Training staff an investment, not an expense

The recent focus on back-to-school planning reminds me about the importance of ongoing training and development in the workplace. Training helps to improve employee morale. Employees feel valued and develop increased loyalty when they see the employer investing in their knowledge and skill development. When morale is high, employees will contribute more to their job, put in more effort, make fewer errors and waste less time. Highly trained employees have far fewer work-related accidents, have less absenteeism and require less direct supervision.

Training your employees needs to be viewed as an investment rather than an expense. The following tips will help you to establish a solid training and development plan:

Assess employee needs — identifying an employee’s need for training usually is accompanied by the annual performance review. Determine whether the training is to strengthen current skills and/or to develop new ones. For instance, quite often an individual employee can exhibit excellent technical skills while, at the same time, their interpersonal skills are lacking. As well, today’s workforce relies more on teamwork skills. Personally, I find that individuals often are weak in that area.

Determine delivery methods — at one time, there was a big push toward webinars and online learning strategies. Today, there is a strong swing back to wanting face-to-face training, or at the very least a form of blended learning. Depending on the nature of the training required, individuals can enroll in an online higher education course and work toward a degree, diploma or a professional designation. However, most professional development training offered by the workplace is in the form of short seminars.

Activity-based training — these in-house seminars need to include a variety of activities so that participants get hands-on practice in learning a new skill. This participant-centred approach actively involves individuals by utilizing assessment tools, role playing, case studies and/or game-based activities. Participants engage in the activity and then meet with colleagues to discuss and debrief their findings in a group setting. The result is a transfer of learning that is practical and can be applied immediately back at the workplace.

Programmed learning — there are many well-developed programs known as "programmed learning" where the learning material is delivered over a period of time such as six months and follows a standard framework of delivery. Usually these programs require brief passages of reading to provide a theoretical framework accompanied by listening opportunities, assessments, case studies, quizzes and other tools for transferring their new knowledge to the workplace. Participants get to practise what they learn immediately and then reference their learning when they regroup with their training cohorts.

On-the-job training — many participants learn best by taking on a new project where they are both learning and doing. This type of assignment is particularly valuable for a high-performing employee who you believe has potential to take on more responsibility and be promoted. Assignments can be project-based and/or they often consist of formal assignments on an acting basis. This hands-on learning should be accompanied by some sort of mentoring and coaching.

Coaching/mentoring — this delivery methodology refers to working one-to-one with your employee and is usually delivered by a more experienced colleague and/or manager. It usually takes place following some sort of more formal training and as the employee begins to apply his/her new knowledge. Today, more and more organizations are hiring external executive coaches to help teach skills that are not easily found in the organization. At the same time, a formal plan for the coaching/mentoring needs to be established so that goals are established and evaluations can be made.

Films and videos — with the availability of internet downloads, it is much easier to now use films/videos and action shots to enhance learning activities. Selecting the appropriate tool is important as it must demonstrate a specific objective, show a specific technique or provide an example of a behaviour you wish to avoid or promote. As well, the video must be relevant to your organization.

Tutorials/group discussions — learning doesn’t need to be a day-long program; it can simply be calling together a group of employees to discuss and learn a new technique. This allows employees to be more informal, ask more questions and get specific answers regarding the issue under discussion. The group can brainstorm ideas, challenge each other and develop best practices.

Online learning — while I don’t recommend online learning as the one and only methodology, there are many advantages to combining instructor-led programs with online learning, especially if an organization has offices in more locations. Usually, programs are put into an internal intranet. Today, the programs are quite sophisticated and can offer hands-on, interactive activities that help people learn.

Demonstrations — in some situations, it is more efficient to bring a tool or piece of equipment to the workplace and to demonstrate all the steps required for operation. Each participant will have an opportunity to operate the equipment, ask questions, read manuals and learn hands-on.

It is important to set a personal learning plan. Work with your employee to determine the knowledge, skills and abilities to be learned and then set about determining the when and how of building these skills. Then set specific goals with specific time frames.

There are several ways in which a manager can determine if learning goals were met. For instance, have the participant present their new learning to fellow colleagues, and/or write up a discussion paper and present it to the manager or to colleagues. Of course, you would want to see their new skills applied at their job.

Employee training is an investment and it must be treated as such. This means undertaking individual and/or group needs assessments, planning the right delivery methodology and following up to ensure learning has taken place.

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