Legislative right to request training — prospect?

Analysis

Legislative right to request training — prospect?

There have been past attempts in Australia to force employers to provide training for their employers, most notably the Training Guarantee legislation in the early 1990s. The United Kingdom has revived the concept in recent legislation; so, is there a prospect of this happening again in Australia?

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There have been past attempts in Australia to force employers to provide training for their employers, most notably the Training Guarantee legislation in the early 1990s. The United Kingdom has revived the concept in recent legislation; so, is there a prospect of this happening again in Australia?

Recently, the United Kingdom gave employees in large companies a legal right to ‘request’ time off to attend off-site training, but a survey has concluded that the provisions are seldom used and most HR professionals consider them to be irrelevant.

Is there any role in Australia for legislation such as this? And what should employers be doing to ensure that employees are comfortable about seeking further training, whether backed by legislation or not?

What the survey found
 
The survey of 250 British HR professionals was conducted by the UK online HR service XpertHR, with results published recently on the UK website Personnel Today.

Britain introduced The Employee Study and Training (Procedural Requirements) Regulations 2010 made in April 2010. The Regulations gave employees of businesses with more than 250 employees the legal right to request time off to attend training or study courses that are relevant to the employer’s business. The employee must have at least six months of continuous service with the employer. The employer is required to consider the request and must provide its decision, with reasons, to the employee in writing, but is not compelled to grant the request.

Survey results
 
However, just 13% of employers said they had received any requests under the legislation from employees. Fifty-seven per cent described the legislation as ‘irrelevant’ to their businesses and just 12% believed it had had a positive impact on training. On the other hand, almost 90% said they had received training or study requests via in-house procedures they already had in place. Of those requests, 75% related to funding of external study and 60% referred to ongoing training that required regular time off work.

Commenting on the results, XpertHR’s training editor noted that around one-quarter of organisations in the survey did not have an existing formal process for employees to make requests for training. One-half of these organisations said they believed the legislation to be a valuable way to extend learning to more employees and should also apply to businesses with fewer than 250 employees (which was mooted for the future when the legislation was introduced).

Editor’s comments
 
There is no similar legislation in Australia, although calls for it occasionally surface. Some readers may recall the Training Guarantee legislation introduced in Australia about 20 years ago. It required organisations to spend a prescribed minimum percentage of their payroll on ‘structured’ employee training and development, or else pay a levy into a central training fund. The legislation was repealed after a few years, following criticism that it was too prescriptive and bureaucratic and led to expenditure on ‘training’ (such as overseas conferences) that was of little benefit to employees or the business. Its defenders, on the other hand, claimed that the legislation prevented expenditure on training being cut when there was an economic recession in Australia during the early 1990s, whereas training had been one of the first activities to be pruned during previous economic downturns.

Culture
 
A point made by the survey of the British Regulations is that organisations should have a culture in which employees are comfortable about requesting further training and development, plus a system that facilitates requests to be granted and implemented. If this is the case, there would be no need for provisions such as the British Regulations.

Commentators often use the term ‘a learning organisation’. This means a culture where ongoing development and personal growth are actively encouraged and policies and procedures exist to ensure that it is readily accessible. Although ‘remedial’ training is sometimes required, training and development should not otherwise be seen as a ‘fix’ for problems — problems that may in any case be mainly due to other factors. Nor should employees be made to feel embarrassed or threatened (in terms of job security) if they ask a manager for training or development.

In terms of access to further education opportunities, and assistance with undertaking them (eg financial contributions from the employer and flexible work arrangements to facilitate study), various studies have indicated that this benefit is highly valued by many employees and an effective attraction and retention tool.
 
Further information
 
N Martindale, ‘Right to request training “irrelevant” to most HR professionals’, published on Personnel Today (UK), 6 July 2011. Accessed 25 July 2011. (Note: registration is required to read full report.)

The survey: Employer Approaches to training requests: XpertHR survey 2011, by Charlotte Wolff.

Source: Mike Toten, HR writer.
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