Training - How to Make it Pay

by Stephen Newton

Why train at all?

Each training should be seen as an investment, both by you and by your staff members (something to aspire to). Benefits to the individual include that it

  • Adds to the proven skills set of the individual (builds the CV)
  • Enables the trainee to become more productive in the widest sense
  • May be a stepping stone to increased rewards or promotion or both
  • May be needed in order to allow the individual to progress or to move into a new role.

Training falls into three types:

  1. Mandatory (for example, because it’s a Health & Safety requirement)
  2. Necessary (for example, to teach basic skills required for a given role)
  3. Discretionary (anything not covered above)

In other words, there are needs and wants, and the needs must be met, and met first. The first two are therefore usually seen as simply a ‘cost of doing business’.

It is in cases of discretionary training that there is a need to justify value (and these trainings are thus the most likely to be seen as unnecessary and hence to be cut in tough times). Value can be defined as:

Mandatory or necessary trainings will often be bought on price alone in order to ‘tick a box’. However, all three should be considered in terms of value to the firm and to the trainee.

Other possibilities

Formal training is only one of several possible development activities. Other possibilities include

  • Coaching (by senior staff in house or external specialists)
  • Mentoring (usually by senior staff)
  • Direct supervision on the job, using your own staff
  • Academic study/using publications or videos and so on (‘book learning’)
  • E-learning (or computer-based training), combined with self-testing or external moderation
  • Off the job training using your own staff (but don’t forget the very real cost of lost time and/or production, for both trainer and trainee...)
  • Working to set specifications or procedures (but of course you have to invest in developing the procedures and also in ensuring that the basic skills exist in order that these can be used)
  • Workplace projects or assignments
  • Job rotation (essential for cross-training or multi-skilling)
  • Implementation of NVQs
  • The use of Action Learning Sets

It is therefore essential to consider whether a formal training, as such, is the most appropriate tool to meet the given need. It is also important that the chosen development activity is appropriate for the individual in terms of both the existing and desired skills levels. In addition, it must suit the overall capability of the person involved (not everyone will benefit from coaching, for example).

The in-house option

Consider also whether you may be able to gain better value, long-term, by developing your own in-house trainers rather than using outside suppliers. Don’t forget, however, that even though you may not be writing a cheque to pay a supplier, there is still a cost involved, as you will be taking a staff member away from their normal job. You may, of course, find that there is enough demand for training to justify re-deploying the individual as a full-time internal trainer, but even then, there is still a ‘soft cost’ involved in using that in-house resource.

The fact that an individual has ‘been on a course’ does not necessarily mean that they will be able to do a given job effectively. Proficiency following a training activity will likely be evidenced by some form of testing and/or certification. However, some form of ongoing practice (and also assessment/review) may well be needed. Indeed, such ongoing assessment may be mandatory in order to meet regulatory requirements.

Possible problems

Not everybody will actively seek training or development. A proposal that they undertake training may even be perceived by the trainee as a negative comment on their performance. If there is no routine training programme in place (in other words, everybody goes on certain courses at given stages of their employment), such issues need to be considered and handled, if necessary, before the activity starts.

Training can sometimes be seen by trainees as a substitute for leadership/management skills on the part of their boss. (‘Let’s send X on a course’ may be seen as a way to avoid a ‘difficult’ conversation.)

Training may also be seen as a ‘tick in the box’ step in a performance management situation. It can even be seen as a way to ‘set up the trainee to fail’, if the course is inappropriate to the individual’s skill set.

Lastly, quite simply, the trainee may not want to be trained further (the ‘happy just as I am’ syndrome). As a manager, you will have to decide what implications this may have for the team as a whole and the way you will be able to deploy each person in the future.

Don’t be surprised if you find it necessary to sell the idea of training to some individuals.