People & Performance – April 1999 issue – Life with Punter

"Past Employers our Traditional Trainers"

Every now and then, when forced, I go to one of those ‘evening functions’ where usually intelligent men wear boring funeral black and choke themselves with strange neck restrictions somewhat after the manner of Japanese foot-binding (‘Don’t the men look so attractive Daahling’). How men in a state of partial strangulation can look attractive except to a particular type of deviant is beyond me, but that’s the power of social convention… At one such function I well remember a comment made to me by the CEO of a mid-size company (both of us with raised carotid arteries, red-faced and eyes slightly protruding), regarding staff training - "We don’t have a training budget. If you hire the right people, you shouldn’t need one". Well now, there’s a thought. Is the need for training a reflection on the selection process? Hmmm. Let’s put that one aside for now – too hard, and considering the readership of P&P I’d need a good flak jacket – and consider instead that for many of us (most? all?), we learned much of the skills and knowledges we have today at the feet of, and through the cheque-book of, our past employers. If you agree with that, and I hope you do, then the next couple of statements must also be true. When you went to employer ‘x’, your skill/knowledge set was ‘y’. When you left that employer your skill/knowledge set had increased to ‘y plus something’. Your CV looked better. You had more experience in a given area, and had new or increased skills. The jobs you are now applying for attract an increased remuneration package and better prospects. And you achieved this at the cost of your previous organisation while being paid a salary/wage at the same time (Obviously those of us who pay our own fees and learn in our own time are excluded from this argument). Those of us who actually planned our careers in the Third Form are probably a minority but there are many who do plan their employment moves in a precise and calculated way, measuring a particular employer in terms of ‘what will my CV look like after 5 years in that place, and where can I go with those new skills/knowledges?’

If you don’t mind me cutting to the chase here, what we’re talking about is the fact that having new skills/knowledges enhances your CV and makes you more attractive to a new employer, usually in a more senior position which attracts a better remuneration package each time you move. If you look at it in process terms, each employer has ‘added value’ to the product. And paid (usually) for the privilege.

The interesting thing is that this process is so engrained, so accepted and so historical that I think we’ve forgotten that career enhancement through new skills/knowledges is an employee benefit and should be regarded as part of the benefit package.

In earlier days (c1700) men with no skills were hit on the head while harmlessly quaffing beer and woke up to a strange swaying sensation and the realisation that they had just made a career switch and were now part of His Britannic Majesty’s Navy. Now that’s recruiting. Anyone with any connection to things Maritime will have realised after a while that most nautical things can be nutted out if you think logically and don’t look for complicated answers. Now you know why. Your 1700’s sailor was, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty thick. However, after 5 years of being an Ordinary Seaman and soaking up new skills/knowledges and the odd dose of scurvy, if one was still alive one might qualify for the status of Able Seaman (even the job titles are pretty basic) and life became a little better. Fewer people were allowed to shout at you or flog you, for a start. And look at the skills/knowledges you now have! Ship Husbandry, Ropework, basic Violence, Caulking, Feet and Fist coordination, Knife Handling (defensive, level 1), Basic Seamanship, Flagellation, and in Fletcher Christian’s case, your basic Illegal Transfer of Command process. And all this provided free by a caring employer. Note that swimming was not deemed a required skill, was not part of the selection criteria (Tavern-specific rather than skill-based) and was not part of the on-going training & development plan.

Now, here’s the rub. Sailors having served their time in His Majesty’s Navy who chose not to re-enlist, were able to offer themselves as trained seafarers to the Mercantile Marine and obtain better positions with far better conditions of work – albeit by today’s standards, still appalling. So from Unemployed Unskilled Tavern Drunk to Warrant-Officer-Master-at-Arms in 10 years, board & lodging all found, and cash on top, now able to apply for a position as Bosun on the Marie Celeste at twice the pay and without a ghost of a chance of redundancy. And all thanks to the previous employer. My suggestion is that, maybe, we don’t make enough fuss about that part of the benefit package that we call career-enhancement. Perhaps we should start including it in the description of the remuneration package, for example "Salary vic $50K plus performance bonus, company vehicle, skill/knowledge acquisition and career enhancement included". Why not? The next question, which I will leave you to ponder, is: How do we value that up? Maybe over the years we have ‘grown’ an employee pool to whom training and career enhancement has become an expected thing and where the cost of providing that benefit does not even rate a passing thought. Maybe it’s time to change that.

Carpe Diem

Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand. email:
Steve Punter 1990-2004 All rights reserved by the author