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Learning and Development Practices in USA and UK

Submitted by  on July 5th, 2010

The corporate learning and development landscape has changed radically over the last few years. The latest research by Bersin & Associates draws a picture of how organizations are meeting the dual challenges of rapid market downturns and the imperative to develop outstanding employees. As leading organizations have discovered, developing high-performance people is even more important in times of scarcity. Lose your best people or fail to develop them and you run the risk of being out of business.

In 2009, Bersin & Associates conducted two studies. The United States survey, conducted in August 2009, included 1,400 organizations of all sizes and industry types. The United Kingdom study was similarly varied in respondents and involved 120 organizations.

Notable highlights of the US study include these findings:

  • learning and development spending dropped by 11% compared with 2008, dropping a total of 22% over the two years
  • average spend per employee was $714
  • average employee hours spent in formal training was 12 hours
  • median learning and development staff ratio fell to 6.2 per 1,000 employees (from 7.0 in 2008)
  • instructor-led training (ILT) dropped to 60% of all training hours (from 67% in 2008)
  • Virtual ILT (vILT) rose to 13% of all training hours (from 8% in 2008)
  • percentage spend on leadership development rose to 24%, following a fall in 2008
  • percentage of organizations using blogs and wikis for learning was 14%
  • percentage of organizations using Communities of Practice (CoP) for learning was 24%

In contrast, the UK study revealed the following results:

  • learning and development spending dropped by 4% compared with 2008
  • learning and development staffing cut by 5% compared with 2008
  • average employee hours spent in formal training was 16 hours
  • average learning and development staff ratio was 7.1 per 1,000 employees
  • e-learning and virtual classroom training was 14% of all training hours
  • percentage spend on leadership development was 23%
  • percentage of training budget spent on profession and industry-specific training programs was 27%

The following table compares the US and UK survey results for 2009:

No. of employee hours spent in formal training 12 16
No. of L&D staff per 1,000 employees 6.2 7.1
% L&D budget compared with 2008 -11% -4%
% budget spent on leadership development 24% 23%

In response to the Global Financial Crisis, the United Kingdom market overall appears to have taken a softer approach to training and development compared with that in the United States. In reality, such comparisons are not so simple to draw. US companies may be using their limited funds much more efficiently. Their higher proportionate spend on leadership development may be an indicator of more focused spending on areas of greater need.

The Bersin & Associates report does reveal how organizations in both countries experienced major changes in the way they delivered their learning and development programs in 2009. These new ways of working included the rationalizing of training functions across the organization, more frequent use of online platforms and a greater focus on programs with higher strategic importance. Although companies tightened their belts in 2009, in all they are perhaps now better prepared to meet the challenges ahead.

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