Man of the people

As head of Investors in People, which administers a standard for assessing the quality of training, Tim Melville-Ross is leading a campaign to raise the skill level of the UK’s workforce, reports Helen Beasley

Industry is constantly being reminded of the importance of training, the never-ending need to improve the skills of its workforce. By 2002, the Department of Education and Employment wants 70% of companies with over 200 employees to become recognised as Investors in People – a standard designed to give companies an objective framework to measure the effectiveness of their training against. And by the same year, the aim is for 45% of all businesses employing over 50 people to have achieved the standard.

The man responsible for meeting these targets is Tim Melville-Ross, newly appointed chairman of Investors in People (IIP). He is aware of the scale of the challenge before him: `There are about 36,000 organisations involved in Investors in People, covering about a third of the UK workforce. But obviously we’ve still got a lot further to go.’

Melville-Ross has considerable experience in this field. He introduced the standard at two organisations he led: the Nationwide Building Society and the Institute of Directors, where, until recently, he was director-general. `Nationwide was one of the earlier organisations to become an investor,’ he says. `I’ve done that job so I know what other organisations are going through.’

Investors in People was established in 1993 to develop and promote the IIP national standard. It works in partnership with Training and Enterprise Councils in England and Wales and Local Enterprise Companies in Scotland.

`Investors in People ensures that standards within the organisation are sharpened, and I’m talking about standards at every level, in every activity,’ says Melville-Ross. `This is done by identifying best practice in a particular industry, and then asking to what extent are we falling short of that best practice, what do we need to do to train people to deliver to those high standards?’

Melville-Ross says improved productivity follows naturally from training staff to meet the company’s specific needs, and involving them in the way it is run. To be accredited as an investor, organisations need to be clear about what their strategy is, and spell this vision out to their employees.

`Then you need to look at who you have to help deliver your strategy, what you are going to ask each one of those people to do, and whether they are clear about the direction, instructions and encouragement you’re giving them. If they’re not, then that clearly identifies a training need. Having worked out what you need people to do, you have to put that together into a training plan.

He admits that this is not always as straightforward as it may sound. `Achievement of the Investors in People standard is an exacting process demanding total commitment from the very top of the organisation. This is just as it should be if the process is to produce significant business benefits,’ he says.

At the same time he recognises the need to make the standard more accessible to all types of organisations. Current priorities include developing a new version of the standard expressed in clearer language: `This is something we know will increase its appeal, especially to small businesses.’

Another factor which has made small firms wary of joining is the scheme’s perceived bureaucracy. Melville-Ross has made it a priority to simplify the procedure for joining. To reduce the financial and bureaucratic burden on firms, organisations will no longer have to submit portfolios detailing their training provision. Instead, assessors will monitor everyday company events such as meetings. The final recognition process has also been streamlined, so that organisations will receive their award within three weeks of completing the assessment.

Melville-Ross sees the fact that over half of the businesses working with IIP employ less than 50 staff as evidence that the organisation is winning over the small companies.

`I feel strongly that Investors in People is an integral part of making British business more competitive, more efficient and more focused on people, and there’s plenty of research which shows that it does do that,’ he adds.

In a survey carried out for IIP by the Centre for Research in Employment and Technology in Europe, over 70% of the 2,000-plus organisations that have achieved the standard said their productivity had increased, while 75% said customer relations had improved. More than 90% felt their focus on staff development, training and internal communication had improved.

Since joining IIP, British Steel has quadrupled its productivity, while Hotpoint saved £2m per year at its Peterborough factory through teamworking improvements.

So what is next for Melville-Ross and IIP? Quite simply, the world. `We’re having a great deal of success in developing Investors in People overseas. Countries like Germany and Australia are very interested in adopting the same kind of approach.’

Tim Melville-Ross at a glance

Age: 54

Training: Commercial apprenticeship at BP, leading to a business degree.

Current job: chief executive, Investors in People.

Key appointments: Nationwide Building Society 1974-94, rising from company secretary to chief executive; director-general of the Institute of Directors, 1994-99

Interests: Reading, music, bridge, sport and the countryside.