Blog, Professional Training, Courses & Development

The fact that women continue to be disadvantaged in the world of business with respect to their male counterparts is nothing new. Despite significant and consistent advances in terms of female representation on company boards and the percentage of women filling senior positions, the unfortunate truth continues to be that, broadly speaking, the opportunities available to men and women in workplaces are far from equal.

In this context, the role of training and skills is often the cause of much debate, particularly when it comes to the issue of merit and the extent to which women are less skilled. More specifically, is it that women are not as qualified as men to perform certain roles, or that they are not given the same opportunities even though they do, in fact, possess the same skillset and/or experience?

According to a report issued last week by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), women are already ahead when it comes to qualifications, with 38% holding degree-level certifications compared with 36% of men. What’s more, this advantage is set to pick up speed with 49% of women and only 44% of men predicted to hold degree-level qualifications in 2020. Importantly, the prediction is that this gap will result in two thirds of the new high-skill jobs created going to women in the next 6 years.

Commenting on the results, General Secretary of the TUC and UKCES Commissioner Frances O’Grady said:

The fact that skills levels are predicted to increase is welcome news. Skills matter – they increase a worker’s pay, their job satisfaction and boost the economy.


The increased disparity between men’s and women’s skill levels is concerning for both sexes. Men are finding to harder to get skilled jobs, while for many women their higher qualifications are not leading to better pay and jobs.

In other words, the situation is complex and affects both sexes, though perhaps to different extents. Indeed, with so many factors coming into play in recruitment and selection processes, both externally when taking new people on and internally when deciding who to promote or shift to a different position, it is perhaps idealistic and naïve to assume that higher qualifications will ever be directly correlated with better jobs or better pay.

What we can certainly hope is that more training and better skills will contribute to a more vibrant economy overall, which, in combination with a continued shift in attitudes when it comes to gender equality, will give skilled professionals (both men and women) greater opportunities for job satisfaction and career advancement than ever before.

At, we believe in the power and value of professional development. There wouldn’t be much point in doing what we do if we didn't.

But is there such a thing as too much training?

I ask the question after reading about the Italian doctor who made the headlines last week after an inquiry was launched into his rather impressive working record as a state employee: 15 days in 9 years.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. It’s Italy. Those guys never do much but ride around on their scooters and eat good food. But while there is some truth to that (I am Italian, which gives me the right to say these things), what interested me more were the reasons he had for staying out of the workplace for so long. Aside from the one year of paid family leave and the extended period of sick leave, what took up most of his time were two university training courses that appear to have taken him a total of 8 years to complete. The first lasted from when he started work in 2005 until November 2008 (around 3 years), while the second began upon his return from sick leave in July 2009 and lasted until June this year (around 5 years).

Eight years is a long time. Especially considering that a doctor presumably has to have a degree in Medicine to even get a job as a doctor in the first place. Then again, is it that unreasonable for a 50-year old professional to feel that he needs to update his skills and knowledge, particularly in the rapidly evolving field of medicine?
Leaving aside the fact that this gentleman may have been using training as an excuse to not have to work, I think this story raises some interesting questions about how much training professionals actually need, as well as to what extent it is the employer’s (in this case the state’s) duty not just to allow for it, but to sponsor it in terms of both time and money.

According to the hospital director, all of the doctor’s actions fell within the rules. Is it just a case, then, of dealing with a poorly designed system? What we don’t know, as of now, is if and to what extent this training will pay off in his future work (presuming he is allowed to keep his job). If it were to make a significant difference to the number of lives this doctor is able to save, for example, would this be worth the investment made? And how would an organisation go about measuring that?

These are all tough questions that L&D professionals deal with on a regular basis. The key here is the issue of measuring results, and the challenge of finding ways to do this as effectively and objectively as possible. What we need are structured, transparent systems that highlight the benefits (or lack thereof) of training in a way that makes it easier to either justify or veto further investments. My suspicion is that, while all businesses will find that there are indeed tangible benefits to be had by training their employees, some will come to the conclusion that an 8-year absence is ludicrous, while others may actually find that it’s worth it.

After all, il mondo è bello perché è vario.

Training needed for Pharmaceutical CompaniesVirus outbreaks tend to inevitably fuel debates about the pharmaceutical industry. And indeed, the current Ebola situation is no exception.

As was the case with bird flu, swine flu and indeed numerous other epidemics, many thorny issues arise and many buttons are pushed when it comes to the availability of potentially life-saving medicines, their cost and their distribution. This in turn stimulates reflection on big pharma in general.

Let’s face it: pharma hasn’t historically had a great reputation. Though pharmaceutical companies work essentially to help people overcome disease, often when they risk losing their lives, there are a number of reasons for which they are often interpreted to be the bad guy. Among these, profit is probably at the top of the list. Many – including the UK’s top public health doctor with regards to Ebola – blame the industry for failing to make investments where returns are too small to justify spending any money to begin with. The trouble is that an industry as necessary and as rich as pharma has historically always had the freedom to reason that way, where a lot of other traditionally "bad" industries have been forced to adapt and act in a way that is perhaps interpreted as more "moral".

Now, the point of this post is not to make a judgement on whether these criticisms are well-founded or not – that would be way beyond our remit and my own personal area of comfort. The point is that I want to make is that right or wrong, good or bad, it seems that even pharmaceuticals are reaching a cross-roads and will have to make some tough decisions in order to remain competitive in the next 5 to 10 years. In fact, PwC’s Pharma 2020 Report warns that “The outlook [for the pharmaceutical industry] has never seemed more promising – or more ominous”.
More specifically, the industry faces big challenges in terms of increasing what have been very low levels of scientific productivity over the past 10 years. In addition, according to the report, pharmaceutical companies need to address the "cultural sclerosis" that is affecting the management culture, mental models and strategies on which the industry continues to rely. Basically, they need to wake up and realise that there are new ways of doing business, and start taking practical measures to break with the "business as usual" approach that they have been lucky enough to get away with until now.

And this reality is in turn inextricably linked to the skills question and the potential for economic growth. In the UK alone, the pharmaceutical sector has continuously generated a greater trade surplus (at £5 billion) than any other industrial sector in the UK. But skills are lacking and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) warns that better regulation and a more science-focused education system will be needed to meet demands and make the change that is so desperately needed possible.

It is in this context that here at we recently launched a dedicated Pharmaceutical category, in the hope that it will become one of our biggest and more diverse categories in the future – relevant to professionals at all levels and in all sub-disciplines of to the industry. Whatever you may think of pharma, it is clear that it is a sector in dire need of talented professionals, and we reckon making training opportunities as accessible as possible will, in the end, work to everyone’s advantage.

Worried about the amount of e-mails you will find in your inbox when you return from your holidays? Considering the pace of the modern working environment, combined with our now heavy reliance on e-mail as a form of communication, you’d be suffering from quite a severe case of denial if you weren’t. But there is equally no denying that this is a problematic state of affairs, marring the entire holiday experience with a sense of dread and making it even more difficult for professionals to really "switch off" and relax.

In response to this dilemma, automotive company Daimler has taken action and developed an interesting, if a little unconventional, new approach to dealing with e-mails received while an employee is on annual leave: deleting them.
Yes, any client or colleague trying to contact a member of staff who is on leave will receive a simple automated reply stating:

"I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted."

Simple as that. And far from an empty threat, this reply is generated by a software (more or less ironically called ‘Mail on Holiday’) that actually deletes the email in question, making it impossible for the 100,000 or so employees taking part in the programme to ever know of its existence.

The move comes in response to the results of a government-funded research project on work-life balance that was conducted in collaboration with the University of Heidelberg in 2010-2011. Managers in the company are now trained specifically to promote a good work-life balance, encouraging employees to take time off for any extra hours worked as well as set aside time during which meetings can’t be scheduled. And the auto-delete function is essentially an extension of this principle that workers deserve real time off, particularly as they don’t actually tend to perform any better by working extra hours. On the contrary, countries that discourage overtime are in many cases more productive, with Germany and France – which recently banned after-hours communication in a number of sectors – being prime examples.

Of course, the competition was quick to judge and claim that such a system is not workable in a client-focused industry. But Daimler spokesman Oliver Wihofszki was adamant that: "The response is basically 99% positive, because everybody says, That's a real nice thing, I would love to have that too".

To be quite fair to the masterminds at Daimler, the automated replies do include the contact information of other colleagues to contact for urgent matters, so it is not the case that clients are left entirely to their own devices during the holiday season. Though some may indeed find it a little irritating, or perhaps even cheeky, I don’t find it difficult to believe that the majority would actually be more envious than anything else! All I can say for the moment is that it seems like a great way to win favour among colleagues while simultaneously drawing attention to their brand. For that, at least, I think Daimler should be congratulated.

Time to give up on University degrees?Yesterday’s release of A-Level results has created a huge amount of buzz and debate across the web regarding the real value of going to university vis-à-vis opting for a vocational route to employment.

News sites and social media, particularly Twitter, have been rapidly filled with a multitude of different articles and messages that draw attention to the ways in which attitudes are changing with respect the infamous academic vs. vocational debate. What I mean by this is that, in and among the good luck wishes and congratulatory statements, there seemed to be an equally significant number of calls for students – regardless of their results – to really consider their options when it comes to the next step. From job offers to apprenticeship vacancies and further study options, the #notgoingtouni camp seems to be in full gear.

A few striking examples can be found in the following tweets:

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
 It's #alevels results day! But remember there are alternatives to uni  #ChooseACCA #Clearing2014

Department for Work and Pensions
Just left education? Thinking of working in the UK #tourism industry? Find apprenticeships here #getbritainworking

The CISI (Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment)
Looking for an alternative to uni? What about a financial services #apprenticeship? #alevelresults #notgoingtouni

Considering the Government’s great focus on vocational education, this is perhaps not overly surprising. With university becoming increasingly expensive, the economy recovering and study after study warning of growing skills gaps in key sectors, it arguably couldn’t be a better time to stress the need for hands-on training that leads to competence for a specific job role rather than the broader, knowledge-based study that often characterises a university degree. What will be interesting is seeing if these vocational programmes are successful not only in providing more skills (rather than knowledge), but rather the right kind of skills, which is ultimately what will determine if the UK’s skills gaps can be reduced.

As a final reflection, if this trend picks up speed, what will happen to the traditional university degree? Could it be the case that, as that as roles shift and degree programmes become more flexible and easier to integrate with a career, it will be seasoned professionals who start opting for the BAs and MAs while school-leavers take the vocational route? It may sound illogical, but this would perhaps mean getting into a career more quickly and with more practical preparation, to then have the time later on to complement existing experience and expertise with a University-style programme. Would this actually create more well-rounded professionals overall?

Following a recent assessment of the UK’s modern language skills, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on modern languages has called for a "national recovery programme" to address the persistent lack of adequate skills among the UK workforce. already reported on this notable gap following a British Council Report released last year, which indicated that 75% of the British population is not able to hold a conversation in any of the 10 languages deemed most important for the country. What the APPG evaluation does is add new impetus to this finding by giving a clear value to this gap in terms of lost revenues for the UK. That value is £50 billion a year.

Unsurprisingly, the release of this figure was accompanied by a plea to all party leaders to take "clear, urgent and coherent action to upgrade the UK’s foreign language skills". The evidence gathered suggests that action is needed on every level, in the sense that it is does not only concern the "high-flyers" in the business world who work for multinational companies and are regularly required to deal with foreign colleagues and clients. On the contrary, it revealed that in 2011 the languages deficit caused over 27% of admin and clerical jobs to go unfilled to.
To make matters worse, recently released university application figures show a 5% decrease in language candidates, making a further dent in what are already low numbers of individuals taking advantage of the language learning opportunities available.

The Government claims its reforms are "driving a languages revival" in schools, with the Department of Education spending £350,000 to help primary and secondary school teachers improve their language teaching skills. Perhaps only time will tell whether this will produce the linguistically talented professionals that are needed to help the UK economy fill critical positions and take advantage of important export opportunities, as well as guarantee effective diplomacy and maintain its international standing. In the meantime, the APPG is asking for all parties’ acknowledgement of the problem in their next election manifestos, backed up by specific policy commitments to reverse current trends and make language a priority in the skills landscape.

Nick Boles appointed new Skills MinisterFollowing David Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle, Nick Boles has been appointed Minister of State for Skills, Enterprise and Equalities.

Taking over from Matthew Hancock, who was promoted to Minister for Business, Enterprise and Energy, Boles has a joint brief with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education (DfE). Consequently, his role involves a number of responsibilities that span the areas of competence of these two departments, including:

  • further education
  • lifelong learning and informal adult learning
  • adult skills, Skills Funding agency and skills strategy
  • apprenticeships and workplace training reforms
  • qualifications reform programme
  • small business, enterprise & access to finance
  • business support

His role will also cover the oversight of equal marriage implementation.

NIACE, which has called for increased integration between the DfE and BIS in its recently published manifesto, welcomed the appointment, stating:

"We welcome Nick Boles to his new role and look forward to working with him on the skills and lifelong learning agenda at a critical time for the economy and society. We must ensure we have a skills system fit for the 21st Century which will lead to prosperity for all. We are pleased that he will retain briefs in both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education. This will lead to closer working relationships between the two departments, something we have called for in our manifesto."

"We hope today’s reshuffle will lead to government departments – particularly BIS, DfE and DWP – working closer together. As we have stated in our manifesto, people having access to the learning they both want and need is crucial for the future well-being of our economy and society. This includes a range of training opportunities at work to meet skills gaps and skills shortages, families learning together to raise children’s attainment at school and people out of work having secure pathways to sustainable and fulfilling careers."

New EU Skills Passport for Hospitality & Tourism IndustryThe EU Commission has recently launched an online tool designed to facilitate contact between jobseekers and employers, with an initial focus on the Hospitality and Tourism sector.

On the jobseeker side, the so-called Skills Passport – which is hosted on the European Job Mobility portal – aims to make it easier for professionals to describe the skills that they possess, choosing competences from among a list and linking each to the work experience(s), education or training programme from which it was developed (optionally endorsed by diplomas or previous employers). On the employer side, it gives businesses access to a comprehensive selection of candidates possessing the skills they are after, helping them to quickly recruit the talent they need from all over Europe. Importantly, the system is standardised and multi-lingual, ensuring that is it easy for both parts to understand and use.

The Hospitality industry was chosen for the pilot scheme due to its highly international character, with overseas experience, language skills and mobility being key advantages for potential candidates. Other sectors are due to follow in the near future.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is running an open consultation to collect views on their proposals regarding the expansion of loans in the Further Education sector.

With the goal of simplifying the funding system, providing stronger initiatives to train and making learning accessible to as many people as possible, the consultation seeks to gather responses from potential learners as well as anyone involved in the provision of further education. The central issue is the perceived effectiveness of Advanced Learning Loans, which were introduced in April 2013 for those aged over 24 looking to study a level 3 or 4 qualification (apprenticeships were originally included but were subsequently removed in March 2014).

The BIS is now looking for feedback on their proposal to expand the scope of these loans to cover 19-23 year olds and level 2 qualifications, as well as a number of broader issues including:

  • If and how the administrative rules for the Advanced Learning Loan system can be simplified.
  • If and how an alternative financial product for Muslim leaners can be introduced.
  • The possibility of moving some qualifications – such as Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Diplomas (HNDs) from Higher Education funding to Advanced Learning Loans.
  • The appropriateness of the information, advice and guidance provided about these loans.

The consultation will remain open until 21st August 2014.

The 2014 edition of Adult Learners’ Week is currently underway, with thousands of events & activities taking place around the country as part of this year’s broader Festival of Learning. Supported by a number of organisations and initiatives, including National Learning at Work Week, the festival is a 2-month initiative dedicated to inspiring people to try out different types of learning and celebrate its benefits.

As part of this important nationwide initiative, NIACE – the National Council for Continuing Adult Education – will be hosting a discussion with leading political figures to discuss its recently published manifesto. Described as "ground-breaking" and "radical", Skills for Prosperity: Building Sustainable Recovery for All outlines a new approach to reforming the learning and skills system, and will be launched tomorrow at NIACE’s Annual Learners’ Week Policy Conference in Westminster in the presence of, among others, the Minister for Skills and Enterprise Matthew Hancock.

He and a number of other speakers will be responding to the recommendations outlined in the document, which include the following proposals:

  • Creating a Personal Skills Account for every adult, along with structured career reviews, to empower individuals to take control of their skills and put personalisation at the heart of a new skills system.
  • A "new localism" for skills and learning delivered through devolution and a strengthened individual-employer-Government partnership, as well as a new Whitehall Department responsible for education, skills, business and work.
  • An independent review of the country’s long-term skills and funding issues.

This manifesto comes in response to mounting evidence of skills gaps across the economy, as well as a lack of training that, according to the 2013 UKCES Employer Skills Survey – affects around 10 million people, equivalent to a third of the workforce. Indeed, NIACE’s own 2014 Participation Survey reveals a persisting inequality that sees participation in learning decline with age, socio-economic class and employment status, despite small overall advances being made over time. According to NIACE, this means that too many adults are still not participating in the learning that they and the economy need to ensure sustainable recovery.

The need to increase participation in learning across-the-board is supported by the results of a recent KPMG survey, which has found little evidence that a focus on high performers improves business performance. On the contrary, an increasing number of HR professionals are recognising that organisations need to develop holistic approaches to talent management that focus on the needs of all employees, regardless of their specific roles.

Request help finding a course
Search for courses
Can't find what you're looking for?
By submitting your e-mail, you become a member of
Please fill out all required fields

Organisational Culture Quiz

Question of the month
Have you or would you consider taking a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course)?
Yes, I have already taken one
Yes, I would consider taking one
No, I don't think so
No, definitely not
Answer to see result
Special offers & price reductions!
FCA Approved Qualifications

Discover 4 important truths about qualifying to perform controlled fuctions in an FCA-approved firm.