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Learning and Development at Choc Co.

Choc Co. is one of the world's largest confectionery businesses with significant market share in many of the world's biggest confectionery markets, including many emerging markets. It has a long and proud tradition, stretching back more than 150 years, including a long history of developing its employees, which has remained part of its ethos during its progress to becoming a global company.

Despite very positive sales figures over the last 12months, Choc Co. has prioritised streamlining the business to make it more competitive and has placed a strong emphasis on reducing cost over the next 18 months. Despite being keen to preserve its longstanding reputation as a firm that is committed to developing all its employees, in respect of learning and development, this 'streamlining' activity has focused on:

  • ensuring a clear return on investment in training activities
  • changing the way that learning programmes are delivered and being more creative in developing approaches to learning
  • connecting training activities to the strategic needs of the firm.

The most important driver of the assessment of its training provision at Choc Co. is change. Whilst performing well in the marketplace, senior management continue to express discontent with levels of productivity and employee performance. Moreover, senior management has determined that the company needs to become more flexible and adaptable to respond to change in its market context, for example by an ability to adapt organisational structures to meet new business needs or through the introduction of technological innovation. However, as a traditionally minded employer, and with low levels of employee turnover at shopfloor level, Choc co. appears to have instilled in its workers a mindset of stability and steady progress, which is at odds with competition in a rapidly changing global economy. Therefore, Choc Co. wants to move towards a system of continuous improvement by creating a culture whereby workers are empowered to implement small incremental changes, rather than have substantial change imposed on them from time to time.

Identifying training needs

Traditionally, training needs analysis at Choc Co. has been 'gap-led'. In other words, training tends to be focused where Choc Co. identifies a gap in capability - for example, where the introduction of new technology requires worker skill to be updated, company policy is changed or a key worker leaves the firm, requiring training to be provided to their replacement. Typically this gap-led identification of need is conducted at a local level, with little reference made to the wider national or international workforce.

Whilst workers can put themselves forward for training courses, including those provided by local education providers, there is no formal channel for doing this and access to such training often comes down to personal relationships and the constraints imposed by departmental budgets. The culture at Choc Co. is very much one in which training needs are typically identified for workers rather than by workers.

Delivery of training

Currently, the company runs a number of large training events each year designed to update manufacturing staff on everything from health and safety changes, business strategy and company performance to the adoption of new production technology. This is sometimes coupled with skills training for these workers as and when appropriate. This has traditionally been done at the specialist training centre at their largest production facility, which doubles as the company's headquarters. This practice partly stems from a time when the company only operated two production facilities in the country. It now operates across six geographically dispersed locations. Workers tend to view these training events as a bit of a waste of time, particularly when they are delivered by consultants with little real understanding of working processes at Choc Co. It is not unknown for workers to claim that the training they receive is outdated and tells them nothing that they don't already know.

The head of training and development, responding to a call to cut costs from the HR director, is now of the opinion, however, that such long training programmes, often of up to three or four days, are no longer the most cost-effective and efficient means by which to develop the staff. Such training has the dual problem of requiring regular investment and repeat sessions to cover workers on different shifts or at different plants, as well as leading to undesirable downtime of certain aspects of production. In particular, the head of L&D is keen to reduce a reliance on external training providers to design and deliver interventions to different workforce groups, from senior management to shopfloor workers.

Moreover, the company has historically not evaluated the impact of these events. In the new era of cost-cutting and added value, however, the company is keen to ensure that the impact of all training interventions, however big or small, is measured.

Employee development programmes

A major investment in L&D at Choc Co. is in its manufacturing apprenticeship scheme and graduate development programme, both of which are widely viewed as models of good practice in the industry and beyond. These programmes are, however, under significant scrutiny by senior management to better understand the extent to which this investment provides value to the firm. One particular area under review is the turnover of employees who complete these programmes and then leave to work at other firms.

Ray Barbie, the head of learning and development at Choc Co. recently attended a seminar at a local university on 'the changing nature of workplace HRD'. He was slightly alarmed to find out that much of the company's practice was seen as outdated. In particular, he was interested in examining how some more contemporary approaches and techniques in HRD could help the company both reduce costs and better performance through continuous improvement.

Questions

  1. What changes would you recommend that Choc Co. make to their current learning and development provision in order to reduce costs and improve performance?
  2. Discuss how e-learning, competency frameworks and improved knowledge-sharing at Choc Co. might help to cut costs and make the HRD activity at Choc Co. more strategic.
  3. How might the firm seek to ensure a return on investment for its learning and development activity?

-This is the case study and the queation im going to answer

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