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To Train or Not to Train

Gail Kniveton at i3 Pharma Resourcing investigates ways of taking responsibility for the personal development of staff

It is a fact of life that companies are looking to save costs across many areas, and the need to be more efficient with training expenditure can mean the trimming of training budgets. Despite this, of course, training must still continue and be current and relevant to the workforce. Time-efficient and environmentally friendly solutions are often preferred to minimise costs and disruption. Rather than cutting back on training, companies must make sure they get the most out of the training available to them, but it is also up to individuals to ensure that they get the best out of available development opportunities.


Within the clinical trials sector, departments are frequently being restructured, adding new technologies and taking on new projects, combined with continuing pressure to improve processes and deliver at lower costs. Consequently, there is a high demand on individuals to retrain, acquire new skills and knowledge, and change behaviours rapidly and effectively. This may include learning a protocol in a new therapeutic area, learning how to use the latest ePRO system for a trial, or taking on a new individual role as a manager or mentor, which demands strong levels of communication and leadership.

Managers will consider what skills, behaviours and knowledge are needed to perform the various roles within their team. Traditionally they will:

  • Analyse what development is needed (including for themselves)
  • Implement a development plan
  • Select suitable internal and external learning and development providers to achieve the above

Often, the first question most managers think of when considering training is: ‘What training courses are available that will fulfil all of my needs?’ It is of equal importance to consider if the training has to be through face-to-face classroom sessions – alternatively, many training departments have successfully embraced new technologies such as online learning.


For individuals, online training often offers an opportunity to undertake self-paced learning, predefined by training experts for an employee’s specific role. Additionally, e-learning tools usually offer options to access further training outside of the employee’s core role.

Because it is so measurable, e-learning is ideal for training associated with standard operating procedures and the development of intellectual- job- and task-related knowledge, so much so that online training often now replaces face-to-face training. However, soft skills and behavioural training can be harder to teach via self-paced learning.

It seems obvious, but verification that the learning has been assimilated by the trainee is essential to the training process. Mentoring, coaching, and ‘on the job’ or project-based development is crucial to bring home those skills, knowledge and behaviours that were learned remotely. Be it by managers, mentors or project leaders, these individuals can then give their support to develop, fine tune or enhance these skills.


An individual’s own reading and research has always been a powerful way to develop skills. But how does one go about determining what is required? A good starting place is job descriptions, either of a current role or an aspired role – a good job description will outline the competencies needed to succeed in a particular role. These are divided (although there is often overlap) into skills, knowledge and behaviours:

  • Skills – abilities required to perform job duties such as proficiency with software or programming or interpersonal skills
  • Knowledge – an area of specialisation or expertise such as ICH-GCP knowledge or therapeutic area understanding
  • Behaviours – characteristics that an employee has in the performance of their duties such as professionalism or resourcefulness

Understanding the skills, behaviours and knowledge required for a desired role will help clarify the types of question a potential manager may ask when he or she is interviewing candidates for vacant positions. By identifying gaps or areas for improvement early on, an individual can ensure that he or she receives the appropriate training to fill these gaps. Once the individual has determined his or her development plan, it is imperative that a record is kept up-to-date which tracks training progress and development.

An individual should determine the need by answering the following questions:

  • What do I need to learn?
  • Why is this important?
  • What are the best ways of gaining these skills, knowledge and behaviours?
  • By when will I have completed this process?

It is important to keep accurate records of training and development activities. This should include details on:

  • The date of activity
  • The type of activity
  • The key learning points
  • How will I, or how have I used this learning?
  • Certificate of competency and attendance

This can help a manager or future employer to verify that an individual has really understood and met learning goals, ideally via assessment from a qualified person or body.


Within clinical trials there are a number of associations, such as the Association of Clinical Data Management (ACDM) or the Institute of Clinical Research (ICR) which offer expert training support. These associations offer general training with continuing professional development points for courses. They also offer personal development guidance plans. Their training is based on industry best practice, adding value to individuals who are already well trained in their company’s working practices.

When considering the question ‘to train or not to train’, it is essential for those in the clinical trials industry to keep developing their own skills, behaviour patterns and knowledge. It is best practice for individuals to keep and set goals for their own personal development plans and not to rely solely on their organisation or manager to do this for them.

Seek advice and support when- and wherever possible, but be aware that training comes in many guises, such as project training, mentoring and coaching, not just face-to-face courses. Ultimately, developing and progressing towards the desired career can be achieved by effectively explointing all the tools that are readily available.

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Gail Kniveton has worked in business development, recruitment and operational set-up for clinical trials services for the past 14 years. She has been involved in the development of innovative recruitment and outsourcing solutions for many different clients. This has included the set-up of offices, recruitment, onboarding, training and retention of teams. Gail is also involved with the ACDM Training Committee as well as being the conference chair for 2010. This overview experience of how these roles and training strategies have changed is shared here.
Gail Kniveton
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