A Glimpse into Training in China

Many training functions in China are departments-of-one and struggle for funding and recognition.

By Jean Barbazette, Founder, The Training Clinic

During the last two weeks of August 2012, I spent 11 days in China visiting Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. I was the guest of Training magazine and our host, ACT Consulting, which are beginning a partnership to promote training and Training magazine in China. Mike Murrell, president and publisher of Training magazine headed the delegation. Phil Jones, VP of Marketing for Training magazine, helped us understand the bigger perspective we were about to view and explained opportunities to Chinese delegates to attend Training magazine’s two upcoming live conferences: Learning 3.0 in Chicago October 24-25, 2012, and Training 2013 in Orlando on February 18-20, 2013. I was one of two workshop presenters speaking on the topic of “How to Audit and Benchmark the Training Function.” Lisa Edwards’ presentation was on “ROI of Coaching.”

As we began to experience each of the three cities visited, first general impressions struck us: Shanghai is the fast-moving city of international organizations and the hub of finance; it reminded us of New York. Beijing is the seat of government and public organizations, steeped in historical sights; it reminded us of Washington, D.C. Guangzhou is a bustling manufacturing hub and reminded us of Atlanta and other Midwestern U.S. cities.

Most of the participants were Training managers or HRD managers and represented three types of business enterprises in China:

  1. International company
  2. SOE: state-owned industry
  3. POE: privately owned entity

We also met three types of training managers:

  1. Expatriate managers posted in an international company
  2. Internationally educated Chinese
  3. Locally educated Chinese promoted from subject matter expert

Participant Experience

All of the participants were enthusiastic about our topics and stayed throughout the day to be present at the “lucky draw” for prizes to attend a conference or receive a copy of an author’s book. One of the participants, a training manager from an international company, suggested that training functions seem to be 20 years behind those in the U.S. Many are departments-of-one and struggle for funding and recognition. Some of the training managers had been employees in their organization for several years and then promoted to a training manager position without ever having worked in a training function. Below is a chart that compares the background and experience of the participants who attended our sessions:

Comparison by City




Average age of training function

5-9 years

11 years

10-11 years

Years as training/HR manager




Average age of participants

Early 30s

Mid- to late 30s/early 40s

Mid-20s/early 30s

Fluency in English

Best, no translator was used

Half needed translation most spoke Mandarin when reporting out of a group discussion

One-third comfortable in English, spoke Cantonese in small groups and Mandarin when reporting out

Gender mix

M: half, F: half

M: one-quarter F: three-quarters

M: one-third F: two-thirds


Food and Transport

The hotels are first rate, and every meal was bountiful and delicious. Sometimes being adventurous when dining paid off in pleasant surprises. Other times, we were overwhelmed by the spices. Peking Duck at a specialty restaurant in Beijing was a highlight. Our host company provided drivers for us to get to training, meetings, and appointments. While taxis are plentiful, it is a good idea to provide written addresses when the driver speaks no English.

Making a Case

An ice-breaking activity we used at the beginning of the workshop was to ask participants to pair off, introduce themselves, and then have one person make a fist with his/her hand and for the other person to get their partner to open his/her fist. This activity when conducted in the U.S. usually produces two types of approaches:

  1. Ask your partner to open his or her fist.
  2. Attempt to pry open the other person’s fist.

Some approaches we hadn’t seen before included:

  • Offering to tell your partner’s fortune if the fist is opened.
  • Asking the partner to shake hands.
  • Asking to see the other side of a partner’s ring.
  • Asking the partner to tell five things about themselves and raise one finger for each item.

After the facilitator heard all of the approaches, the participants discussed the point of the exercise, which was the variety of ways to be persuasive and make a case. Training managers often are asked to “make a case” to fund or maintain various programs, so we wanted to give our participants a variety of ways to become more persuasive.

Leadership Academy

On the day before departing China, we visited the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP), which opened in 2005. Its brochure states, “Since its inception, CELAP has played a unique role in leadership development in China, in both international exchange and cooperation and training innovation. CELAP provides a range of programs tailored for intermediate and senior government officials, business executives, and other senior professionals.” CELAP’s training methods include lectures, forums, simulations, fieldwork, and discussions. It has up to 200 full- and part-time trainers on staff.

The ACT Consulting group is knowledgeable, energetic, and excited to work at developing the partnership. We look forward to seeing its accomplishments and enjoying a reunion at Training 2013 in Orlando.

Jean Barbazette is founder of The Training Clinic. For more information, visithttp://www.thetrainingclinic.com.

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