For business success, blend technical, specialized and development training

Some professions require technical education because of state and certification governing board rules. Others require training for niche specialties, like having in-house accountants learn about specific tax updates that affect your manufacturing operations.

Beyond those requirements, in order to attract and retain the best people and improve their skills, you should consider providing regular professional development for your workforce.

By looking at the full person and what he or she needs to succeed, you can create customized training that addresses areas like leadership, business writing or public speaking, says Barbara McDowell, M.Ed., learning manager at SS&G.

“I think anybody — if they’re in the business world — needs to stay abreast of education opportunities for their role,” McDowell says. “If a company is relying on its people to drive it forward, to innovate, to bring change, to not just keep the status quo but to be able to be flexible and move with the times, you need education.”

Smart Business spoke with McDowell about best practices for creating the right mix of professional development for your employees — and yourself.

Why should companies pay for and support continuing education?

Recently someone who has been in the same role for nearly 20 years asked how they would benefit from outside education. If you spend your entire career doing the same thing the same way, how do you even know what’s new and available to make your work more efficient?

It’s important for any company to identify the basics of what their people need to grow and then commit to providing it. Otherwise, you’re going to have people who are ‘stuck’ — they come in, check the boxes and do the work, but outside of their walls they don’t know what’s new and innovative.

How can you start finding the right mix of employee training?

Get an assessment of what skills need to be developed. A good time for this is during an annual review. You can develop a pre-questionnaire, and then use that for a discussion during the progress review itself.

Also, keep in mind that there may be more room for improvement than you think. For example, if you’re already a good presenter that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hone and craft that skill.

What you do with this information will depend on the company’s size. Larger companies may have a training manager or HR department that can use resources like emails from industry associations to create individual learning plans. In other cases, CEOs might directly contact groups they belong to or service professionals for ideas.

It’s always a good idea for executives to reach out to their peers to ask what they do for their staff. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but it’s important to have some customization. In some cases, booking a class and then putting everybody into it based only on their title, not strengths and weaknesses, is a mistake.

What about using online versus in-person training?

In terms of training and development, e-learning is the future with its inherent flexibility. If you have offices in multiple states, you can’t follow the old model of bringing people in for physical classes. Even broadcasting training to remote offices can be tough to fit into people’s schedules.

However, it is hard to take an all-day class by watching your computer screen for eight hours. When possible, effective e-learning should be in shorter blocks.

How else can you ensure you provide the right education?

It’s a good idea to keep a log of quality classes or instructors. If you send someone to an outside conference or training, get feedback. How was the speaker and content? You might decide it makes sense to bring in a certain instructor.

Before you set up a class or book a speaker, look beyond survey or evaluation results. It’s beneficial to ask for the names of people who have taken a class with a specific instructor or companies who used them. Then, call them directly to ask: ‘If there was anything that you would want them to do differently, what would it have been?’ ●

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by SS&G