Opinion: Time to train is time to gain

I have just had to make my annual continuing professional education (CPE) declaration to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, confirming that I have undertaken a certain number of hours of technical training and/or reading to maintain my membership and my accountancy qualification. 

Virtually all professions are the same – there is a requirement to undertake a minimum level of continuing education to keep up to date. 

See also: Online training at the Farmers Weekly Academies

Farming doesn’t have the same requirement and I wonder if, as a result, training is a lower priority than it should be.

In our business, Jake’s main training and development comprises attending ad hoc events organised by suppliers or trade bodies, and technical/background reading ranging from Farmers Weekly to monthly notes from our farm advisor. He particularly enjoys the former if they include lunch.

The primary spur to undertaking any specific, formal training is regulatory requirement.

So, the peak learning achievement in the Elder household last year was Jake’s level 2 certificate in the safe use of rodenticides, achieved despite apparently falling asleep during the post-lunch session. 

This wouldn’t have been top of his self-development wish list, but he has been prodded in this direction by the retirement of our rodent control operative, Michael the Mole Man, who hung up his traps last summer.

We decided to bring mice termination operations in-house, but you need to have this certificate if you want to buy poison. 

Elizabeth ElderElizabeth Elder and her husband Jake run sheep and cattle on 235ha in Northumberland

I know that some think this is an outrage, but it doesn’t seem to me unreasonable that people should have to understand what they are doing when handling something lethal. 

The certificate sits proudly alongside Jake’s City & Guilds in the transport of animals and the LANTRA chainsaw certificate he has had to get for business purposes in recent years.

However, as self-appointed partner in charge of HR, I can’t help feeling we should be doing more. Most big businesses provide regular training for their staff, ranging from lavish conferences abroad to technical updates in the meeting room.

A friend of a friend used to work in a business where every employee had a personal training budget which they could use for anything within reason, as long as it involved learning something.

He used it to take lessons in riding a motorbike. He was happy because he got a chance to do something he had always wanted to do, and his employer was happy because they got a committed workforce which was always looking to learn new things.

If big businesses find it worthwhile to invest in employee development, you would think it would be even more worthwhile for self-employed people to invest in themselves.

This is particularly important for those working mainly on their own, who really benefit from being exposed to new ideas from outside their normal routine. Indeed, just chatting with other participants can be as interesting and inspiring as any other part of the training experience – hence the importance of the lunch and tea breaks.

I am not expecting Jake to take up electric guitar, or learn new skills in basket weaving, just for the sake of it. However, it would be good to start this year planning to spend a certain number of hours on some sort of development or learning activity. 

It would be even better to think about the sort of activities which would be useful and actively seek them out, rather than just rocking up to whatever happens to turn up.

That’s our modest, but achievable, resolution. Happy new year.

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