How to…Make your training 'stickier'
By Lisa Cheong
Investing training dollars in employees is a smart move for companies who want a highly skilled, productive and motivated workforce. But how would you ensure that your training dollars are best maximized to achieve results?
In recent years, more Singaporean companies have seen the need to invest in training their employees. This increase is partly attributed to the government’s relentless drive in encouraging business leaders to improve work productivity through training, so that the workforce will retain its competitive edge.
But as HR practitioners are soon finding out, the benefits of training go beyond a highly productive and skilled workforce. Training is increasingly seen by employees as an employee engagement factor, especially for Gen Y staff who view skills upgrading as a way to a better career path. Improved employee morale and increased retention rates are benefits of training as well.
However, not all training programmes are created equal. Even as training budgets increase, this does not guarantee an increase in work productivity – especially if the training has no value to employees or if the delivery is not effective. To underscore this sentiment, a survey conducted by recruitment firm Kelly Services in 2009 among 2,000 Singaporeans found that five out of six respondents believed their current skills will be outdated or obsolete within five years. Almost half of the survey sample also felt that training available to them from employers did not meet their career needs.
So what are some measures HR practitioners can implement to ensure that their training dollar is fully maximized?
Choosing your training wisely
Training should not be conducted just “for the sake of training” as this strategy rarely caters to the needs of employees. Before choosing the kind of training to send employees on, define the goals your company hopes training would achieve. What are the specific skills which the company hopes employees will pick up?
How are these goals aligned with the company’s business objectives? What type of training, whether it be classroom learning, e-learning, on-the-job training, is best suited to impart the necessary information?
How will these skills be reinforced after the training sessions are over? The other question that is sometimes raised is whether the company should hire an external trainer or have the training conducted by someone internally. There are benefits to using an internal trainer as the person would know the daily issues and problems which the company faces. However, if the purpose of the training is to break the current mindset of employees or to encourage innovative thinking on perennial company problems, it might be a better idea to hire an external trainer instead. This is because the trainer’s “outsider” position might give leeway to touch on taboo issues or to raise uncomfortable issues in order to spur creative thinking.
No warm bodies here
One of the reasons why training might not be effective is because employees are not receptive to the idea of training. Going to training sessions may be seen as a way to get away from the office, or employees may only attend training sessions grudgingly.
To counter this issue, it is important HR practitioners stress the rationale and reasons for training. While the few hours or days away from work might have an negative impact on employees in the short run (such as coming back to a mountain of emails), employees should understand how these training sessions relate to their jobs, and why it is vital they learn and apply what they learn to their work.
HR practitioners can also touch on how training can help them improve on their work performance in the company and how it will enable them to work more effectively. Another way to increase the relevancy is to link training programmes to the possibility of promotions or salary increases, or include it as part of their performance appraisals.
Creating a conducive learning environment
While training can technically be done from any location, sometimes it might backfire on companies if the training is done on-site. This is because employees may still be preoccupied on their daily work affairs, and even think about how to head back in between breaks, without taking the time to reflect on what they’ve learnt.
HR practitioners should select a training location that is quiet and roomy enough for all the participants to spread out their materials. The learning environment should also be equipped with the necessary technology (such as projectors and speakers) to aid any audio-visual materials.
Each employee absorbs information differently. Thus, it is good to ensure that the training session is tailored to the specific abilities and the learning styles of the learners. As the learning group usually comprises of employees with different level of skill competencies, an effective trainer must be able to adjust the training to suit everyone in the group. The trainer must not communicate on an expert level, which may leave employees confused, but at the same time, they should not over-simplify as this may bore others.
A good training session should also not just comprise of lectures, whereby one trainer imparts knowledge to a passive audience. Instead, good and engaging training sessions should comprise of a mix of robust discussions amongst trainees, hands-on work as well as lectures.
What happens afterwards
While employees might have learnt new skills or ideas during their time in training sessions, there is a high chance that they would not be able to retain the information if it is not reinforced after they leave the classroom.
This is why HR practitioners or line managers should conduct follow up sessions, such as providing a checklist that specifies what tasks or actions employees need to implement once they return to their regular work schedules. In addition, it helps to provide a supportive environment, such as positive feedback is given whenever new skills are applied, or providing coaching from line managers if employees have not fully grasped the skills needed.
Lastly, create avenues for employees to provide their feedback on what topics and areas of content they found useful and engaging, so as to better refine the training for future training sessions.
Training should not be seen as a one-time endeavour or conducted on an ad hoc basis only when issues arise, but one that is ongoing and constantly seeks to prepare employees for bigger responsibilities.
If properly structured and conducted in a meaningful way, companies should expect to reap the benefits of their training programmes through higher productivity rates, a more motivated workforce and a way to retain employees. All in all, training should be viewed as an investment that is well worth the time and money.