Advertisement: open in new window
A common assumption is that company training is cut in times of recession. This study examined what really happened to training during the 2008-09 recession, the longest and deepest in living memory.Methodology
The study was based on analysis of four large-scale surveys carried out by the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and the Office for National Statistics. This was complemented by qualitative in-depth interviews with 52 employers.
At the start of the downturn, many employers had dire expectations. According to the CBI’s business attitudes survey, training expenditure intentions collapsed in 2008 and they did not bounce back until the end of 2009. This compares to a milder decline in the recession of 1990-91 when expectations fell more modestly. Yet, according to the National Employer Skills Survey, training expenditure rose from £38.6 billion in 2007 to £39.2 billion in 2009, a real terms fall of only 5 per cent. The reality, then, was not quite as alarming as predicted.Surveys of workers also produce findings that challenge the common assumption. The Quarterly Labour Force Survey asks individual workers whether they have had any job-related education or training in the previous four weeks. According to this evidence the impact of the recession on training was very limited. In fact, training participation had been falling well before the recession began.Our employer interviews suggest that training held up because of the operation of “training floors”. These meant that employers had to maintain training in order to comply with legal requirements, meet operational needs, counter skill shortages, address market completion, fulfil managerial commitments and satisfy customer demands.However, employers found ways of meeting these obligations by “training smarter”. This included focusing their training on business needs, substituting in-house for external provision, drawing on members of the regular workforce to deliver training, renegotiating relationships with external trainers, increasing the use of on-site group training, and enhancing the role of e-learning.Learning points