Commercial skills awareness - how to tackle the elephant in the room

Barry Spruce
Barry Spruce

As a relative newcomer to the Civil Service (almost 6 months) – or, to be more precise, a recent returnee after a number of years away – one of the main changes I have noticed is in the provision of available and accessible training.

Having used the self-assessment tool on Civil Service Learning (CSL), one of the areas that was flagged was a need to improve my commercial knowledge and skills. This was useful because I had not made the immediate link between my role and commercial awareness, but when presented with it, the positive connections that exist became clear. Somewhat serendipitously, the availability of commercial e-learning through CSL came not long after – I like this form of intuitive awareness, where the system responds to what you have just found out you need!

Simple format

The five commercial awareness e-learning modules on CSL was an excellent introduction to the need for, and the subsequent need to maintain, commercial awareness. I was perhaps not as lacking in knowledge as I had feared, but the examples that showed how that knowledge could be applied were really useful. The simplicity of the format made the sessions easy to utilise and the progression through the modules was manageable and logical.

I currently work within Project and Programme Management (PPM) Capability, and the resonance with this work was clear – good PPM requires good commercial awareness and, I would argue, vice versa.  A great deal of PPM work has connections to procurement and to managing commercial stakeholders, both of which were highlighted within the awareness training.

The awareness e-learning has stimulated that thought into action, and I am now working with my colleagues in Commercial Capability to develop some shared understanding across the professions. This applicability demonstrates for me why continuous professional development is so important because it develops not only the individual but the work streams they are engaged in.


The next step is to develop my commercial knowledge and skills further, but also to highlight this to others working within the Project Delivery Profession (although for many this will not be new). I am doing this through the various forums I attend, emphasising the merits of the commercial awareness module package and the support it has provided within my current work streams. I have also signed up to a contract management MOOC (Massive Open Online Course - an innovative new way of learning) - and have recommended this approach to some colleagues. (I understand you will be able to read more about MOOCs here soon.)

I would recommend commercial awareness training without hesitation, but in order to realise its true value it needs to be linked to individual and organisational development. Far from being an impossible alchemy, it is manageable by tackling it like eating an elephant – one bite at a time*.

(*Just to be clear, no elephants are harmed during this training!)