The best they can be Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

The lower the unemployment rate, the harder it is to find and keep qualified employees. But training and focused education can help solve some of those vexing problems.

“Training should not be looked at as an expense,” says Yolanda Levell-Williams, executive director at Hillsborough Community College. “It is an investment that supports your company’s strategic goals. It is not just a class; it is an enhancement to an organization’s strength and longevity. Employees can expand job knowledge and enhance the skills they need to advance while increasing your competitive position.”

Smart Business spoke with Levell-Williams about some of the things to consider in your corporate training programs.

Beyond the obvious, why offer training?

The reason or reasons for employees not performing at their optimum level are varied. For instance, they may not be keeping up due to changes in technology. If you make the investment in equipment and processes but don’t provide employees with the proper training, you are not going to maximize the benefits of that investment.

Organizational refinement is another area that may challenge an employee. If the employee is not told — during training — why changes are being made and how to best work with them, the benefits of those changes are not going to be fully realized.

Thirdly, generational communications can present problems. The more diverse the work force, the more important it is to train and educate your employees to be better communicators. If they can’t communicate, they can’t get the work done.

On the positive side, employees who receive training as needed to keep up with changes will be more comfortable in their jobs. They will enjoy their jobs more and they will perform at a higher level, thus supporting your company’s strategic plan and strategic goals.

Is training an ongoing process?

A strategic plan for any company is an ongoing process. If training is going to support that plan, it must continue to evolve and provide employees with the skills needed to properly do the job.

The training can be specific to changes in your organization, or it can be general, such as time management or team building. Either way, it provides an impetus for your company to elevate itself.

Should training be on company time?

Generally, yes. If the training is to support the company’s goals and to increase productivity, it should be on company time.

Who pays the costs?

The company should. Any company that invests in its employees has a much better chance of reaping the benefits of a more efficient, flexible and stable work force. These employees also will provide better customer service and maximize their resources.

Your business goals should be aligned with staff competencies. The better they are trained, the more competitive they and the company will be. There are resources in the market to help your management team. For example, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance works with local companies through its Competitive Edge Award and On-the-Job Training initiatives. These programs assist with training for existing and new employees and can increase overall productivity and competitive advantage.

What can be done to keep well-trained workers on the job?

Training helps employees be more productive and confident. A well-trained, confident employee is a tremendous asset.

Companies that establish career paths help employees know where they stand. Give them incentives to stay and let them know how any training is going to keep them on track with planned upward advancement.

Will incentives help?

Yes, but they don’t necessarily need to be financial. Time off awarded for accomplishing a certain number of hours in training can be a good incentive, in and of itself. If the training results in some type of certification, degree or award. An individual plaque for display can be even more effective.

Because employees want to feel good about where they work, personal relationships gained through group training can be an additional incentive. Competitive wages are important, but recognition and feeling like they’re a part of an important, well-trained team will help convince them that your company cares about them.

It’s a fact: organizations that are able to sustain the highest levels of productivity and financial success are those with the most engaged and loyal work force. Companies that don’t provide training are going to lose competitive advantages. Which one are you?

YOLANDA LEVELL-WILLIAMS is executive director of Hillsborough Community College and partners with Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance for training initiatives. Reach her at (813) 259-6010 or ylevell@hccfl.edu.