What did Prince Philip ever do for training?
If you were asked to identify training visionaries over the last 50 years, the 90-year-old consort to the Queen might not necessarily be the first person that comes to mind.
Yet, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, now 52 years old and with 275,000 participants at any one time, bear many of the attributes that are considered vital to today’s training. And perhaps, most surprisingly of all, the principles on which they are based have hardly changed at all over the last half a century.
So what are these principles? As many of you who underwent the programme will remember, there are four main components to the awards that were set up, in Prince Philip’s words, to address what were considered “the decline of compassion, the decline of skills, the decline of physical fitness and the decline of initiative”. These are:
• the idea of giving something back to society through volunteering
• the focus on improving one’s skills in either a professional or social environment
• the execution of a challenging expedition in the UK or overseas
• physical improvement in an area of sport, dance or other fitness activity.
And while well-known businessmen, such as former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy, may decry the quality of school leavers, there’s no doubt that a Duke of Edinburgh Award still holds considerable sway for new employers.
So what influence does the awards’ unique approach have on training today? What can we learn from them? And what are the similarities with today’s approaches to training?
The concept of learning outside a more formal environment, for example, is integral to the awards. In the Duke’s own words, the awards serve as a “complement to the formal education… a system that works well for some” but leaves others “to blunder through life with the bare minimum of support or preparation”.
While I’d hope not too many employees “blunder” through their traditional training courses, this approach fits in with the focus towards more informal and diverse forms of training in L&D today within a structured context.
Just as the awards provide a broad structure for activities (bronze, silver and gold, activities over a minimum period of time, and designated volunteers and trainers) while leaving much to the young person’s initiative, so L&D today is trying to strike that balance between informal training and the more traditional environment.
As companies start to shift their focus away from company-driven, formal learning programmes, to help foster the natural flow of learning across the organisation through social and informal learning environments, you could do a lot worse than look at the balance the Duke of Edinburgh Awards have struck.
From learning a foreign language to astronomy, bee keeping, working in the developing world or climbing Ben Nevis, participants can literally do anything that they think would benefit them within the broad parameters of the awards scheme. In this way, it allows learners to decide what is most appropriate for them and also delivers a powerful incentive to meet these established goals.
Transfer this to L&D and with the current new generation entering the workforce typically positive and confident, used to working in teams, wanting to see where their career is going and always looking for their next challenge, there is much again that we can learn.
Another important part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards is the thousands of leaders and volunteers who inspire the young people hoping to attain them. In fact, from broad-based leadership training and helping the elderly to navigation, mountain biking and first aid, there are few better examples of decentralised, varied and high quality training of trainers than the awards.
The Duke of Edinburgh Awards are, of course, just one example of the outstanding volunteer-driven training of young people taking place in the UK today, with Girl Guiding UK (formerly the Girl Guides Association) and the Scouts Association two other such examples.
And all these organisations have some of the fundamental goals of L&D at their heart – helping people develop self-awareness, self-respect and self-confidence, giving them a sense of pride in their achievements, and encouraging people to think for themselves and make their own decisions.
So, as we raise a toast to Prince Philip on the recent occasion of his 90th birthday, let’s also raise a glass for his contribution to modern-day training and L&D.