If you are toiling over what to do about training, you’re not alone.
Tuition reimbursement and continuing education look good on paper and are great recruitment and retention tools, but, as businesses are finding out, in today’s economy, those types of programs could also look more like a dispensable employee perk than a business necessity.
While academics will tell you it’s a mistake to cut training from the budget, those closest to financial reality will suggest trimming the fat and adopting a leaner training strategy that ties education to the company’s immediate needs. For most businesses, this means doing away with the nice-to-have training and focusing on the must-haves that affect the bottom line today.
“If you’re going to continue to grow, if you’re going to make it through the recessionary time, education is critical,” says Merodie A. Hancock, vice president and executive director of off-campus programs at Central Michigan University. “In a bad economy, there’s a tendency of two things to cut training and marketing and the loss will kill you. You’ve got to keep investing in them both because the half-life of knowledge is significantly shorter than it was in the past. Everyone needs to stay sharp.”
Keep in mind that the usefulness of what is learned today doesn’t last as long as it once did. Technology’s rapid evolution makes knowledge obsolete when it isn’t built on. Still, the average number of formal training hours has dropped from 25 hours per learner in 2007 to 17.2 hours in 2008, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook. The report reflects an 11 percent reduction in corporate training spending and claims a trend shift in the types of education that businesses are pursuing.Goal setting
Training that educates employees on ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses or that improves relationships with customers is a business necessity and has a place in your training regimen.
Determine what your company needs to work on and what areas you need to continue to grow in as well as the basics to keep up with the competition.
“You can’t just throw training at a problem and expect it to solve everything,” says Lisa Kujawa, assistant provost for enrollment management, Lawrence Technological University. “Training is vital for people to move forward in a company, but it must be done in a way that helps meet the company’s specific needs, [and] then is followed up on. Each new employee should be placed on a vertical or horizontal education plan when hired.”
Considering who will be receiving the training is an important step. Being wise about your budget means training those who are in a position to benefit the company most instead of offering a la carte training to whoever is willing to trade a few hours of work for classroom duty.
“Look at the specific issues holding your company back,” says P. Nick Blanchard, professor of management, College of Business, Eastern Michigan University. “Tie training to the strategic plan by looking where the company’s going and not where it’s been.”
Considering the type of education you need has equal importance to the way the education is delivered. While some companies find online courses give employers the best return on investment while saving on travel and driving time, others find in-house courses or a classroom setting to be the best delivery method for employees.Choosing a trainer
Your company’s goals help determine what institution you’ll use to provide employee training. Look at local colleges and universities first, as these organizations have flexibility in training formats and delivery.
“Colleges are untapped resources when it comes to business training,” Blanchard says. “If you have a partnership with a college, you may even be able to get a lower rate on classes or MBA programs. Educating your employees helps you to always have the best and brightest on staff.”
Universities are often willing to consult with businesses to determine what the immediate training needs are. Community colleges, business schools and specific work force training centers can also provide tailored programs as opposed to off-the-shelf training that serves as a one-size-fits-all education.
Don’t think of continued education as a perk to employees, but think of it as a way to keep the business growing.
A common error employers make is accepting a program where the employee misses a significant amount of work to go to school. Options exist that allow you to dictate, within reason, how, when and where your employees are educated.
“If you aren’t able to get the rates you want from a college, try another one,” Hancock says. “You can also pair up with another small employer to form a large enough group in need (of) education that gives you more financial leverage. If you can fill a classroom on your own, you can say when and where it meets, too.”
After you select a program and a university, your strategy must carry over into measuring tactics. Make sure you have a way to calculate the benefits of training and the reason you have selected the specific program.
“Always think about why you are doing the training, why the people getting the training are involved and what you expect to accomplish afterward,” Kujawa says. “Know what professional opportunities you want to mesh with company needs.”Measuring results
Before an employee begins training, testing the skills that will be built upon is important. Testing will help determine where the employees’ skills are today and where they need to be after training. Making sure the employee, trainer and you are on the same page with expectations will help eliminate any miscommunication about future performance expectations.
“The college can help you develop a program that works specifically for what your company is looking for,” Kujawa says. “Colleges can really help link industry to education, which, in turn, means you’re helping each other out. You can meet and discuss the company’s needs, then the college takes that information back and gets academics involved to determine the type of class they can offer.”
Prior to training, discuss the reason for the education and the way the training will be measured with the employee. Tell the employee how the new knowledge directly impacts his or her daily responsibilities. Managers should tie the training into performance evaluations to determine its true impact on the enhanced ability to perform.
“Employees may do well on paper, but the true measure is if they can transfer the education back to the job,” Blanchard says. “One way is to figure what the cost of the problem was before training, then see how the training reduced that figure.”
Even after trimming the education budget, some companies say the cost is too much to handle right now. If you still believe in education, but can’t afford it, reassess it in nine months. In the meantime, use in-house training and coaching capabilities.
“Companies often drop education in steps first eliminate paying upfront, then the amount they pay,” Hancock says. “If you maintain the most important type of training, you’ll never need to look at it as a place to cut.”