Picking an external training provider: 5 questions to ask

Written by Professional Academy Contracts Manager, Jill Towner

Reports show a 21% increase in companies using external training providers to deliver training programmes in 2014 and predict this will increase by a further 20% by 2016. Great news for companies like Professional Academy, but there are many factors you need to consider when deciding if you should invest in external training and, indeed, who to invest in.

This article shares the five questions I am most frequently asked by companies looking to outsource the development of training programmes, or, at least, the five questions I would ask if I were outsourcing training…


Do you want the people working for you to be better skilled and more able to fulfil the tasks set before them than your competitors’ staff? Getting recruitment right is one step towards this Holy Grail, but you won’t often find the perfect candidate, and even when you do you’ll want them to keep learning and to stay ahead of the competition.

Training is vital to the skill mix of your company, but employee development is about more than that. Employee development is vital to employee engagement. Putting time, effort, and money into developing your employees shows them that they are important to the business, that you care about them and what they are capable of doing. We understand this. Indeed, it is one of our leading principles and why position ourselves as professional development providers, rather than a training company.

Employee development shows that you have a long-term commitment to your employees’ presence within your business, allowing them to become emotionally invested in your company and what it does. It answers your employees’ implicit question of "why should I be loyal to this company?" and gives them a reason to engage with you and to stay with you.

Your employees are the best way you have of standing out from the pack and of differentiating your business in a sustainable, long-term fashion. If you compete purely on prices, then others can undercut you. If you compete purely on product then you’ll be in trouble when your current product loses its novelty or someone else imitates your most valuable features. And if you compete through marketing, then you’ll provide a hollow experience that customers will tire of.

But if you compete by developing the best possible employees then you will have a real and enduring edge that gives you better products and services again and again.

Q2. How can you help us achieve our goals?

This is a great question, which we love answering, especially when the potential client has a clearly defined set of learning objectives, so be sure to have them ready when speaking to potential suppliers.

Although many training companies (including ourselves) have off the shelf, ready to go courses, often leading to accredited, widely recognised professional qualifications (in our case all levels of Chartered Institute of Marketing - CIM, Institute of Sales & Marketing Management - ISM, and Chartered Management Institute - CMI qualifications), they may not, in themselves, enable you to achieve the learning outcomes you have identified in your training plan.

At Professional Academy, we sit down with you, look at your training plan, including your organisational structure, wider goals and targets, succession planning, the lot – and we work with you to tailor make courses that meet your precise requirements. We have a track record of meeting your employee’s expectations (usually of gaining recognised qualifications) whilst contextualizing the course to ensure we meet your business’s exact requirements too.

“We worked together to build up a bespoke course. It really is a hybrid approach to qualifications. We wanted our sales team to achieve Institute of Sales & Marketing Management (ISMM) level 3, however, because our new strategic plan incorporated areas of level 5 knowledge, Professional Academy tailored a programme where our staff get a level 3 qualification but where their tutors are actually delivering other areas of learning during the workshop to ensure all areas of our new sales strategy are covered. ”

Steve Corfield, Sales Director, Swagelok Manchester

Q3. How do we know who are the right people to train?

Another great question, and one that only you know the answer to! We do, however, know how to guide you towards finding the answer. For some the answer is to identify top talent and offer them a professional development pathway. For others, it is to identify specific departments, or under achievers, whose engagement and focus would help to drive future success. For others it’s to offer all through training opportunities.

Whatever the right answer is for you, we can guide you towards it, but there is one cardinal rule: we believe – actually – we know – that anyone who wants to succeed can succeed at whatever training they choose. This is why we offer our 100 per cent pass guarantee

Go back to that sentence though:

“We believe – actually – we know – that anyone who wants to succeed can succeed at whatever training they choose.”

The key to success is that people need to have chosen their development route for themselves – they need to have opted in, so we will always encourage you to present your training opportunities in this context.

Q4. Is your training customised or off the shelf?

A question which is well worth asking, and digging for further evidence if the answer your truly want is “customised”. It’s pretty simple to take an off the shelf programme and claim you can customise it. It’s less easy to actually do so. Is your training provider really big enough to fulfil this promise? Do they have a track record of developing and delivering bespoke courses? Do they understand your sector, your specific needs? Can they put you in touch with a referee?

We do and we can.

“Our requirements were not straightforward, but Professional Academy was extremely flexible. They worked closely with us to identify the appropriate modules from the Chartered Management Institute’s (CMI’S) Level 3 programmes. They also helped us to contextualise the assignments around BP’s desired learning outcomes. ” 

Tim Marshall, SkillSet’s lead learning consultant

Q5. What support do you provide?

If you are about to engage an external company to develop and deliver training courses for your organisation, there are many add on support services you might require and expect.

For example, at Professional Academy, we can integrate our programmes into your electronic learning system, so you effectively have a refractory of training knowledge. We can give you access to our own refractory, containing learning support material that we can even brand, contextualise or develop in whatever way you need us to, so that we meet your goals. We can provide support tutors and coaches for two years. We can provide standard-setting quality control and process management benefits too. Indeed, as an accredited provider of most of Europe’s leading professional qualifications, we are required to have robust and auditable quality and business processes, so you can rest assured that you are in safe hands.

and the bonus question....

What’s your track record of delivering results?

It’s essential to find out how successful the potential training provider is at delivering what they promise. Don’t be afraid to ask for evidence. Here at Professional Academy we can quote the number of clients we have, the number of students who have qualified at each level of each qualification we teach, we can refer you to case studies and we can put you in touch with clients past and present. We’re even happy to put you in touch with organisations that did not ultimately select us to develop or deliver their training.

Can’t say fairer than that really, but if you are interested in finding out more, please contact us via email or download a copy of our training brochure