Just how important is training?

It is vital – from an executive to a new recruit. All companies should look on training as essential to guaranteeing long term sustainability. They need to stay up to date with skills and ahead of trends. Training helps people to do their job better: it builds skills and knowledge, develops talent, and boosts productivity – plus the positive effects it has on motivation and retaining talented people.

How effective is it?

Last month’s Learning at Work Day aimed to promote the value of business training and workplace learning, yet recent research with 10,000 learners shows that more than a quarter of training fails to deliver any performance improvement. In many businesses the failure rate is thought to be much higher, with anecdotal estimates suggesting that up to 60 per cent of spending on training can be wasted. Training and development represents £40bn of UK spending each year, so we need to know why such a high percentage fails to deliver.

How does training go wrong?

There are several ways. Some companies are so focused on providing a certain amount of training for each employee that they forget to ensure its effectiveness. If a course is irrelevant for an employee, not only is the cost wasted, but the company loses working time. Being sent on a course of no significance also makes an employee feel their time has been wasted. Another mistake is failing to fill all places on in-house courses. Most suppliers providing bespoke courses do so on a daily rate, often based on training for 10-12 people. If only four people need that specific training, an organisation needs to assess whether it is better to use a publicly run course, or even set up individual coaching – which might be more expensive but the benefits from more intensive learning will be significantly greater. One of the opportunities afforded by online collaboration technologies and social media is for employees to learn and perform faster on the job.

How do you measure good training?

It is important to identify the training need in order to judge the relevance of the content of a training programme. It is important to use the right training provider for the job; that they offer the best value for money; and that the course is run in an engaging and interesting way. The traditional way of assessing training is to get feedback after the course and then ask recipients again a few months later, to check that the learning has been embedded, with a clear change in the employee’s performance and a positive impact on the business. But to assess the business benefits before it takes place, ask questions such as “What business issues do you expect the training will resolve?”; “What improvements or behavioural changes are you expecting to see?”; and “What experiences make you think the proposed learning will achieve these changes?”.

Can investment in training provide business benefits?

Yes. A proactive approach can allow the return on investment of the proposed learning to be estimated; learning can be prioritised according to the level of business impact; business managers can be alerted to the impact of not doing it. Arguing for training budgets on a commercial basis is better than just saying “it’s really important”.

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