Parliamentary ICT Training Manager Denise Hudson-Lawson talks about her work in the world of politics and why she is so passionate about training.

How did you get to where you are now?

You know when you have that one job at school that you never want to be? Well, I never wanted to be a teacher. My first job was with what was HM Customs & Excise in the VAT office. One day, a box turned up in the office - it was one of those dumb terminals that you can run a report on.

It was delivered with a book, and my manager said to me ‘you’re young, you show us how it works’. So I taught myself how to work the machine, then showed the VAT inspectors how to do it, and found that I actually quite liked it. From them on, I moved through various businesses, setting up training teams, and moving on to the next. And now I’ve been in training for 25 years. 

I didn’t get a university degree and I didn’t have a technology background. I’m about 90 per cent self-taught. I think you get out of things what you put into them. I was really lucky that I always had managers who saw potential and supported me. I found that a good manager is someone who doesn’t pigeonhole people, and that if you believe in yourself, others will believe in you too.

So what exactly does your current role involve?

I’m the Parliamentary ICT Training Manager, managing a team of eight people. I’m responsible for ensuring that end-users are trained on MS Office and also to work with project teams if new applications or software are deployed. We do classroom training, but also one-to-one training and a lot of floor walking, which is very popular.

I’m also an account manager, which means looking after the finance and HR department in the House of Lords. This role is an escalation point and liaison between the business and PICT. You have to be a ‘can do’ person and not be afraid to ask difficult questions should issues arise. The role is roughly 90 per cent training manager and 10 per cent account manager.

Can you describe what a normal day looks like for you?

No two days are the same for me, which makes this job so interesting. Unlike in commercial training, anything can jump out. Weekly manager meetings are the only regular thing, really. There is a lot of one-to-one coaching, operational issues and customer-service issues. I make an effort to go out to the business. I ask myself ‘who do I need to see?’ and ‘can I do anything to help?’ Once the business trusts you, they come to you. It’s really all about being a people-person.

And what type of training do you offer?

We provide training for everyone in Parliament, and we are also an authorised ECDL centre. We do a lot of floor-walking, especially at the moment through the current Vista deployment. It is all about providing in the ‘moment of need’. Normally, people tend to ask the colleague sitting next to them if they can’t do something. If there’s a trainer in the vicinity, they can ask them directly. This also gives the trainer the opportunity to offer suggestions on other aspects of the software as well. We also provide a drop-in centre for MP’s and Peers with a trainer on duty throughout the day.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love getting involved in things. I enjoy meeting people and networking and I enjoy talking. I love the social aspect of my job. I also love the fact that my previous experience of IT operations and customer service is called on. Using my networking skills and experience I am able to draw people together towards a common aim.

So what would you say makes a good trainer?

Anyone who aspires to be a trainer needs to be a people person. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to be the same, as we need different qualities. A good trainer has to be knowledgeable about how people learn, be passionate about helping people help themselves to learn and be able to listen and deliver a solution. Good trainers are people who think outside the box and understand what the business is saying.

Adult learners are very different to children learners - they forget how exciting everything is. A good trainer is really a seven-year-old child in an adult - excited about learning.

Is training MPs and Peers any different from working for other companies or organisations?

It is different in some ways, but it’s very difficult to put your finger on it. It took me a while to get used to how Parliament does things, for example, having to deliver training

in small chunks because of the division bell, as Members can be called out to vote for or against a resolution at any time, or having to fit things in between recesses, but it is really getting less like that. Parliament now works very much like a business, with business plans and competency project management.

In the outside world, you would report directly to the senior management and probably have a budget to do with what you want. Here, I need the buy-in from both Houses - it’s like putting in a tender - and if there’s something that’s radically different, we need to produce a paper, which is then reviewed by the board, and both Houses are able to suggest changes.

So what do you think about e-learning?

We are currently developing a form of e-learning, and I do think it has a place in regulatory requirements and as a supportive tool.  I once had to do training on regulatory requirements, running seminars for 1,200 people with PowerPoint presentations and shed loads of pizza - a project like that would have benefitted from e-learning!

However, e-learning for e-learning’s sake? Absolutely not. It has to fit business requirements, and classroom and e-learning are completely different styles. E-learning, for it to work, has to be short and interactive. If you have a 20 minute e-learning session you lose people - I’d say two minute segments at the most. It has to be pertinent to what individuals need and what is most appropriate for them.

What do you consider to be one of your greatest achievements in your current job?

I think it’s that I managed to change the way people think about training and to build up a team that meets business needs and provides innovative service. People now know who we are. There has been a huge change in the way people perceive training, but I know I couldn’t have done it without my team and my manager.

Tell us about one of your most memorable experiences in your job

I’d say that was the ‘ball of string’! I used this when we did some customer service training, looking at changing focus and improving soft skills. We created a mini programme to help Operations understand how a customer feels when they log a call. In the final role-play, we gave staff cards that had the various job titles on them, for example, trainer, analyst, director and so on.

One person read out the call timeline, and the ball of string was passed on to whichever person took up the call. I was standing in the middle with all the string around me, and then asked the delegates if they now understood how being passed around felt like for the customer. It was as if a light had been switched on - it made the experience very visual. 

Last year, you won the ‘Training Manager of the Year’ Gold Award. How did it feel?

It was a shock, and I actually went into ‘Gwyneth Paltrow mode’ - even though I’m not really ‘girlie’ at all! Our team had already won bronze at the point when the training manager awards were announced, and I didn’t expect it at all. Going up on the stage was probably one of the most surreal moments in my life. I couldn’t believe it.

Your advice on how to provide good and effective training?

One of the most important things about training is to make it fun. If the trainer sounds as if they’re bored, why should people be encouraged to listen and learn? Always deliver as if it’s the first time, always use appropriate anecdotes, use things around you to illustrate, use story-telling and gestures - it’s like telling a child a fairy story.