The term 'learning organisations' has become widely used in recent years. This is applied to businesses that best adapt and change so that the people within keep in touch with both themselves and the environment in which they operate. Such organisations place great emphasis upon learning and the need to adapt as an ongoing process.
Today, learning organisations take the process of learning to heart. They recognise the need to continuously provide opportunities for their people through training and development.
It is frequently said that 'an organisation's most valuable resource is its workforce - the people who work for it'. An organisation can have the latest technology and the best physical resources, but unless it looks after its people it will never achieve its objectives. Education and training are of benefit to individuals, organisations and the economy.
If businesses are to succeed and the economy is to flourish, organisations that engage in these processes will have a competitive advantage over their rivals. In such businesses, individuals are more likely to find rewarding jobs.
This case study emphasises the importance of training. In doing so it focuses upon the management trainee programme developed by Travis Perkins. This illustrates how its training scheme has been used to build a fast-growing business in a competitive business sector.
Travis Perkins is one of the largest organisations in the building materials distribution business. Its principal activities are the marketing and distribution of timber, building and plumbing materials to the building trade and to industry generally in the United Kingdom.
Within the last ten years the company has expanded more than any other merchant. In order to maintain this growth, the business aims to recruit quality trainees to ensure that the business is well directed and managed.
The management trainee programme developed within Travis Perkins is designed to train individuals for the first step on the management ladder. Then, depending on the abilities and ambitions of each trainee, opportunities exist for them to move forward to become senior managers and even directors of the business.
The purpose of recruitment is to buy in and keep the best available human resources to meet the organisation's needs. From the outset, therefore, it is important to be clear about:
- what a job entails
- the qualities required to do the job
- the incentives and processes of training and development that would attract and then motivate the right kind of employee.
Travis Perkins requires applicants who preferably have two 'A' levels but will consider candidates who have four GCSEs grade A-C, as long as these include Mathematics and English. They also require applicants to be 18 years old and hold a full driving licence.
The company has developed a job description, which sets out how a management trainee would fit into and develop through the organisation. The job description identifies the purpose of a management trainee: 'To follow the structured company management trainee programme in order to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for career progression to management'.
As well as having this key purpose the job description refers to fifteen specific responsibilities, four of which include:
- to complete each component of the management trainee programme and in doing so, learn about the purpose and operation of that area of the company business
- to learn about the customers, and through selling skills and customer care training, continually strive to enhance the quality of the service offered
- to learn about the products sold, from whom they are bought and how they are used by customers
- to undertake BMF/MOL Product Study Modules to attain the necessary five passes in order to achieve the City and Guild Certificate in Construction Materials and Distribution, by the time the scheme has been completed.
The job description also reflects the main responsibilities of the management trainee to provide a foundation upon which each can develop a career.
Job advertisements form an important part of the recruitment process. An organisation is able to communicate job vacancies to a selected audience through this means and, in order to encourage the right people to apply, the advertisements need to be clearly targeted at an appropriate audience.
As part of its recruitment programme Travis Perkins advertises externally in the press and student magazines. It also advertises on its web-site, on student job seeker web-sites, in Job Centres and at trade fairs.
When assessing job applicants, it is important to do so against the required criteria for the job. For example, in choosing a teacher of business studies, one would look for a knowledgeable candidate with a good teaching record, the ability to work with others in a team and, of course, the ability to inspire and enthuse students.
The selection process at Travis Perkins assesses candidates against the criteria for the job. The process looks closely at many of the personal characteristics of each candidate such as their enthusiasm, self-management skills and their ability to focus upon objectives and develop a 'hands-on' approach which enables them to get on in a direct and 'down-to-earth' way with customers, most of whom are practical people. This is particularly important as management trainees could be running their own branch in 4-7 years, or even earlier.
If Travis Perkins is to build a better business through its Management Trainee Scheme, the ability of the selection process to identify and select the right people with the right skills is vital.
The management trainee programme
The aim of the scheme is to provide the trainee with a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the operations of a Travis Perkins' branch over a period of two years. At the end of the two years the trainee's performance will be considered by the Company Management, who will then place the trainee in their first permanent position with ongoing personal development. The job offered will depend upon the performance of the trainee on the scheme as well as the vacancies available within the company at that time.
The Branch Manager briefs staff to inform them why the trainee is working within a branch. A member of staff is made responsible for the trainee, who will act as a coach or mentor as they progress through the programme.
Upon joining each new branch the trainee is interviewed by the Branch Manager and they discuss:
- what the trainee has covered to date, so that their experience can be evaluated
- which training programme the trainee will be working to at the branch. Each area of the management training scheme has its own written programme
- what can be done to help the trainee to use the programme to their best advantage
- the responsibilities they will be given at the branch, as well as computer access
- Health and Safety procedures, First Aid and Fire Drill who the trainee will report to
- how their progress at the branch will be monitored through regular meetings with the Branch Manager.
As well as being provided with the opportunity to take a range of externally assessed qualifications through off the job training, management trainees always undertake extensive on-the-job training activities. This involves them keeping a file and meeting a series of competence targets, which are then assessed within the workplace.
For example, it is essential for anybody working within a retail environment to have a good knowledge of products and how other people on site would use these products. This knowledge will help them to advise customers with regards to specific and key differences between products as well as their safe operation.
A key part of the scheme is self-assessment. It is important for trainees to appreciate what they have learned and to think about how they can apply this learning.
This application is not just within their immediate job role, but also over the long term as they develop opportunities and utilise their potential working for the company. For example, self-assessment questions include:
- List four areas where you feel you have made progress since joining the Company.
- Tell us what tasks you enjoy most.
- What difficulties have you experienced in your job?
- What did you do to help yourself to overcome these difficulties?
- List any areas where you feel confident to work unsupervised.
- Identify any areas that you feel are your strengths.
- Identify any area where you need to improve.
- Tell us how you are settling into your company, including good points and problems.
Self-assessment sets the basis for the company to work with, rather than against, the trainee through the management training scheme.
The following is a profile of an ex-management trainee, now a successful manager:
Mark Newman, 29, manages an annual turnover of £13 million at the Company's National Sales Office in Northampton.
Mark joined Travis Perkins in 1989 as a Management Trainee, after finishing a one-year business studies course at college. On the subject of Sales Mark says:
'Sales Management requires a high level of self motivation with the ability to communicate effectively with staff and customers. You have to know what the customer wants and ensure your staff maximise these opportunities. I believe the demands of our industry make each day at Travis Perkins a new challenge. New products, initiatives and customers ensure that by achieving your goals in a competitive market place, you receive complete job satisfaction that is second to none.'
The Management Trainee Programme enabled Mark to learn a trade whilst continuing in further education. Experience and product knowledge gained, whilst working in various branches enabled him to successfully progress through the company. He found the programme very rewarding as it gave him a great insight into the importance of the staff that make our company a leading name in the industry.
A good management training scheme must be one that sets up a long-term career path for its participants. If such schemes only equip trainees for a job and meet their 'basic needs' in the workplace, the chances are that they will fail.
The Travis Perkins management trainee scheme provides trainees with shared long-term objectives, Travis Perkins is successful, and its trainees know they have the potential and the opportunity to share in that success.