Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Using the Critical Incident Technique to Research Decision Making regarding Access to Training and Development in Medium-Sized Enterprises

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Using the Critical Incident Technique to Research Decision Making regarding Access to Training and Development in Medium-Sized Enterprises

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Australia represented 99.7% of actively trading businesses as at June 2009 (Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, 2011). These SMEs make a substantial contribution to the national economy and employment. For example, in 2009-10 SMEs contributed around 58% of industry value-added and provided employment for around 70% of total industry employment (Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, 2011). Accordingly, the economic performance of the SME sector has a significant impact on national economic wealth and the quality of life of many Australians and their families. Given the economic significance of SMEs in Australia and other countries (Storey & Greene, 2010), development of these enterprises has a crucial role in new employment creation and sustained economic growth. This includes development of the large knowledge and skills base vested in these enterprises through formal and informal learning processes (Kitching & Blackburn, 2002).

Since the emergence of human capital theory (Becker, 1964), the idea of investing in human beings as a form of capital has fuelled interest in workplace training and development (T&D) (see, for example, Dobbs, Sun & Roberts, 2008; O'Keefe, Crase & Dollery, 2007). The provision of workforce T&D has the potential to provide benefits to both employers and employees (Becker, 1964; Storey & Greene, 2010). Employee engagement in continuous T&D is widely viewed as important to the survival of organisations and as a potentially significant source of competitive advantage (Garavan, 2007; Tannebaum, 1997). Bartel's (2000) review of several US studies found that employers' annual return on investment in training varied from 7-50%. From the perspective of employees, access to T&D is increasingly important to ensure their employability because of insecurity in employment and proliferation of flexible contracts of employment (Bulcher, Haynes & Baxter, 2009). Furthermore, employees who make use of employer-provided and vocational training can expect their earnings to increase (Blundell, Dearden, Meghir & Sianesi, 1999).

However, SME employees are perceived by some commentators as a 'disadvantaged' group within the workforce (Devins, Johnson, & Sutherland 2004) because studies in several countries have found that smaller businesses are considerably less likely to provide formal T&D for their employees than larger businesses (Johnson, 2002; Kitching & Blackburn, 2002; Kotey & Folker, 2007; Smith & Billett, 2005; Storey, 2004). This discrepancy is attributable to several factors including the greater barriers to formal T&D faced by SMEs compared to their larger counterparts (Devins et al., 2004; Kitching & Blackburn, 2002; Kotey & Folker, 2007). These barriers include the cost of such T&D and the opportunity cost of employees' time when they attend T&D events. Commentators also point out that SME owners/managers are reluctant to invest in external T&D because it usually does not focus on firm-specific problems, priorities and work practices (Gibb, 1997; Johnson, 2002; Kitching & Blackburn, 2002). In Australia, where 99.7% of businesses are SMEs (Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, 2011), statistical evidence on the level of employer training is mixed, with some evidence suggesting that Australia is a poor performer by international standards in the provision of training (Smith & Billett, 2005). In contrast, Smith's (2006) analysis of statistical evidence for the extent of employer training indicates an increasing quality and quantity of training in Australian enterprises that is partly driven by government policies aimed at making nationally recognised training more available to employers and employees.

The manager's role in making human capital investment decisions is unquestionably critical. …

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