Training in the tough times

Chrissie Wright of the Directory of Social Change says charities can adapt training plans and offer more for less

Chrissie Wright
Chrissie Wright

In times of economic trouble, the training budget is usually the first budget that organisations cut.

Chrissie Wright, director of training services at the Directory of Social Change, accepts that the past two years have been difficult for third sector training providers.

"The good news is that people are still coming for training," she says. "But when there's a recession and when there's change and restructuring, training goes to the bottom of the priority list. It's a very easy way to cut costs, but not necessarily a good decision in the longer run."

The DSC runs about 300 courses and training events in the UK each year. Demand for training generally may have fallen in recent times, says Wright, but certain types of courses remain popular in the voluntary sector. "We're finding that the generic management courses are still popular, especially for those who are new to management or need to manage change," says Wright.

The voluntary sector workforce has always been willing to turn its hands to different roles, she says, but it has become increasingly common for staff to have more than one role now that funding is tight. As a result, some charity staff need training in areas outside their usual expertise. "You will get very senior managers taking on a fundraising role or HR role, especially in small and medium-sized organisations," she says. "People are having to do things differently or do more with less."

Funding staff development remains a problem for charities. The closure last year of the government-funded Train to Gain initiative, which helped employers cover the costs of employees who carry out training, has been a blow to the third sector, says Wright. Money for training is still available through the National Skills Academies, but such programmes are not as readily accessible to charities as to the private sector. As a result, charities are increasingly dipping into their own reserves to cover training costs.

The DSC has responded to the need to offer more for less by organising events such as management development training days that include one-hour taster workshops on key themes. "The workshops have been quite popular because they let people dip their toes into a lot of different areas," says Wright.

Another shift has been the move towards charities wanting more training delivered in-house by external providers. Such in-house courses are generally tailored to individual organisations' needs and can be more cost-effective, especially for larger charities.

Earlier this month, Lasa, the sector support charity, conducted a training survey of 446 charity professionals. It found that almost half of their charities do not have a dedicated budget for training staff and volunteers and more than three-quarters feel that training is absolutely necessary for them to do their jobs well.

In spite of the demand for training among the workforce, Wright does not believe that charities should put in place training quotas for learning because it is very easy for organisations to go through the motions without taking training seriously. Instead, individuals need to start taking more responsibility for their personal development. "It's not always about spending huge amounts and taking courses," she says. "There's a lot you can do in the context in which you work - but you have to be proactive."

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