Are you trapped in the training Catch-22: no capacity = no capability?

Here are the results of an informal survey I conducted over July-August 2023 to find out why we’re not training our staff.

Why did I conduct this survey?

My SkillOmeter went down a treat at a series of conferences in 2022, revealing the stages of pain we’re experiencing in the ongoing environmental skills shortage. Several people approached me about how I
could support their in-house professional training – but within six months a clear pattern had emerged:

  • everyone started out highly motivated by a series of light-bulb moments;
  • everyone was 100% clear about what they wanted to do and how to do it;
  • everyone was very clear that the best business value would be having their own staff develop and deliver their own in-house training – and
  • no-one had the capacity to do it.

Yes – it was a perfect Catch-22; a paradoxical situation from which there is no escape because of contradictory rules or limitations. The environmental training Catch-22 sees organisations trapped by the tensions between capacity and capability, spiralling into an endless do-nothing loop.

Do barriers leap into your path to stymie your in-house training? What are they? And how can we break out of this Catch-22?

Read on for a summary of the answers provided by the eight over-busy but generous environmental consultants who responded to the survey – many thanks to you all! Or just click here to download the full results! RESPONSES Environmental training Catch 22

What they said – in brief

Most of the respondents were feeling stretched to deliver on the emerging outcomes the government wants from the environmental professions and experiencing a ack of several of the core competencies required. Others noted that appropriate training is not always available, but there’s also no time or budget for training staff. Several had tried to set up in house training but had not been able to pull it off due to the pressure of work. Initiatives that had worked were narrow and specific in their focus but were core to the organisation’s business.

Things that did not work well for in-house training included lack of capacity of expert staff to develop and deliver training because of their other responsibilities, making it very difficult to find the balance of needing to train staff but also needing to deliver chargeable work. High staff turnover was also an issue. In-house training needed clear direction and budget from senior management to make training a priority. Options included making use of in-house or external expert support; employing a learning and development staffer; or redeploying an existing expert staff member into a dedicated environmental training role.

Several respondents commented that some good courses are available (though not always within New Zealand) but they don’t necessarily fit together and not all of the content is relevant. However some professional associations are delivering a good training that is relevant to the industry.

Another respondent noted that it’s difficult to proceed with training while the value case is not sufficiently well defined to justify the excess time and monetary costs initially involved in developing it.

One respondent noted that ‘a period of pain’ is the only way to break out of this, while also observing that people are already working too hard.

One respondent noted that a budget for industry training from central government would be important, while another suggested that it’s very important to resurrect the industry training initiatives led by councils in the past, such as the widely subscribed erosion and sediment control training.

Interestingly, none of the respondents indicated that developing their own in-house training would subsequently generate an income stream for the business from delivering external training to other agencies. The motives for wanting to roll out in-house training at this time were, in order of priority, to:

  • comply with new legislative requirements;
  • attract and retain good staff;
  • seize the opportunity to lead change;
  • lift productivity by reducing the volume of rework review and supervision; and
  • successfully bid for more interesting important or remunerative work.

It is worrying that while respondents wanted to train their staff so as to help them support clients to comply with legislative requirements, pressure of work meant they were largely unable to do so.

The good news?

Firstly, respondents are well aware of the Capability/Capacity Catch-22 we’re in, and are valiantly doing their best to break out of it, offering some excellent suggestions as to how we can do this.

Secondly, this is now a core focus of my work. Here I gratefully acknowledge the support of ConCOVE (the Construction and Infrastructure Centre of Vocational Excellence) and four sterling industry associations; Carbon & Energy Professionals, Civil Contractors New Zealand and Water New Zealand. Watch this space!

Download the full results!

RESPONSES Environmental training Catch 22