Interview: Gemma Beardsmore of VTCT

She tells Femke Colborne why the professional qualifications charity abandoned its one-size-fits-all approach to staff development

Gemma Beardsmore, HR manager, VTCT
Gemma Beardsmore, HR manager, VTCT

When a one-size-fits-all approach to staff training proved ineffective, Gemma Beardsmore, HR manager of the professional qualifications charity VTCT, decided to introduce a more individual approach to employee development.

VTCT is a small charity that provides training and vocational qualifications in beauty, fitness, sports and 'holistic therapies'. Two years ago, it realised there were some problems with the way in which it trained staff.

According to Beardsmore, the charity had been using a blanket approach to its training. "One of our core values was to make sure we tried to include everyone and treat everyone equally and fairly," she says.

This approach often meant offering everyone the same development opportunities, regardless of their age and status in the organisation. All staff, for instance, were offered the same customer service training.

But Beardsmore says this proved problematic. The charity has what she describes as a "polarised workforce" - a lot of employees in their 20s and a large proportion in their 50s and 60s, but hardly any in between - and some of the older staff were not happy with the training being offered.

"They were reluctant because they had worked here for such a long time and they thought they were already competent," says Beardsmore.

So when she joined VTCT in 2008, she decided to overhaul the charity's training. Managers were encouraged to take a more individual approach and staff were asked what they felt they would benefit from. "It's about trying to create a more individual dialogue between managers and staff," she says. "People prefer to feel they have more input and there tends to be a better response if they are engaged."

Beardsmore began by briefing the charity's senior management, asking them to take a more holistic approach and feed the changes down to other managers. "They are best placed to assess their own staff," she says.

This was backed up by regular briefing sessions, when managers could come to her with any questions or concerns.

Measures have also been introduced to make training easier for older people, who are more likely to have families and other commitments. "We're encouraging people to look at alternatives, such as online courses and training local to them, to make it easier," Beardsmore says.

Of the 48 staff, 30 are now undertaking some form of training. And as employees' skills have improved, so has their confidence in the management. In 2007, 63 per cent of staff thought the charity provided good training and development opportunities; in 2009, it was 85 per cent.

Most significantly, the new method led to a reduction in disciplinary action and sickness absence between 2007 and 2009, indicating that a well-trained workforce is generally a happier workforce.


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