Michelle Wright writes for TrainingZone

8 September 2020 | By Michelle Wright

Protecting Quality Fee-based Training in L&D 

Fair Exchange is No Robbery 

September 2020 has been framed as the time that we all get to experience that ‘back to school’ feeling, returning to our pre-pandemic timetables and wardrobes. As newspapers, fly posters and the Government urge us back to office routines, town-centres and regular commutes, current evidence suggests that many of us - businesses and employees alike - aren’t quite there yet. The recent Dettol back-to-work posters implodedvia social media, the Government is backtracking on its re-opening campaign (though not its ending of the furlough scheme) and London Transport is reporting a mere 8% rise in commuters at the start of the month. For the Learning and Development sector, we are facing new challenges of our own: how best to reach - and train - this still-fractured workforce. Plus, after our collective time in lockdown created a surge in the uptake of free online courses and learning opportunities - what can we do to foster a return to quality, qualitative fee-based training?

The pandemic has seen everyone from the lead dancer at the Royal Ballet to the National Theatre deliver advice and training for free. This generous response is quite right for publicly-funded organisations but it can be anxiety inducing for those freelancers and artists that rely on this sort of teaching to earn money. How can we ensure our best intentions don’t undermine our sector’s ecology, especially at this economically perilous time?

The Principles of Persuasion are... Persuasive

We shouldn’t think of providing things for free as necessarily bad - or the end of the transaction. The marketeer Robert Cialdini cites this as one of the first Rules of Persuasion: human beings are wired to return favours and pay back debts, because most of us prefer to treat others as they've treated us. The idea of reciprocity states that people, by nature, feel obliged to provide discounts or concessions to others if they've received favours from those same people.

However, the other side of the coin is that if we give away too much for free then people won’t value these gifts, so we need to hold our nerve on this. Covid or not, people will pay for high-quality training that serves their needs and we need to stick to our guns on why people should value us.

When it Comes to the New Normal - Learning is a Two-Way Street

Being generous in our response and sharing our knowledge feels right - and it can also have upsides beyond the ‘feel good’ halo of doing our bit. Being a business that supports the charity sector, Cause4 has recently developed an initial layer of fee-free advice and training, delivering hundreds of free Power Hours to support leaders thinking through their fundraising needs. But once that support is through, any more intensive work moves into our Social Enterprise paid model. While we’re pleased to offer the initial pro bono support, it’s not straight altruism. It also helps us as we have heard straight from charity leaders exactly what their concerns are, enabling us to adapt our programmes and activities quickly. For example, recent Power Hours led to us building a new Reboot training programme for fundraisers facing furlough or redundancy.

Flexible Caution Means Meeting People Where They Are in the Current Moment

At this time, it’s all about confidence. Some people are already comfortable face to face in training, others will be much more cautious. For us, the key to delivering value is to do both. All of our training from 2021 will be simultaneously in person and online. This mixed model will require a lot from our trainers - they are being asked to pivot to new working methods and new disciplines at speed - but I believe it’s this flexible caution that is so essential.

We don’t know how long this liminal situation will continue - or what working practices will return, accelerate or fall away. It’s entirely possible that 2020, whilst challenging in the short-to-medium term, is forcing a re-framing of cultural values around work that could create a new era of positive growth and diversification for the L&D sector. Not all of those empty seats on the train are people furloughed or working from home. The workforce at large is going through the same rapid change, with many of us seeking or forced into rapid career changes. Our sector needs a robust funding model to meet these new challenges. Trainer - train thyself.

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