How training on the job is evolving
Published: 01 Apr 2015 By Jonathan Bacon
“When people talk about training, they think they are going to have to go on a course, take down some learnings and that it is all quite formal,” says Stephen Christou, regional marketing manager at technology firm Sabre. “[In reality] it can be as simple as looking online each day at some of the news, opinion pieces and issues that are challenging the industry. With modern communications technology it’s very easy to keep up with new ideas.”
Training on the job is certainly becoming an increasingly prominent feature of marketers’ lives. As technology accelerates the rate of change within the profession, marketers need greater flexibility from their training options and a new approach from employers that helps them to continually top up their skills and expertise. The most recent CIPD/Cornerstone OnDemand survey confirms that on-the-job training and in-house development programmes are the most commonly used kind of training in the UK.
Christou believes that marketers are generally well-served by on-the-job training opportunities, but that these can be difficult to identify without the right guidance from employers. In addition to his role at Sabre, Christou is a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors, a City of London Livery Committee that seeks to impart best practice to marketing professionals by hosting business seminars and by sharing research.
“With some on-the-job training it may not be obviously stated as being for marketing,” he says, “so perhaps it’s the case that someone needs to develop skills in project management or learn a bit more about data.
“If you look at training on the job through that lens, I think businesses do offer a range of skills, but sometimes they’re not marketing-specific skills. It’s about recognising those opportunities if you’re a marketer.”
He argues that alongside on-the-job training, formal qualifications like CIM diplomas remain necessary for keeping marketers grounded in “the fundamental principles of the profession”. This can help to prevent them from becoming preoccupied with the latest media channel when undertaking more informal on-the-job training.
“It’s important to exercise caution about jumping on every new thing and getting yourself so far ahead and heavily invested, because things are changing very quickly,” claims Christou. “It’s always worth remembering the foundation and fundamental principles of marketing because those are classic, timeless and will never change, regardless of what vehicle you use in your marketing communications to get your message out there.”
One of the core concerns of the Worshipful Company of Marketors is to increase the influence of marketers in the boardroom by ensuring they have the necessary commercial skills. Christou believes that in the business-to-business world in which he works, this is already a central tenet of training and personal development for marketers.
“Looking at my senior directors in marketing, if they weren’t able to go shoulder-to-shoulder every day with the finance and commercial teams and be able to talk in that language, they wouldn’t be where they are now,” he says.
“In my experience that commercialism is absolutely there because we wouldn’t survive in the industry in which we work in if it wasn’t.”
The rising importance of financial literacy and commercial acumen for marketers is reflected in the announcement last month that client-agency intermediary Oystercatchers is launching a ‘Marketing in the boardroom masterclass’ for the first time. The course, which is running in July, aims to provide marketers with a range of skills, including the ability to become “a trusted advisor” to senior board members and “to create value through strategy and organisation”.
Roisin Donnelly, brand director for northern Europe at Procter & Gamble, says that a significant proportion of her company’s training is geared towards creating future leaders within the business (see full Q&A here). The majority of the FMCG giant’s training is on the job, with brand mangers required to continually ensure that the people working beneath them have sufficient training.
“Every manager is assessed on how well they build the people, as well as how well they build the brands,” she explains. “That really drives the culture – because you are assessed as a people builder, you put a lot of time, passion and energy into your people.”
Training is particularly important to P&G given that it mostly promotes from within, with external recruitment targeted at junior roles. The company has internal colleges to cater for different job tiers such as assistant brand manager, brand manager and marketing director, as well as an array of online courses and modules to help P&G staff to personalise their learning. Donnelly states that she and several P&G colleagues globally have recently undertaken virtual courses run by Harvard Business Publishing.
In addition, P&G frequently brings in experts from outside the company to give lectures and guidance to staff during working hours. This helps to provide an external perspective and to spark new ideas within the business, Donnelly says. Last month Elle magazine editor-in-chief Lorraine Candy delivered one such presentation to P&G staff. This included speaking about her own approach to leadership and the challenges facing magazines in the beauty business.
“We bring a lot of the outside in,” says Donnelly. “Our Inspires Leadership programme, where we bring external leaders in with fairly different leadership styles, helps our people to learn because to us diversity is very important.”
P&G also regularly calls on its various agency partners to provide on-the-job training to marketers that want to update their skills, particularly with regards to digital technology. “We learn a lot from our media, creative and digital agencies,” Donnelly adds. “There’s a lot of content to make sure that all of our marketers, no matter what the brand, no matter what the level, know how to connect effectively with their consumers using all the media, including digital.”
Anton Dominique, chief marketing officer at the London School of Marketing, agrees that the growth of digital media is changing the way that marketers wish to receive training. He points to the growing prominence of ‘smarter training’, which involves using social media, mobile learning and e-learning to create a “blended” and more flexible learning experience for marketers.
“The problem is that not all companies are ready with the technology,” says Dominique. “The technological curve is very far ahead and not all companies are aligned to use it.”
He also highlights the growing role of MOOCs or ‘massive open online courses’, which aim to facilitate interaction and collaboration between people using an educational resource online. Digital learning firms such as Udemy and Coursera are seeking to lead the way with MOOCs, but Dominique believes that many employers currently lack awareness of the technology and its training possibilities.
“Companies are not willing to invest in these kinds of products,” he suggests. “That’s the biggest hurdle at this point.”
The London School of Marketing provides training for a wide range of brands including Adidas, Barclays and the BBC, often using CIM courses. However Dominique acknowledges that students increasingly want shorter or more flexible courses that home in on a particular specialism. “Five years ago most of our students were class-based but now the vast majority are online and studying on their own time,” he adds.
Dominique points to big disparities across different types of companies, arguing that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are not doing enough to meet their employees’ training needs. Only around 30% of the London School of Marketing’s students come from SMEs, he says, with the rest made up of public sector organisations and major brands.
“We would like to see smaller companies engage more in training because they are the ones who are going to be creating the uses for [new] technology and building up new businesses,” he says. “Unfortunately they don’t recognise their training needs because they are often start-ups. If they did I think the UK economy as a whole would benefit.”