04/11/2014

By Tom Kirkham, Director, Citypress


I’ve been fortunate, during my career to date, to have had ample access to training everywhere I’ve worked. Not that I’ve always taken advantage of this. Legend has it that I fell asleep in one of the earliest training sessions I attended — a technology module on wide area networking delivered by our managing director. While this accusation doesn’t sit particularly comfortably with me, it’s quite hard for me to contest as I have no recollection of the incident (which in of itself adds weight to the claim that I may have drifted off briefly).

At the time, I was about two weeks into my new role at a B2B tech PR agency — not an ideal time to fall asleep. Fortunately I survived to see another day and ten years later the lessons I’d learnt proved instrumental in helping to revamp my current agency’s learning and development programme.

There are many schools of thought around how new recruits should be inducted into businesses, how to upskill staff and give them the opportunities they need to thrive and prosper in their roles. In our industry (I’d wager in many others also) there is still a large amount of emphasis on learning on the job. Churn in our industry is high and most employers need junior staff, in particular, that can hit the ground running and relieve pressure on overworked colleagues.

I certainly wouldn’t disagree with the value of learning by doing, but when interviewing job candidates I’m still surprised at the amount of people who profess to have received little formal or informal training alongside this experience. The most often cited reason is that their employers simply didn’t have the time — everything was manic and they simply had to get stuck in from day one.

In an industry such as my own, any employer that fails to embrace the role of training is missing a trick. Put simply, training is fundamental to any people-centric business, and without it, growth is going to be far harder to come by. Ambitious staff don’t want to sit still — they want to learn and take on new responsibilities — and this can be a bit of a tightrope for the employer. If they’re too liberal and afford staff too much freedom, the business operations could be compromised, and client or customer relationships endangered.. Too conservative and the employees may well be stifled and end up leaving to an employer that can give them the opportunities they’re looking for.

Formalised training programmes can help to solve this problem, providing a risk-free and structured environment for learning, while also helping to appease staff whose day jobs might not be particularly stretching or rewarding at that moment in time.

Of course, if you’re recruiting ambitious people for the long-term you have to be equipped to continue their development and to satisfy their ambitions. There’s nothing more frustrating than investing in upskilling your staff, only for them to abandon you for a rival. That’s why sustained growth is so important.

Training needs to sit alongside a coherent, achievable new business strategy, a progressive approach to salaries, benefits and ever-changing working practices (from flexible working to bring-your-own-device IT policies), a strong sense of culture, purpose and a shared company vision, and many other factors besides. But at the same time, it needs to be given the same time and emphasis as these other factors, and not side-lined when things get busy or other distractions appear on the horizon.

Today our learning and development programme forms the bedrock of our business’s consultancy and our culture. We’ve embraced an approach that views investment in people as the principle ingredient for commercial success, and we’re already starting to see the benefits of training in creating a vibrant, motivated and engaged workforce.


Tom Kirkham is a Director at PR consultancy Citypress, and heads up the agency’s learning and development programme.