Generally, the benefits of training are fairly easy to understand. Often, enterprises invest large amounts of money in assessing the performance of their employees but, without effective training to address shortfalls, this expenditure is effectively wasted. “Unless you spend a little time investing in those people then you’re not really going to get that cost back,” says Robert Fisher, managing director of training provider Indigo Business. “But if you do, you might find out you’ve got a much more enhanced organisation as a result.”
There’s also a subtler value in investing in your staff. During times of difficulty it can be hard to show your staff your appreciation for their work but training can prove to be a far more effective method than financial renumeration. “We know that money is one of the lowest satisfiers in a job,” says Fisher. “Rather than giving staff money, giving them skills and saying, ‘I appreciate that you’ve got a long history left in this company; we’d really like to invest in your development’ can show people that you care.” Additionally, if these skills are applicable elsewhere, it means you can simultaneously invest in an employee’s future and solidify the skill set of your staff. “You’re giving that person a new skill they can use in their job, hopefully, so that, as an employer, you’ve got a far more skilled workforce.”
This doesn’t only go one way. Recognising the value of the training investment is important for employees as well, particularly in an economic climate where a short-term cash injection is so easily swallowed by bills and debts. “If the knowledge economy forms the new currency of organisations perhaps in these hard times going into an appraisal and saying, ‘You know what – I’d rather forgo a salary increase but I would like eight, nine or ten days of development over the next financial year’ is a creative way that staff can make use of that.”
Of course, this is the elephant in the room when it comes to training – when cashflow is tight how can an organisation justify making this sort of investment? “Return on investment is notoriously difficult to prove with regards to training,” says Fisher.
However, there are occasions where it is necessary to address a skills shortfall within an enterprise and often augmenting the current skill set of employees is far cheaper than going down a recruitment route.
“The hidden costs of recruitment are vast, in time away from the business and time away from your desk, not to mention the terrible cost of poor recruitment strategies and ineffective interviewing.” Fisher estimates that the cost of recruiting to fill a skills gap could be perhaps four times as much as training existing employees in new skills, and, if there are members of staff interested in their own development, then an organisation has a resource going untapped.
And, of course, this interest in developing their own talents is a vital part of an employee’s development. Fisher explains: “Training should be seen as a bit of a benefit and so we feel it’s very important that you discuss it with your line manager, and put in a good case as to why you should go on that training course.” Training is a mutual process, one that employee and employer both need to be behind – without the member of staff displaying an active interest in their own development the whole exercise becomes somewhat self-defeating. “We have had people come to our workshops and we’ve had people saying: ‘I’m here as a punishment’,” he says, laughing. “And that’s probably the worst way to approach training.”
That’s not to say effective training can’t win over even the most stubborn opposition – Fisher recalls some public-sector training he delivered around innovation. “The back two rows were people with folded arms saying, ‘I’ve worked here for 20 years. There’s not a lot you can teach me.’” he says. “By the end of the two days, the back two rows had moved to the front and they were going, ‘Why hasn’t anyone ever taught us this?’” But finding a way to help employees engage means that they’re far more likely to take training on board and want to implement what they’ve learned.
And, ultimately, this is what effective training is all about. For Indigo, the most important thing about training is that it provides skills a member of staff can employ from day one. “They’re what we call Monday morning doable,” explains Fisher. “You learn them on Friday; you can do them on Monday.” In terms of a return on the investment, it’s vital both employee and enterprise can see the benefit of the training and this means it having immediate practical applications – and this is one area where employee ownership is incredibly important. “I do think quite a bit of responsibility comes down to the delegate to report back to their line manager and their business: ‘This is what I’ve done’.”
Providing access to effective training will always be vital to a developing business. “There’s a fundamental need for businesses to invest in training and to at least offer people that opportunity to train,” says Fisher. When employees are interested in growing the contribution they bring to an enterprise, responding to that can have a huge value for both employee and the business. “If people are eager and they want to do it and they’ve got a great provider to partner with then really it should be a happy marriage.”