“Fifty per cent of the money spent on training is being wasted.” That is the finding of Dr Brent Peterson of Columbia University, comparing the amount we spend on training versus when the learner actually learns. His research also shows learning effectiveness happens one quarter before, one quarter during, and half after the training event. So why are UK supermarkets and suppliers still spending training budgets on one-day workshops?

I have seen this problem throughout my 25 years in UK grocery. Firstly as a category manger for a supermarket, attending training courses and using very little from them afterwards; and now, as I spend my time working with suppliers, helping them to be better category managers, negotiators and time managers.

Training has never been more important to grocery because the competition is ravenous, for retailers and suppliers. The phrase ‘people are your best asset’ is starting to be understood even more, and the training budget is now starting to be looked at as a means of actually contributing to performance.

“If we do not use what we have learnt quickly, it will be lost”

Tesco’s salary bill, for example, is over £3bn per year. Best practice recommends that up to 4% of a company’s salary bill should be matched with training spending. Allowing for such a large organisation as Tesco, at 1.5%, this is a £45m budget across its 170,000 staff. This means each employee could receive about £265 of training each year - potentially one or two courses per year.

According to German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, we forget up to 80% of what we have learnt within 30 days. His research, back in the 1850s, pioneered our understanding of how we remember and forget. His ‘Forgetting Curve’ showed that unless we engage repeatedly in what we have learnt, we forget it within three months, except for maybe a few ‘golden nuggets’.

This is a particular challenge for UK grocery because it is one of the most competitive and fast-paced industries in the world. If we do not use what we have learnt quickly, it will be lost more quickly, as the next new problem or project consumes our minds.

Indeed, understanding Peterson and Ebbinghaus should lead us to recognise that companies could be wasting up to half their training budgets.

This is unless learners engage in pre-learning and post-learning activity. A pre-learning activity would be for the learner to write down why they are going to spend a day training. In UK grocery, this is not a big ask and is the minimum learners and their managers should be asking.

A post-learning activity would be to use one of the pieces of learning in the workplace over and over again, and be able to spend a few minutes chatting it through with their line manager to get feedback.

Therefore, the choices facing fmcg companies are simple. Know that three-quarters of the learning effectiveness happens before and after the training course, ensuring the training plan includes ‘Sticky Learning’; or choose not to train your people and let them be overtaken by more highly trained buyers, store staff and account managers. The decision is yours.

Darren Smith is founder of fmcg training provider MBM