What’s the point of Education?

Andy Wightin Training & Education

As I carry out my work, I occasionally hear some managers asking me the question "What's the point of all this education?" Often this is said when they are reflecting on the negative points i.e. students taking time off to study, employees leaving when they are qualified, employees already know a lot of what the course covers etc. Andy Wight, Head of Work-based Training for Landbased Industries at Oaklands College offers his thoughts on education.

When I hear the above question, I am forced to reflect on why it is being asked. It seems to me that there are two main reasons:

  1. The person saying it has no qualifications and, have reached their position by staying there longer than anyone else. In addition, they have learnt all they know from personal experience (depending on the mind-set of the individual this can be a good or a bad thing). In effect the thought process is "I got to my position without any qualifications so why should I bother to get my staff qualified."
  2. The person had staff complete a qualification but does not think that it has brought great benefits to them or their organisation.

Bearing in mind the above points, I would like to look at why education and training is important then explore why sometimes it seems not to have had the impact that was expected.

What is the importance of education?

The first key factor is to point-out that you can provide staff with great education and training without involving a qualification (I meet many groundspersons and greenkeepers who are well trained and educated but hold no qualifications). So, this begs the question why bother with a qualification? The answer is a qualification, as well as gaining new skills and knowledge which provide evidence of achieving a certain level of competence. It is this recognition that is vital to the future career of the employee.

If you Google 'What is the importance of education?' the answers range from 'creating a fairer society' to 'developing a student's desire and ability to think and learn about the world around them.' These factors, whilst true, tend to be a little idealistic and I prefer to think the following of education:

  • a. It provides new knowledge and skills or enhances those already held
  • b. It stimulates critical thinking i.e. encourages students to question how things are done and why (allows comparison of practice). This can be seen as threatening by some managers, whereas it should be seen as an opportunity to discuss practices and either improve them or explain why a potential new method would not be appropriate
  • c. It increases career and economic potential for the individual taking the training. Just think how many job adverts list the level of qualification needed for a person to be considered as an applicant.

Why then is education sometimes seen from the manager's view as a failure?

With regard to training that leads to a qualification, I guess the first question is, 'what did the manager expect to see at the end of the training?' The standard for a worker in any industry has always been hard to define i.e. ask five different course managers or head groundspersons what they want from a Level 2 worker, in terms of knowledge and skills, and you can get five widely differing views. I know this to be true as I have done it myself and been present in qualification review meetings where this has occurred. Over the years, qualifications have been written and rewritten to suit changes in attitudes and practice (things change so education changes.) Often, the manager or employer has very little real working knowledge of the actual content of the qualification they are putting their employees on. This fact is proved by the number of people who still enquire about a Level 2 NVQ, which has not existed for many years (it was replaced with the Level 2 Work Based Diploma).

The second question is; 'what measure will the employer use to gauge how much an employee has improved after taking the course?' Employers often fail to reflect on the ability and knowledge of the employee at the start point, and then at the end point of the qualification i.e. what does the employee know at the end that they did not know at the start of the course?

One further issue that many employers quote as a reason they don't like education, is that staff leave as soon as they are qualified. This factor also needs careful analysis. Indeed, many of the managers who quote this as a reason for not putting staff on courses will admit, when pressed, that's exactly what the employer did. I then ask the reasons for them leaving, and the answers tend to be one of the following; 'I wanted more money,' 'I hated the boss,' 'I did not feel valued' and 'I wanted more of a challenge.' You will note that only one of these relates to the manager's personality, the other reasons are to some extent within the manager's control.

The one thing managers sometimes forget is; if they provide the training required, the member of staff may well leave afterwards but, if they do not provide it, the employee will almost certainly leave regardless, probably for another job that offers training as part of the employment package. The simple solution is to have a penalty clause in the employee's contract that says he/she will have any course fees subtracted from the final month's salary if they leave within a set period after the training. However, the better solution for keeping staff is to try and address the reason they want to leave in the first place!

So how can the training provider and the employer be more successful?

When we look at education leading to a qualification, with a college or training provider, the key factors involved in making it work from all points of view are:

  1. the employer and employee should be clear on the course that is going to be taken (what the full content is)
  2. the manager should sit with the employee and discuss what happens once the training is completed i.e. discuss with the employee how happy they are, what they expect after training e.g. bigger responsibilities, more pay. A frank and honest conversation perhaps during an appraisal will allow the manager to see how the employee views his/her future in the company
  3. what is the starting point of the student? (knowledge and skills scans can help establish this)
  4. how will you review the employee's progress? (Appraisals, tests etc. can help establish an employees progress)
  5. the manager should not take the view that it's the training provider's job to run the course. Education works best when the employer, provider and student work together. The employer should be aware of the skills needed to pass and then help the student to develop these with an agreed training plan. Carrying out practical tasks will help improve and enforce the learning of the underpinning knowledge (the what, why, where and when of a task)
  6. the employer should consider why they are putting a member of staff on the course. The reasons often given are 'we always put them through level 2' or 'they've been here two years and need to do their level 2' etc. There's nothing wrong with these reasons and the greenkeeping/sportsturf industry has always worked this way. In the main, we like to see our staff do well and work up the ladder (many industries do not operate in this way and we should be proud of our history in this area). So, if we recognise that in training staff we are investing in an asset, then surely the club will see training is essential?
  7. recognise and be aware that some people just do not want to be educated! Don't force a member of staff to do a course they do not want to do. Talk to staff before you put them on a course (don't assume they will want to do it). Find out (if they are open to communication) what problems they may have that is stopping them (home life etc.) and what support they might need. Establish they want the training and are willing to put the effort in to complete it.

Left; BIGGA training session and right; Andy Wight

How to get it right

To get the best from training and development the following three factors are key elements for success:

1. talk to the training provider and ensure you understand the qualification your employee is doing (know what knowledge and skills are required to pass)

2. make sure the student is given a mentor to check they are progressing on the skills they need in order to complete the work allocated by the provider. Select a mentor carefully; this person should be competent in the skills and knowledge of the qualification. They need to be patient and hold authority over the person doing the qualification

3. carry out progress reviews with the provider and, when required, take an active role in chasing your employee (or provider!) if things are not going to schedule. The manager has made the investment so they should be taking action if the employee is failing to meet targets. This involves more than shouting! It means looking at why progress has not been made for reasons such as needing more support, or have personal issues etc. Work with the student and provider to develop an action plan to move things forward if required.

I think most of what has been said in this article can apply to most forms of training.