The Small Business of Training

An Ongoing Challenge

There are many challenges associated with providing skills training to your employees.  Each challenge involves investment of not only dollars but also, time and effort.  And in some cases, employees may even not want to invest time away from their job to be trained on processes, skills, legislated and regulatory procedures, and professional development.  Training budgets average less than 2% of payroll.  If your business is 20 employees or less, chances are fairly good that you do not even have a training budget, or if you do, it is small.  Studies show skilled employees are more engaged in their work, productive, and perform better.  They are focused on delivering products and services to customers as effectively and efficiently as possible.  To ensure this level of productivity and performance, you should have a business culture where training is treated as a business process, rather than a variable expense, one requiring ongoing investment to realize ongoing returns.

Training your employees is critical to growing your business.  It's as simple as that.  Consider your own personal situation.  If you want to grow, personally, you need to develop your skills and your knowledge.  The same is true of your business.  If you want your business to grow, then the members of your organization, who represent your business, also need to develop their skills and knowledge.  The challenge, for most small business owners, is how to provide the tools and environment conducive to improving the skills of their employees, given the investment required.  Treating employee training as a business process and integrating it into the daily business will reduce periodic, and oftentimes, large one-time costs associated with improving employee proficiency and competency.

In your daily business, you utilize a number of different business processes, whether formally developed for your business, or informally occurred.  What about the customer service or sales processes you use?  What about all the financial and operating processes you have in place and rely on to help you manage your business?  What about the inventory or supply management processes you utilize on a daily basis to meet customer needs and ensure distribution activities are efficient and profitable?  What makes them so different from training?  Well, training is generally considered to be something one does for employees and for some reason is considered optional rather than necessary, so a variable expense.  Training has become a cost of doing business rather than an investment in business growth.

Why should you invest in training?

If you want your business to grow, your people have to grow. During recessionary or tough economic times, when revenues are down, it is natural to reduce costs, and usually all costs directly associated with labour are affected.    But this is the time when it is even more important to ensure your employees are skilled because their skills will help them to take on additional work, be more creative in their work, and motivate them to be even more productive.  Morale and productivity are linked.  When morale is down, productivity decreases.  When morale is up, productivity improves.  One of the best ways to keep employees productive and engaged is to continue to offer them the opportunity to develop their skills.

During good economic times, when sales and revenues are up, the same scenario applies.  Just because you are happy with your business results does not mean your employees are engaged and productive.  Providing an environment where employees can develop their skills is important for productivity during every type of economic scenario.

What types of training should you provide to your employees?

Training requirements generally surface in three different ways;

  • legislated or regulatory;
  • technical skills for functional performance and proficiency; and,
  • professional development.

As a minimum, you should be meeting legislated or regulatory requirements.  These requirements are in place to ensure health and safety of employees, address inequities in treatment of employees, and protect the general community.  Good business requires business owners to comply with these requirements.              

Technical skills are specific to the needs of the business and provide employees with what they need to work effectively in their function.  Improvements in technical and functional proficiency will reduce errors, lost time, and customer complaints. 

Professional development covers a wide range of training needs, from management skills to certification competency for specific disciplines (i.e.: CHRP, CA, etc.).  Certification programs abound in areas such as Human Resources, Training and Development, Process Improvement, Quality Control, to name just a few.  

What are the options available to provide training on a continuous basis?

Dependent upon the type of skills required by your employees, solutions may be different.  And there are many solutions available.  The key is to assess which solution best meets the training requirement for the individual employee.

If you already have training programs available, you may be able to convert them into online products.  This provides for easier access and broader application.  Products such as Mindflash are available to do this for developed programs.  Webinar providers also offer online vehicles for delivery of your training products.  These two applications are relatively inexpensive forms of training delivery.  However, these providers make their money by charging monthly fees for their service.  Fees are billed according to the size of the training group.  This will provide you with continuous access to training vehicles but you still need to build the actual programs or create the actual products.

If you do not have training programs or products already developed, then there are training providers who sell off-the-shelf programs.  This option can be quite cost effective if the training requirements can be met with off-the-shelf solutions.  Since the products have been already developed, they speak to a very broad training audience and are priced according to the volume the providers are able to sell.  Again, there are online options available for these types of products.   This is usually the least expensive method for delivery of legislated and regulatory requirements.  Check with your government websites for possible products and providers.

Custom programs are the most expensive.  If you require training to be company or line of business specific, you will need to either have a program built from scratch or have an off-the-shelf program modified.  Whichever method you select, it will require intervention by a trainer or training consultant, so now the labour cost of the program development increases.  In these cases, you might be advised to have them build and implement a Train-the-Trainer program so that subsequent training delivery of this particular skill becomes an in-house activity so you are not paying for external trainers every time you have to offer this specific training.

Other options include work exchanges and training cost sharing with other similar sized businesses.  This works well with legislated and regulatory training requirements and also some types of certification and functional skills training.  Get involved with your local chamber of commerce, board of trade, or other business organizations and seek out other business owners with the same training requirements.   You may be able to offer more training at less cost.

What is the first step?

The first step is to invest time in research.  Determine what skills training is required to meet legislative and regulatory requirements, functional proficiency and performance.  Then evaluate the skills required to service your customers effectively.  Then conduct a review of all possible training solutions.  This research will help to determine the best solution for your employees and your business as you prioritize solutions.  Now build the training budget.    

If you view employee training as a business process, rather than a variable expense, you will see it as an investment in business growth rather than a cost to be avoided, and your solutions will be creative and palatable.


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