This article was written by Thomas Brown, Head of Insights at The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).
In times of economic uncertainty businesses need to do more with less. Each and every pound spent has to travel further, last longer and offer a greater return on investment. As the recession rumbles on and budgets remain tight, it is essential for businesses to get the most out of their existing assets – including their staff. So why are so many companies still failing to take the time to train?
This very question was highlighted following the most recent wave of the Marketing Confidence Monitor, run by The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and supported by Deloitte, which showed that while marketers across all industries are increasingly aware of the value of skills development, time and budget continue to prohibit training opportunities.
Wave one of CIM’s study, completed in October 2012, encouragingly revealed that more than 80 per cent of marketers believed they would have access to development opportunities with their employer over the following year. However, the most recent results (wave two, conducted Jan/Feb 2013) have revealed a distinct lack of commitment in delivering on this promise. This is in spite of the importance of skills development being widely recognised and supported among both individuals and businesses.
Over two-thirds (68 percent) of marketers cited time, and 55 percent cited budget as a significant barrier to their development, in contrast to only a quarter of marketers regarding support from their organisation and their own prioritisation as the main obstruction. These figures suggest that despite individuals prioritising training and their employers supporting them in their desire for personal development, companies are still failing to invest time and money into essential skills development.
This is a worrying trend given that, as economic uncertainty continues, budgets are set to remain tight and the likelihood of increasing headcounts remains low – with almost two-thirds (63 percent) of companies stating that they are not planning any new marketing hires in the next year. Therefore the need to equip employees with an enhanced set of skills that allow them to deliver on areas previously outside of their job specification such as digital and social media, has never been of greater importance.
As the likelihood of making new appointments remains low, training is the most cost-effective way for companies to utilise their existing employees in order to gain competitive advantage. Those businesses that commit time and budget for personal development among their workforce will ensure long term gains.
It is of course understandable that in the current climate, many companies feel reticent to spend precious budgets or man-hours on training initiatives, instead choosing to focus upon the short-term investments and objectives. However while short-term spending can deliver instantaneous and tangible results, investing in employees lays the foundation for long-term growth. Indeed our findings would suggest that there is an existing understanding of the importance of skills development in growth strategies, however there is a failure to prioritise such initiatives when it comes to making decisions on how to allocate time and budget.
While budget was shown to be a universal barrier to skills development across all levels of the profession, time constraints are most pronounced among senior level marketers (those at director level and above). Indeed, despite senior marketers being shown to receive the highest levels of support for skills development from their organisations, these practitioners admit to lower levels of personal prioritisation than their more junior colleagues by over 20 percentage points. This finding highlights the work that still needs to be done in getting senior practitioners to prioritise their own skills development. Lifelong learning and continuing professional development allows employees at every level of an organisation to reach their potential, ultimately leading to better business performance.
The challenge for HR managers is therefore to harness the growing understanding of the importance of skills development in order to ensure that precious time and money is invested into training. While the HR industry continues to do much to articulate the value of training and professional development, there is now a need to demonstrate the potential return on investment. Training initiatives are an essential business strategy in uncertain economic times when spending and increases in headcount remain low.
As this research into the sentiments of more senior marketing professional’s demonstrates, the focus of HR managers needs to be on ensuring that individuals at every level of the organisation are convinced of the importance of professional development, and the necessity to gain new skills and adapt to new working environments, irrespective of seniority.