This mixed method appraisal reviewed the functioning of the Right to Request Time to Train, as of March 2015. The Right to Request Time to Train policy, which became effective in 2010, gives employees of large businesses (250+ employees) the right to submit formal requests to their employers for time off for study or training relevant to their performance in the workplace. Employers are required to give due consideration to such requests and to respond in writing within certain time limits (currently 28 days), and can refuse requests for a number of recognised business reasons.
This research seeks to provide evidence to inform the Government’s decision making about the future of the Right to Request Time to Train, notably the decision as to whether to extend the Right to employees of small and medium-sized businesses (with fewer than 250 employees). The research was based on: qualitative interviews with employers, Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) and employees; qualitative interviews with stakeholder organisations; secondary analysis of data from the 2012 and 2014 waves of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ Employer Perspectives Survey and a review of findings of the Unionlearn survey of Union Learning Representatives conducted in 2013. The research investigated understanding, take-up, and effect (as perceived by employers, employees and union representatives) of the Right to Request Time to Train (‘the Right’) amongst eligible employers and employees, and perceptions of the potential effect of the Right on small and medium sized enterprises.
Regarding awareness of the Right, five years after the legislation came into effect, the appraisal found that:
- Among large employers, there are considerable differences in levels of awareness of the Right to Request Time to Train, according to size, sector of operation, and general skills and training cultures within the organisation. Employer Perspectives Survey data suggests around half of large employers have an awareness of the Right. Employers appear to be becoming less aware of the Right as time progresses. The qualitative interviews, however, suggested that accuracy of employers’ understanding about the actual purpose of the Right may vary quite heavily between organisations, and that levels of organisational memory about the Right may be quite limited even in those organisations who had reported being aware.
- Organisations with organisational cultures supportive of employee learning tend to have a good level of awareness about the Right – often receiving information through established HR – and legislative-scanning channels.
- Union officials tend to have a good level of awareness of the Right, and in organisations lacking entrenched learning cultures are often responsible for bringing the Right to both employees’ and line-managers’ attentions. However, unions and other national stakeholders do not now appear to be actively promoting usage of the Right as a policy priority.
- Even within organisations with good institutional awareness of the Right, awareness at the employee and line management levels appears patchy.
Regarding take-up of the Right, how requests are processed, and how the Right has been used to access training:
- Formal take-up of the Right amongst employees appears to have been low.
- Among employers with entrenched supportive learning cultures and/or good bilateral relationships with employees, the Right is often viewed as superfluous: many large employers’ existing processes – such as voluntary training review systems or training and funding agreements – already deliver access to training beyond the Right’s purview.
- In both organisations with strong commitment to provision of training and those lacking such a commitment, low levels of employee awareness, and staff unwillingness to take unpaid time to train, have also limited take-up. This suggests that the Right has not facilitated significant additional training in organisations lacking a commitment to training staff. When the Right has formally been evoked, it has often only been done so when informal negotiation channels have been exhausted.
- When employees have made formal requests citing the Right, there is often a perception that employers’ grounds for refusal are so broad that, in practice, decisions are dependent on individual line-managers’ attitudes. Such a perception has reportedly discouraged employees within organisations lacking entrenched supportive learning cultures to even consider making a request citing the Right.
Regarding the effect of the Right (as perceived by employers, employees and union representatives):
- The Right is not perceived to have had a very tangible effect on employers’ investment in training. Furthermore, the Right does not appear to have had a sizeable, direct effect on employees’ access to training, nor on reducing skills gaps within employing organisations.
However, the Right’s guidance has meant that line-managers, HR staff, and other training gatekeepers may have been required to take a more consistent approach to training requests within some organisations.
- Employers and employee representatives also believe that, in some cases, the Right has increased awareness of the positive effect of training on business performance, retention, and other desired outcomes, among employers and employees alike.
- Some employers that previously lacked formal mechanisms to handle training requests have also been prompted to consider what normal operating procedures they should put in place for such eventualities.
The Right has elicited greater bilateral dialogue and cooperation within some employers, and caused some employers to enter into more extended dialogues with staff about their training needs. Furthermore, some employees have reportedly become more confident in discussing their training needs with their employer as a result of the Right.
- Negative effects of the Right – on administrative burdens, costs for facilitating training, etc. – are perceived to have been minimal; most employers spoken to saw the Right as a light-touch and unobtrusive piece of legislation. Employees and employee representatives tended to share this view, but found the lightness of this touch to be excessive: limiting the Right’s ability to lever positive training outcomes for employees and employers alike.
Regarding the potential effect (as perceived by employers, employees and union representatives) of the Right if this was to be extended to cover small and medium sized enterprises (<250 employees):
- The appraisal asked a number of small and medium sized enterprises operating in a variety of sectors about what they thought the effect of the Right could be on their organisations, if the Right was to be extended. Large employers and stakeholders were also asked to hypothesise what effects, if any, the Right may have on small and medium sized enterprises if this was to be extended.
- Several large employers hypothesised that small and medium sized enterprises which lacked dedicated HR functions might have to dedicate extra time resources to become familiar and understand the regulations, and may bear disproportionate costs when processing requests. Consulted small employers agreed that the set-up costs to establish processes to deal with requests could be perceived as an obstacle for very small organisations. However, many small and medium sized organisations already had processes in place to provide training to staff, and expected that these obstacles could be overcome by providing appropriate support and guidance to firms that needed it. Overall, the majority of consulted small and medium sized employers did not expect that take-up of the Right, and resultant costs in facilitating training, would be disproportionately high for their organisations.
- The small and medium-sized employers consulted acknowledged that in principle, the Right might have a positive effect on engagement with training issues on the part of both staff and management in SMEs, resulting in higher staff motivation, engagement and retention, increased productivity, reduced skills gaps or shortages and greater potential innovation capacity. However, like larger employers with established positive training cultures, many SME employers felt that the Right would not have an immediate effect on their activities and organisational culture, since provision of training was already entrenched in their organisations. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that an expansion of the statutory right would not be sufficient in its own right to create a far-reaching shift in employers’ attitudes towards investment in training, as this is determined by a combination of several structural factors such as sector of operation, resource constraints and lack of funding.ConclusionsOverall, the combined findings from the 2012 and 2014 Employers Perspective Survey and from the qualitative interviews suggest that the levels of awareness and understanding of the regulations amongst employers vary quite heavily depending on size, sector of operation and general skills and training culture within the organisation. Around half of large establishments responding to the Employer Perspectives Survey were not aware of the Right, and even amongst those who reported being aware, understanding of the actual precise requirements and content of the regulations appeared to be, in many cases, patchy. The large employers that the appraisal was able to consult for interviews tended to be, on average, fairly aware and have a good level of understanding of what the Right to Request Time to Train regulations entail, but these findings are likely to not be representative of the wider population of large employers.
From the side of employees, the appraisal found that awareness was also patchy. The promotional activities of unions appeared to have been crucial in raising employees’ awareness of the Right to Request Time to Train, as in many cases it was union representatives rather than employers that disseminated information about the Right within organisations. Levels of awareness of the regulations amongst employees seem to vary quite heavily depending on sector, job role and, crucially, levels of unionisation within organisations – suggesting that there was still considerable ground to cover to increase overall levels of awareness of the existence of the Right amongst the workforce.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Appraisal of the Right to Request Time to Train regulations