Business Training For Veterinary Professionals
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2008
Patricia Callan, MA, BA
Small Firms Association, Confederation House
Dublin, Ireland


Making training count is the way to influence the future success of your organisation. The health of any organisation depends on the development of its people. In order to do this you must be able to match all training directly to the needs of the organisation and the people in it. Analysing training needs provides a focus and direction for the investment an organisation makes in its people, as well as establishing a method of reviewing and assessing the success of all training /development initiatives. Because training and development is an investment, it is important to treat it as seriously as any other investment in the business. Engaging in CPD in veterinary medicine, whilst important in itself, will not assist you in resolving your 'business' problems or identifying business opportunities, which are similar to the ones faced by every other small business owner-manager. Engaging in specific business-related training also has the key advantage of allowing veterinary clinic owner-managers to network with other like-minded individuals across a range of sectors and to apply their ideas to outclass their competitors.

Management Development is a National Imperative

The OECD estimates that business failure can be reduced by 50% if there is a commitment to management development. In Ireland, specifically, 40% of all new business start-ups fail within the first five years, because the owner-manager doesn't take time to learn the new skills required to manage a growing business, once they have moved out of the start-up phase. This issue is recognised as such a competitiveness threat that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment has established the Management Development Council to issue recommendations on how this can be improved as a national imperative. Already a National Training Fund levy on employers of 0.7% of reckonable earnings is in place to support such activities and in 2007, the Small Firms Association launched the SFA National Centre of Excellence (NCE) initiative to target training supports at small business owner-managers, with €1.2mn from FAS (the state training authority), enabling up to 70% subsidy at source for companies participating on programmes.

The SFA National Centre of Excellence--A Case-Study in Best Practice

The very first step we took at the outset of the establishment of the SFA NCE was to undertake research to find out exactly what small business owner-managers wanted out of training. The findings identified the most important business challenges as finding and retaining staff, cash flow, delivering to customers and dealing with the competition. Research shows training is an effective method to overcome business challenges such as these yet few small businesses engage in regular learning.

Our research shows the majority of small business owner-managers do not lack belief in training and its effectiveness--the majority of respondents acknowledged management development as either critical for success or very important. On average 1.5% of turnover is spent on training--this is well below the EU average of 4%. Some 60% of owner-managers had attended training in the last 12 months and almost a third (32%) reported that the average days' training per manager was between one to five days in the previous 12 months.

The findings show that the biggest barriers to training are lack of time, followed by cost and the location of the course delivery. The time issue is particularly acute in a small business where releasing staff has a more detrimental effect on service delivery, as there aren't necessarily other staff there to cover the person's absence, and indeed this is even truer of the owner-managers themselves. The respondents to the survey stated that the most important factor in choosing training was that it is practically based. This was closely followed by a convenient location. Receiving training from a recognised organisation was also an important factor.

The SFA NCE is viewed in Ireland as a best-in-class initiative in resolving all of these barriers through the innovative design of its programmes, and could be a model for use in other countries. Further information can be obtained on

The Business Case for Investing in Training

The first question asked when it comes to investment of any kind is what will the return be, and training should be no different.

There are many bottom line business benefits to investing in skills and training, both for the individual employee and the businessperson who is looking for increased productivity from his/her workforce and him/herself. Studies carried out by Arulampolam, Booth and Elias found that training can have a 7-12% effect on real earnings growth. Studies in the US have also found that just one extra year of education can raise productivity by between 5.9% and 12.7% in services businesses.

For the individual employee, the benefits of training and upskilling are obvious--higher earnings, better promotional opportunities and reduced likelihood of redundancy. There is no better way to climb the career ladder than with professional training. More progressive employers recognise this and use the importance of training as an effective retention tool in this regard.

Making Training Count at Organisational Level--How to Conduct an Effective Training Needs Analysis (TNA)

Once convinced of the benefits of business training for veterinary professionals, at the firm level, the first thing for you to do is to conduct a TNA. An effective TNA helps to identify real training issues in a systematic way, whilst linking these in a strategic way to the overall business strategy going forward.

Why Should Companies Carry Out a TNA?

 The nature of work has changed and is constantly changing

 To determine what training is relevant to your employees' jobs

 To determine if training will make a difference

 Benefits of the training can be measured and assessed

 All training investment will be linked to the overall company strategy

 Training within the organisation becomes systematic and planned

 The contribution which training makes to the organisation in terms of improved performance and growth will be recognised

Training will not fill all performance gaps, but a TNA will identify any gaps that can be filled by training and development. If an organisation does not identify its training needs in line with its strategic objectives, it is wasting resources by attempting to solve a problem it has not defined. Providing the best possible training for your staff can have an immediate impact on the services to your customers, the attitude and outlook of your staff, and prepare you fully for whatever the future may hold.

The Fundamentals of a Training Needs Analysis

Firstly, set your context. Before starting on the analysis, a strategic view of the current situation, desired changes in jobs or responsibilities, technological and organisational developments are important. This will provide the information to help determine what is required of the individual, team or organisation. Evaluate what you are doing now and compare this to what you aim to be able to do in the future. This is followed by an analysis of the reasons for the performance gap and the types of training interventions that might help to bridge this.

Strategic View--Where Are We Now and Where Do We Want To Be?

In order to get an understanding of the context before conducting the Needs Assessment, the following questions need to be addressed:

External Analysis

 What are your customer's expectations of you now and in the future?

 Is there any new legislation that will affect the way you do business?

 What are the difficulties facing your organisation in the marketplace?

 Does your training policy affect your ability to attract and retain staff?

 What changes are likely in products / services/ processes going forward?

 What are the stated values of the organisation?

Internal Analysis

 How well does each business unit function?

 What is your vision/mission statement?

 How is it measured?

 Does your culture promote the achievement of targets?

 What have managers observed in terms of the behaviour of staff?

 What did our staff say at performance reviews?

 What are our turnover rates, complaints and standards of performance like?

 Are our competitors ahead of us?

 How do we benchmark the performance of our people?

Individual Analysis

 How clear are staff about the key job elements?

 Do staff have the knowledge, skills and attitude to do their jobs effectively?

 What do staff feel about the company and their competencies and skills?

 What feedback have staff given about the organisation at performance review time?

 Is it a training issue?

Conducting the Needs Assessment

Once this information has been gathered, there are four steps to conduct the Needs Assessment as follows:

Step 1. Conduct a Gap Analysis

The first step is to check current performance levels of both individuals and the organisation against existing standards, or to agree new standards bearing in mind the overall company goals. This stage includes two parts which are:

 Current situation--examine the current skills, knowledge and attitude of staff as well as the company goals, environment and future constraints.

 Desired situation--the conditions needed for organisational and individual success need to be identified. The necessary job standards and individual competencies and attitudes should be highlighted and agreed.

It is this gap between the current and required situation which will identify the particular needs, purpose and objectives.

Step 2. Identify Training Priorities

The first stage should have produced a range of needs for training and development, career development and organisation development which now require further examination and ranking in terms of priorities. These priorities need to be agreed in terms of the overall company goals and strategy going forward. It is by aligning training activity in terms of the overall company goals, that its impact is real and measurable.

Step 3. Identify Causes of Problems and Opportunities

Having highlighted and prioritised the areas of importance, the next step includes looking at key problem areas and opportunities in the organisation. Two critical questions need to be asked for every need identified:

 Are our people doing their jobs effectively?

 Do they know how to do their jobs?

In order to answer these questions, a detailed analysis of current performance needs to be conducted.

Step 4. Identify Solutions

The solution needs to be agreed based on the diagnosis. Training may not be the answer. Organisation development activities such as performance management, team building, strategic planning or restructuring may also be possible solutions to the gaps identified. It is by matching the need identified with the best solution and measuring the success of the initiative that training and development initiatives can make a real difference to overall company performance. Whatever the solution identified, as with all the other stages, staff should be involved in deciding the way forward as much as possible so that they feel part of the process, which ultimately has a major impact on how they work.

The Training Plan

Once the analysis is completed, the training plan needs to be agreed between management and staff, as individual and organisational goals are assessed relative to the larger goals and strategies of the organisation. Crucially, any training programmes undertaken should be carefully evaluated, both on the day in terms of participant feedback on their overall reaction to the programme and the learning from it, and over time in assessing its practical impact on individual behavioural change and the overall impact on the team/organisation.


For those who have heard the phrase 'Entrepreneurs are born, they are not made', let me assure you that only babies are born, everything else in life is taught and learnt. We are continually modifying and increasing our skills as we progress through life. Simply having the initiative and capital to start your veterinary practice is no guarantee you will be successful. Every small business is a complex entity and requires the owner-manager to have an extensive range of business skills--you are no different!

Speaker Information
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Patricia Callan, MA, BA
Small Firms Association
Confederation House
Dublin, Ireland

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