Thoughts On Training Your Workforce

“Do you do training?” I get asked this all the time, but it’s the wrong question. The question I have to give back is “Sure, but the real questions is do YOU do training?” 

It is hard to find anyone that disagrees with the concept of training employees. I won’t even bother to cite the value in education. Let’s assume you all know as well. So why don’t more companies commit the time and expense? I’ll tell you why: They are short-sighted, kinda selfish, and a little bit afraid. And – they are in good company because this seems to be a common problem in small businesses. The right question is, “Can you help figure out how to develop a training culture?” My answer is yes. Here’s what you need to understand to start to remove the obstacles to a better educated workforce.

Training Obstacles

I hear far more complaints from employees these days about the lack of training opportunities in their companies than I do from owners. Employers sometimes tell workers to learn on their own time and at their own expense, but then expect to reap the benefits of those efforts. Needless to say employees balk at this and end up settling for unspectacular careers.

Likewise, employers will tell you that when they have provided training, the employee expected a pay raise or promotion as a reward for completion. Or, they immediately took a new job; or they didn’t retain the knowledge. Both parties are half-right, which means they are also half-wrong. The root problem is cultural and more than a little bit generational. IN any case, we have to start our work at the top.

The list of objections to training that I hear from employers is rather long, but here are few of my favorites:

1. “I am training people for someone else to steal.”

I agree with you 100%. If you do not work hard to retain employees, then they will leave. Remember the Richard Branson quote, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” However, this IS a chicken and egg thing. You have to start treating employees well in order for the retention thing to work. I am honestly thinking right now of employers who have told me, “I will treat them better when they work harder.” I can’t make this stuff up!

2. “Back in my day we learned during our free time and proved ourselves valuable through extra effort. We earned the right to be trained!”

Yes, you probably did. (Did you use the curmudgeon voice in your head when you read that quote?) Back when technology was analog and you COULD learn how to do something by fiddling with the knobs, training was more informal, self-driven, and ‘on-the-job’. This is now the 21st century and it takes a computer to turn on a lamp or ‘pot up’ a microphone. Operating standards are also much higher. Plus today’s workers expect to do more than sweep the floor and push boxes when they are hired. Who can blame them? I can’t think of one valuable job in our industry that doesn’t require advanced training.

3. “We don’t have the time. Whenever we schedule training, a big project pops up.”

This is actually less of a time argument than it is a money thing. If you were committed to training, you would honor the schedule and hire extra workers, sub-contractors, or freelancers to do the work. You have to be committed to the point that excuses don’t matter.

4. “No one trains the way I think it should be done.”

Can’t argue with that other than to say then, create your own training! However, the managers that deliver this objection are often ones that are too busy themselves to work on such a project. In other words, Managers need training on how to be a better manager. Maybe we should start there.

Training Culture

The obstacle that most managers want my help addressing is the employee expectation of more compensation as they become more trained. Meanwhile the employer wants an ROI and needs to see a track record of the employee making more money for the company. The fact that this paradigm exists points to the need for a training culture within organizations. This is not something that an be brought on overnight by introducing new policies and programs. Continuing education is a requirement to survive in today’s business world.

Training needs follow-through. At a minimum you must guide the newly-trained employee into situations where they can use their new skills successfully. You also need to give them support from more experienced personnel to protect the project and the worker from failure. A certificate doesn’t replace experience, just as ‘time on the console’ doesn’t replace training anymore.

There is so much more that goes into changing the way you and your employees think about training. Company culture is Doctoral level theory, but it all starts with a good attitude, a willingness to learn from mistakes, and a commitment of time and money. The biggest obstacle is perhaps the person at the top, and that’s a great place to start teaching some new ways of thinking.

Tom Stimson, MBA, CTS, is president of Stimson Group LLC, a Dallas-based management consulting firm specializing in strategy, process improvement, and market research for the Audiovisual Industry. Tom is a Past-President of InfoComm International and a current member of InfoComm’s Adjunct Faculty. 

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