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UK firms lead the way in training

Survey reveals a spectacular improvement in British companies' attitude to developing employees' skills. Ngaio Crequer reports.

British companies are no longer the training laggards of the Continent but are leading Europe, a new report concludes.

The amount of general management training carried out is greatest in Britain - 45 per cent of companies are actively involved in developing their managers, much more than the European Union average of 27 per cent.

In other areas the UK is scoring high. It leads in technical and operational training: 68 per cent of companies invest in this area of human resource development compared to an EU average of 59 per cent.

Britain comes second for sales and marketing training, with 53 per cent of companies, just beaten by Germany's 55 per cent. The UK comes top of the league in formal paid training and second in overall training activity. More that 75 per cent of firms are actively engaged in training their people and only the French, at 82 per cent, do more training than their UK counterparts.

The report is an analysis by the TEC national council based on data collected by Business Strategies Ltd as part of its annual European business survey. It looked at data collected over three years, on 5,000 companies in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The report says the results show that British companies "can no longer be regarded as the training failures of Europe and that they are now carrying out much higher levels of training and management development than a decade ago.

"While there are clear grounds for optimism based on these results, the survey also raises questions about the quality and impact of the training. Only 19 per cent of the workforce receives paid-for training and it may be that a good deal of the increased activity is still informal and unsystematic."

It adds that :"Another concern is the resistant 19 per cent of companies who see no need to raise their levels of training, a significantly higher percentage than in the rest of the European countries in the survey, and much higher than France at 4 per cent or Germany at 6 per cent.

"It may be that these companies are genuinely training as much as they need to, but it would seem more likely that we have a long tail of complacent companies which are still resistant to the idea of investing in their people. "

The survey shows that Britain has the highest use of information technology in training, 22 per cent against an EU average of 17 per cent, reflecting the relatively high levels of computerisation among small firms.

When firms were asked why they did not carry out more training, they cited time and cost as the principal reasons. British and German companies were the most likely in Europe to see cost as a factor more training. More than half of the British companies felt that lack of time was a barrier.

The survey looked at anticipated trends in training. It found that over the period of the survey: "Across Europe as a whole, the number of firms anticipating a rise in their training activity rose from just over a quarter to a third and, individually, all countries except Germany reflect this upward trend."

Chris Humphries, chief executive of the TEC national council said: "There are significant grounds for optimism in this report. It reveals that our small and medium-sized enterprises are addressing the issue of both present and future management skills shortages and weaknesses. It also reveals they are strong in general management, and in the higher skills areas of of technical, operational, sales and marketing training.

"This reflects the high emphasis British firms place on the need for management skills as a driver of training, and the shortage of them as a constraint to growth. Companies themselves are identifying an issue of major concern - the quality of management - and taking steps to address this problem."

He said it was encouraging to note that the level of training for employees was higher than in the rest of Europe, but admitted he was concerned about the number of companies which did not intend to invest in training.

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