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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Recession Impact on
Training Functions

survey confirms impressions, but don't be to quick to say "I told you so"

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

Workforce Management recently released a summary of a large-scale training survey, conducted this summer, with over 1,400 organizations. Respondents had more than 100 employees, and included companies and government agencies. The research was conducted by the consultancy Bersin & Associates, in conjunction with Workforce Management magazine.

The results certainly indicate that the recession has had an impact on the way most organizations fund and use their training departments. But it is also important to view the lessons from this research from a wider perspective. I'll just touch on a few of the most notable findings.

Spending on Training Down

Yes, as you no doubt knew, training was cut in most of the organizations suveyed. The overall budget whack to training, over the last year, was around 10-12%, higher for larger companies.

I have visions of many people reading that number and thinking, and perhaps even saying, "I knew it!" and "I told you so!" But this study doesn't provide the crucial information you really need before you react to those numbers, which is, how does that compare with other units within these organizations?

Try walking around your company and loudly complaining of a 10% cut, and it won't take you long to encounter department heads who envy you. Somewhere in your organization, people lost more than 10%. Given the severity of the economic downturn, the sudden reversal, at many companies, from profitabiliy to loss, 10% might not be that bad. And whatever the case in your organization, everyone has suffered during the recession, so suggesting that "it isn't fair", or even, "it isn't strategic" to cut training that much is not going to help you work with your colleagues. (See my earlier Training Tipsheet article, "If We're Lucky, Nobody is Listening.")

More Selective Training

The survey suggests that the number of hours of training given to the average employee has halved over the last two years or so. Companies seem to be more selective about which employees receive what training. Organizations appear to have taken a closer look at what programs and approaches deliver results, and at who, within their organization, has crucial needs or above-average opportunities to make greater contributions after further training.

In other words, in these harsh times, companies are more interested in spending their dollars where they will make a difference.

Now, this is a good response to the recession. But it was also a pretty good idea before the recession.

I'm guessing that when the economy tanked, a lot of training directors had some pretty uncomfortable internal conversations about return on investment, measurable results, alignment with strategic plans, and the like. At the same time, in some other organizations those conversations had been part of the routine of providing training services for years, and adapting to new conditions was probably a lot eaiser in those companies.

Staying close to the functions you serve at the level at which you deliver training -- not just at the executive level -- can make all the difference. That's where you really see the results you deliver, and where you build support from other units for what you contribute.

Still Classroom Driven

Although there were increases in online training and other technologies (e.g., delivering training via video hookups), instructors in classrooms still deliver the majority of training. Many of these courses involved outside help: most organizations use outside professionals for some of their instruction, and for some of their course development, and some organizations outsourced more training support functions as they cut internal staff.

Some will bemoan the continued reliance on classroom training, or hail the growing proportion of training delivered through other channels. But those numbers don't mean much in themselves. What's important, within your company, is that the right delivery method be used, for impact, cost considerations, company culture, and so on. The notion that, say, online courses should always be preferred over classroom instruction is just silly.

And beware of false economies. It has become pretty easy, and cheap, to develop on-line courses in house -- but the results are often disappointing. The bad news is that it is just as hard to develop quality on-line training as ever, because the real cost is in staff or consultant time to generate a sound design, not in entering and formatting content.

For some tips on what to keep in mind if you tackle a "do-it-yourself" on-line course development project, download the Training Tipsheet Extra, "Creating e-ffective e-learning: 13 Tips for Maximizing Your Return On Investment in On-Line Course Delivery."

© 2009 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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