In our current business environment should we train, not train, or delay training? That is the question.
All one has to do is listen to the news, look at a magazine or newspaper, or attend a meeting with management to confirm that the government is in a period of significant budgetary challenges. Although we may have heard talk of leaner budgets in years past it just seems harder hitting this year. As the fiscal year goes on and managers prioritize spend for mission goals to be achieved, managers will be wise to remember to include spend for training as an important priority.
In spite of real budgetary limitations and accompanying thoughts of whether training is affordable, I submit that organizations cannot afford for training to fall to the wayside. There are many reasons to continue, or implement a sound training effort. Recently the Air Force announced cuts of 9,000 civilian jobs. These positions were needed to do a specific job but in an effort to adjust to spending cuts and get to 2010 workforce levels, the positions are headed “off the books”. The loss of the positions does not just mean only the people who accomplish work are gone, the knowledge those individuals have is leaving also. Other factors which drive a need for continued training include retirements, organization restructuring, hiring controls, and anything else which results in an empty worker seat. The employees who remain have greater demands than ever before and even with loss of institutional knowledge when experienced employees leave, they just have to be able to respond. It is the organization’s job to ensure they are equipped to be able to respond as efficiently as possible.
I am under no illusion of how leaner budgets impact training budgets. There is an impact however, the point I would make to managers is to consider “smart spending” for training ahead of “no spending”. With leaner budgets managers may be especially concerned about training people who might eventually leave the organization. I am reminded by a quote which stated that the question should not be “what if we train them and they leave”, it should be, “what if we do not train them and they stay” (Sahi, 2011)? Clearly the business environment both for the government and even for public organizations demands they put an effective training approach in place. To ensure effectiveness, every training effort should be assessed against the organization’s strategic plan and its accompanying objectives and be pointed to the future versus the present.
Achieving solid results from a training effort can be achieved with well thought decisions on deploying a training program. Any training effort should be multi-faceted. A single approach to developing people typically will not meet the wide range of needs most organizations have. A mix of mentoring, technology, in-house events, and use of professionals who deliver development courses typically will cover most needs an organization may have for training.
Mentoring: In few sentences from an article by Lindenberger and Stoltz-Loike (2005) they succinctly state why mentoring is so important. They said: “In our love affair with what’s new, what’s cutting edge, and what’s technologically cool, it’s easy to forget that knowledge also comes with experience. It may require a few hours of e-training or a semester-long course to learn how an energy pump operates, but it takes years and years of experience to recognize the sounds of a pump that is not operating properly. The only way to shorten that learning cycle is to have someone with more experience help to accelerate learning.” Whether it’s an energy pump, a contract, computer repair, accounting, project management, or anything else, a mentor who leads another in learning the finer aspects of any job is one way, perhaps the best way, to capture and retain institutional knowledge. There is much available on mentoring approaches. They can be formal or informal, although the latter are noted for being most effective, particularly if a younger (Gen X and Y) workforce is present.
Technology: Technology, or E-learning, is learning typically done at a computer. This type of learning can be done almost on-demand. The opportunities for e-learning have taken off, with content being delivered via the Internet, a network, satellite, DVD, virtually, and more. Although there may be a price for different e-learning events, many are free. Webinars have become common, are often free of charge, and are a good means to keep up with different ideas and developments in a skill area. Investments in e-learning can bring high return on investment, particularly if a one-time expenditure for e-learning material is re-used across the organization.
In-house resources: Although mentoring is an in-house resource approach, this training approach includes activities of the existing workforce across the board. The activities would include just-in-time training, on-the-job training, brown-bag sessions, and more. Typically these approaches are good for training on something very specific which needs to be accomplished and simply requires the time of the trainer with a trainee or trainees to complete.
Professional training: There are numerous firms who specialize in delivery of high quality training. These firms use experts in designated fields who bring high levels of experience and current trends in business areas to the classroom. Training from professional firms is particularly useful from those firms who can and will adjust curriculum to make the presentation as specific as possible to match the desired training outcome of the requesting organization. Do not be hesitant about asking about this.
This issue of budget shortfalls and its potential impact to an organization’s training effort is not just a government problem. It applies to any business where employees work. It’s a tough environment, no question about it. In spite of it though, time and budget for training must be a priority. The result of a manager’s decision regarding resources for training, positive or negative should not be underestimated. The situation may clearly be one of those proverbial pay now or pay later dilemmas. The problem with accepting a ‘pay later’ approach could potentially be revealed in higher cost to get employees caught up later and lower quality as they perform as best they can in times when responsibilities increase dramatically and without necessary training. If a sound training effort is underway keep it going. If not, get one started. If one is underway but changes are necessary because of the business environment, make adjustments, but do not delay or eliminate training; the long-term cost will be too great. Solid commitment to developing a workforce may be one of the best means to navigate a tough business environment.
Lindenberger, J. & Stoltz-Loike. (2005). Management and Human Resources: Mentoring and Baby Boomers. Retrieved December 7, 2011 from http://www.businessknowhow. com/ manage/mentoring.htm
Sahi, Ravi (PMP, ESI – Asia). (2011). Developing Your PM Competencies Roadmap…5 steps to success. Available from ESI-International – (www.esi-intl.com).