The Role of Training in the Wider Productivity Puzzle

Skills have a major bearing on workforce productivity – especially in developed economies where the majority of employees are knowledge workers. So why is it that systemic under-training and inappropriate training methods are commonplace in today’s business environment, leading to skill gaps and a decline in productivity?

Research we conducted last year exposed the correlation between inadequate training, skills gaps, lack of company growth and wider economic stagnation. Over 2,000 workers contributed to that research. 60% claimed they need key workplace skills to perform in their jobs successfully, however only 25% received training on the skills they need. 41% said they never received any form of training from their employers at all.

Lack of time

The biggest barrier to skill development is workers not having (or feeling they don’t have) enough time for training. Plenty of studies confirm this view and suggest that the modern worker spends less than half an hour a week on learning and development. That’s 20 hours a year dedicated to training, just 1% of the total time spent at work.

It also resonates with what most of us knowledge workers feel – that there’s never enough time for anything, let alone optional training with its long-term (i.e. more-than-a-month-away) benefits.

Lack of recognition

Workers know more about what they need than most line managers give them credit for. They are eager to learn and have a curious, open attitude towards learning and development.

Of 2,000+ workers who invested their own time and resources in learning:

  • 88% said they know what learning they need, and 81% knew how to access it.
  • 80% can see how online learning can help them further their career.
  • 80% say Google or other search/web resources are essential or very useful to learn what they need to do their job.

However other studies showed that 80% of businesses struggle to engage their staff, with only one in five supporting career aspirations or personal job goals, and 50% still looking at standard courses as the only training option (despite workers’ expectations of learning through multiple resources – blogs, podcasts, webinars, blended learning, etc).

Equally worrying, 50% of businesses feel held back by staff reluctance to engage with new technology (yet all latest research – including our own data – prove workers show great confidence with, and enthusiasm for, new devices and apps).

Benefits of training tricky to calculate

The benefits of training are hard to quantify: when we choose between spending time training and spending time working we set the tangible benefits of performance on the job against the much less well-defined benefits of future, improved performance – the future benefits, the two birds in the bush, lose out.

Built-in overconfidence

Our data shows that people are poor at estimating their own proficiency. In the context of diagnosing our own skills gaps, the bad news is that we are particularly poor at assessing our proficiency in areas where we are weak. We lack the expertise in the subject to know what we don’t know. Worse still, for skills that are relatively new to us the tendency is to over-estimate our ability, leading to the sort of complacency City & Guilds identified in recent research on readiness for the future of work.

Solving the productivity puzzle

How does this evidence of a lack of focus on training tally with its key role in increasing productivity? If there were an easy solution to the productivity puzzle, it would have been solved. But if we keep it simple, spend our time wisely, and work productively once we’ve done that, we’ve played our part in solving the productivity puzzle. Here is our selection of five simple, actionable ways of improving productivity in your team or business:

  • Understand and focus the very limited training time available on skills you and/or your staff actually use.
  • Hold better meetings company-wide. Ensure that purpose is clear and that preparation and follow-up happen as a matter of course.
  • Improve email use, for example by making scheduled checks rather than allowing continuous interruption.
  • Provide a specific program of key training to pre-boarders. For example covering MS Excel, inbox management, business writing, communication skills.
  • Give L&D a louder, more relevant voice by linking learning to productivity and business growth.

About the Author: Paolo Lenotti | Head of Marketing & PR, Filtered

Expert B2C/B2B multi-channel marketer with 10 years’​ experience spent within both established organizations and small start-ups, Paolo joined Filtered in June 2013 as Head of Marketing & PR, after working at Guardian News & Media.

On top of his marketing duties Paolo also oversees Filtered’s charitable arm (the Filtered Foundation), which offers opportunities in education, training and careers to individuals looking to become more confident in their business skills.