There’s more to career development than a one-day training course, says Mace’s human resources director.

Three-quarters of employees CONSIDER training to be as important as salary, health insurance and a shorter working week, according to a survey by training firm KnowledgePool. The reason for this is that 90% of employees see it as the best way to improve their career prospects. And they increasingly want to take the lead in planning their own development. But training courses are not necessarily the ideal way.

So what’s wrong with training courses?

Nothing as such – but how often have you found it difficult to apply what you have learned back at work? Also, busy schedules and the expense can make courses a problem.

What’s the alternative?

Good training programmes should enable you to learn. The term “training” implies that it is something that is done to you, like training a dog, whereas you are in control of learning. It is no good complaining that your employer does not offer the kind of training you want – you need to take control of your own learning.

Don’t I have to go on a course to learn?

No, there are plenty of other options, many of which may work better for you. Most of us will remember from our school and college days that long hours spent in the classroom do not necessarily mean that we are learning. I can remember some really good training courses, but I’m not sure that I remember or applied what I was supposed to learn from them – and I used to make a living delivering them.

What are the other options?

Mentoring Find a mentor in your own or another organisation whom you can discuss issues with. Watch what they do and how they do it. You might even want to volunteer to mentor someone yourself. You might be surprised how it helps you to learn.

As with school, long hours spent in the classroom do not necessarily mean that we are learning

Computer-based learning There are plenty of resources and good training sites on the Internet.

Work placements Many employers offer these as a way of gaining specialist expertise. It is a good way to widen your experience and can be very impressive on the CV.

Reading There are many excellent books, journals and trade magazines that we can all learn a lot from, not to mention plenty of commuter hours to be filled reading them.

Volunteer Many firms offer employees opportunities to get involved in work outside their own field. We are all busy people, but surely we should be able to find a bit of extra time for our development and future career. What about volunteering to do some research for a new project that your organisation is getting involved in?

There are also many opportunities to help out in your local community. The Education Business Partnership of your local authority is a useful starting point. Corporate citizenship, intended to promote companies’ involvement in their community, is a government favourite at the moment, and your local authority will be pleased to tell you how you can get involved.

Best practice visits Identify other organisations that you think you can learn from. Arrange to visit them either through an organised programme, such as Inside UK Enterprise, or fix it up yourself. Most organisations will spare the time to talk about their favourite subject. The Construction Best Practice Programme is a good starting point in our industry.

Self-managed learning Find a small group of colleagues who also want to learn and set up a support group. The subject matter does not have to be the same, as these are basically motivational groups for when times get hard.

So, how do I get started?