organisations that pay the apprenticeship levy already have access to funding to pay for this formal training via apprenticeships. There are a number of suitable qualifications out there, such as the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, which is designed to provide higher-level management skills to companies that need them. 

From May 2019, organisations will start to lose access to their funds. While any absorbed funding will be re-invested into skills and apprenticeships by the government, employers who have not used their funding could miss out on an opportunity to plug their own skills gaps.

Retention and engagement

For many employers, the risk of losing the skills they develop and the return on their investment is a significant deterrent to offering formal training. However, organisations that do invest in their managers will not only recognise the impact on productivity and agility, they will also see the benefits of enhanced retention and engagement among those they train. 

A commitment to work-based training makes employees feel valued, and this, along with the time to complete the apprenticeship increases retention rates and loyalty. In addition to this, apprentices are more engaged, and are able to start putting their new skills into practice right from the start, which means the organisation can reap the benefits even before training is complete.

So, the benefits of investing in formal training for managers are clear. It allows organisations to achieve the best of both worlds: cherry-picking the best industry expertise, increasing retention of their best workers and providing promising employees with the ability to lead and navigate the changes on the horizon. 

David Willett is corporate director at The Open University

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