Broadcaster brings buzz to learning

Chris Johnston talks to Nigel Paine, the BBC's new head of training.

NIGEL Paine is an excited man. Earlier in the day the BBC won the licence for digital terrestrial television, re-issued following the demise of ITV Digital.

Why does that interest the broadcaster's new head of training? To Paine the answer is clear: there are all sorts of opportunities for using the platform for niche broadcasting and to provide greater access to in-house training materials that would appeal to a wider audience.

Clearly, it is this sort of creative thinking that saw BBC director-general Greg Dyke offer the job to Paine. Most recently head of the Department for Education and Skills' Science Year initiative, he has had a long career focusing on using technology for learning. A visiting professor at Napier University in Edinburgh, he was director of the Scottish Council for Educational Technology for nine years before becoming chief executive of the Technology Colleges Trust in January 1999.

A tense working relationship with chairman Sir Cyril Taylor saw him depart in 2000 to run Science Year before the call from the BBC came earlier this year.

The BBC has the largest training division of any broadcaster in the world. More than 350 staff deal with its 24,000 permanent workers, 10,000 regular freelances and 10,000 to 15,000 part-timers, as well as thousands of security and ancillary contractors.

Paine is based in Broadcasting House, where the office of Greg ("cut the crap, make it happen") Dyke is located, indicating the importance attached to his role.

He is quick to admit that modernising the way the BBC approaches training will not be a simple task but adds that attitudes are fast changing within the organisation.

The priority is to "join up all the bits", Paine says. There is a good deal of excellent conventional face-to-face training taking place, as well as some high-quality online learning, but he believes there needs to be more mentoring and coaching and better co-ordination with the BBC's many external training providers.

A blended approach to learning will characterise BBC training in the future. "You'll do something face-to-face, something online, something in a small tutorial group or even one on one, and some things inside and others outside the organisation with a much more holistic experience," Paine suggests. It will mean the end of employees being put through a three-day course and then being left to their own devices with no follow-up.

Other innovations that may not sound very radical but are none the less new to the BBC include management training for every one of the corporation's 4,000 managers, and a four-day induction programme for new staff; the organisation recruits 5,000 people a year.

As many staff have been at the BBC for a long time and have seen initiatives come and go, Paine admits a considerable number will be sceptical of his plans.

Something that gets "some pizzazz and buzz" back into learning and personal development is what the Beeb needs, in his view. "At the moment it's seen as something that's done to you when you have a problem and once you're 'fixed', that's you."

To create the right culture, Paine believes the least that has to be done is providing learning wherever staff are in the world and whenever it is needed.

Technology is not the saviour but Paine says it will play a major role in helping the BBC become a learning organisation. Making learning materials available on employees' computers is not going to solve the problem, he concedes, "but we can't even begin to solve the problem without doing so."

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