Special Report 38 - Training and Development in the Civil Service

Published on 29 December 2000


While the role and ethos of the civil service has remained intact since the foundation of the State, the environment within which it operates has changed fundamentally as a result of economic growth, national and international political developments and global scientific and technological advances. These have led to new Government policies in social, political and economic matters. The effectiveness with which the new policies are implemented is largely dependent on the quality of civil service administration and the ability of its staff to operate effectively in the changed environment.

The demand for high calibre staff in the civil service has coincided with growing problems in their retention and recruitment, especially those with technical and professional expertise and those with specific experience. International studies suggest that job satisfaction and opportunities for personal development are important factors in countering this problem. These factors and recent developments in the area of staff performance management have increased the importance of training and development in the overall context of human resource management in the civil service.

The growing importance of training and development is reflected in the growth in expenditure in this area in recent years, amounting to £16.5 million in 1999. The recent increase in target expenditure to 4% of payroll indicates that spending on training and development is set to accelerate further in the coming years.

The examination set out to review training and development activity across the civil service with a view to assessing how it could be improved in terms of its organisation, management and overall effectiveness.

Administrative Framework

Departments are responsible for meeting the training needs of their staff while the Department of Finance provides corporate support across the civil service for management training and development.

A policy statement dedicated to training and development in the civil service as a whole does not exist. There are different approaches to policies and planning at departmental level. While most have articulated strategies on training and development, many do not have training policies, plans and review procedures. Training needs analysis is limited and this, in turn, affects the quality of planning and the effectiveness of training provided. A detailed and considered statement of policy on civil service training and development as a whole is desirable as it would provide a standard framework for the production of local policies and plans.

A survey of departments indicated that most are satisfied with the level of corporate support they receive for specific civil service policy initiatives, but there are contrasting views on the service provided in regard to the dissemination of training and development best practice. The training function in many departments is headed by staff at middle management level. The distance from the top increases the risk that training will not receive adequate management attention. This problem can be addressed by ensuring that training and development is regularly on the agenda of top management meetings.

Training and Development Resources

There are considerable differences between civil service departments in the amount of resources allocated to training and development and in the way these resources are managed. Departments have different operating requirements and their disparate approaches to training and development reflect the varying needs to be addressed.

Departments tend not to review the performance of trainers, whether they be civil servants or contracted in from the private sector. Although there are some opportunities to achieve economies through co-operation and sharing facilities between departments, in practice, potential savings were generally not realised.

The target expenditure for training and development by departments has recently been raised even though the average actual expenditure in 1999 was some way short of the original target, indicating that departments have difficulty, at present, in absorbing more resources. These findings suggest the need for better planning and management of training and development resources, a need which is likely to become more pressing with the advent of performance management and the subsequent increase in demand for training and development.

Training Provided

Informal or on-the-job training is an important source of training and development and is used widely across the civil service. However, it is treated as part of normal working hours and is not recorded separately. The introduction of performance management is likely to lead to the formal recognition of this type of training.

The average number of formal training days received each year by civil servants compares well to that received in the private sector. However, considerable differences exist between departments in the average number of training days received by staff and, in general, there is less training and development provided to civil servants in the highest and lowest grades.

By far the largest proportion of civil service training and development is in the technical area. Training and development dealing with roles, attitudes and behaviours is consistently less in evidence, suggesting an absence of appreciation, at corporate and departmental level, of the value of this type of training as a means of improving performance.

The delivery of foreign language training in the civil service has recently been rationalised. The reasons for a drop-out rate of 50% on foreign language courses need to be established.

Top Management Training

Given their importance to the organisation, private sector companies devote considerable energy to the training and development of top managers and their successors. However, the civil service largely relies on networks, seminars and conferences for top management training and development and lacks a specific programme in this area. A separate development programme which takes account of the particular requirements and circumstances of top managers should be developed, implemented and evaluated.

Management Information Systems

Many departments were unable to respond fully to the data requirements of the examination, indicating weaknesses in their management information systems. This had the effect of restricting the scope of the examination's data analysis. However, new information systems are currently being introduced across departments and are expected to deal with this problem.

The expenditure target of 4% of payroll is used as the sole indicator of and mechanism for calculating the investment by departments in training and development. There is a need to develop more effective performance indicators and to develop a better model for calculating the level of investment by departments in training and development.


Expert analysis at an international level suggests that much investment in training and development is wasted as programmes do not succeed in delivering the expected outcomes. The evaluation systems used by the civil service at present are limited in their effectiveness. Although the importance of evaluation needs to be balanced against the cost involved, the civil service needs to establish proper evaluation systems if it is to be effective in assessing whether its training and development programmes are meeting the objectives set for them.

Performance Management and Development System

The most significant recent change in the civil service has been the introduction of the Performance Management & Development System (PMDS). Focused on improving skills and performance, the new system will change the way civil servants are managed and is expected to have important implications for training and development.

The Department of Finance expects that the shortcomings identified in this report will be addressed with the introduction of the PMDS. International experience suggests that, notwithstanding a new approach to training and development, existing weaknesses will persist unless regular review takes place.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The civil service needs to continue its move from a mindset of seeing training and development as a cost to one of seeing it as an investment. The PMDS is expected to deliver much of this change. It should be underpinned by the following.

A central policy on civil service training and development should be formulated to provide overall direction and guidance.

Reliable management information systems should be designed to enable training and development to be monitored and evaluated at departmental level and across the civil service as a whole.

Needs analysis should be introduced which is focused on what training and development will provide the outcome needed to support objectives.

The specific needs of top managers should be identified and training and development programmes designed which are appropriate and of value to these managers.

More consistent support for the training and development function needs to be articulated by senior managers and their action to implement this support should be subject to independent scrutiny.

Departments should introduce comprehensive evaluation systems based on measuring the effectiveness of training in terms of business outputs and outcomes.

Benchmarking and systems for independent accreditation should be used to verify performance.