By Marcus Leach

Learning and development funding is still taking a hit, with cuts to public sector funding having widespread impact, says Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Over two-fifths of organisations have decreased funding (43%) for learning and development this year, with two-fifths (42%) anticipating a reduction and only one in 10 anticipating an increase in the next 12 months. This is the top-line finding of this year’s CIPD Learning and Talent Development Survey of 600 organisations. The full findings will be revealed at the CIPD’s annual HRD Conference and Exhibition, 6-7 April.

Over a half (54%) of organisations claim that their economic circumstances have declined in the past 12 months, with a third overall moving to reduce the use of external suppliers to in-house provision as a result. Encouragingly, however, two-fifths report they have become even more business-focused due to the adverse circumstances.

Although companies this year have increased their training offering to a median of five days per employee (equivalent to 2009 levels), compared to four days per employee in 2010, they have also increased their use of less costly development practices such as e-learning (54%), coaching by line managers (47%), in-house development programmes (45%) and internal knowledge-sharing events (37%).

Unsurprisingly, cuts to public sector funding are having a widespread impact on learning and development. The public sector is three times as likely as the private sector to report that the funding of learning and talent development will decrease in the next 12 months (76% compared to 26%). This compares to two-fifths (19%) of public sector and over a half of private sector respondents expecting cuts last year.

The public sector are also twice as likely as their private sector counterparts to report a reduction in external conferences, workshops and events (50% compared to 28%), formal education courses (49% to 24%) and instructor-led training delivered off the job (38% compared to 21%). They are also more likely to have reduced less expensive options, such as the use of in-house development programmes (25% compared to 8%), job rotation, secondments and shadowing (27% compared to 10%).

Dr John McGurk, learning and talent development adviser, CIPD, said:

“With the full impact of the spending cuts yet to be felt in the public sector, maintaining support for employee development by linking it to organisational change is essential if organisations are to steer through these uncertain and challenging times.

“It’s encouraging to see that during the tough times organisations have coped well with reduced budgets and shifted from external to in-house provision, as well as utilising less costly development practices. This has proved that the function is adept to new innovations, as well as cost control when the going gets tough. We expect to see public sector learning and development teams rely on similar methods as the cuts start to bite, already indicated by our findings.

“Although many firms are still struggling in the private sector, and some are still reining in spending on training, the picture has picked up since last year. Not only have we seen learning and development being prioritised more in the recent recession than in previous ones, we’re also seeing a strong bounce back from firms recognising that investing in skills is the best way of capitalising on recovery.”