15 Sep 2009 Training Benefits
Everyone needs training. It does not matter what your level of experience. Everyone has room for improvement. The improvement could be something dramatic, such as going from being a novice to someone highly skilled. Or it could be that someone who is highly skilled wants to hone those skills even further in order to stay ahead of the competition, such as an Olympic athlete.
Despite knowing that training has benefits, some companies do not invest as much time and energy into training their employees as they should. The rationale for this lack of foresight usually takes on two forms: the company says they cannot afford to have their employees taking time away from work, or the company says they are concerned the employees would leave for a new job once the training is complete.
The truth is that training offers not only employee benefits but business benefits. Companies should understand and recognize that having an ongoing training structure in place is a necessary part of their business.
Reasons for training
Think of a high school basketball program. You would have a varsity team, a junior varsity team, and a freshman team. Each team would have practices and the natural progression of a player would be from the freshman team to the JV team and then on to varsity. But who decides when a player is ready to move upward? The varsity coach, of course, who is managing the entire program and constantly evaluating the players daily, would be the one responsible for that decision.
At the start of the season the coach will put in the base set of offensive and defensive plays that the team will use for the season. These plays will be based upon the individual players strengths, however during the course of the season new plays will be put into the system in order to make certain the team remains competitive, which makes their fans happy.
Now compare that to an IT department. You have a person that serves as the head of IT (your varsity coach) and is responsible for evaluating the employees as part of an overall professional development program. Depending upon the performance of an employee it could be desirable to have them placed into a new role. Or it could be that a new system is being brought in house and certain employees will be shifted over to be dedicated to working with the new system. At the end of the day, the head of IT is going to make the moves that she feels will provide the business with the highest level of satisfaction.
With regards to training the two scenarios are the same. In each case you have people changing roles or positions, you have new systems being put into place, you have people evaluating the employees and players, and you want your customers to be happy. We could therefore say that there are four good reasons for companies to offer training: for professional development, when people change roles, for new systems, and for customer satisfaction.
Professional development can have many meanings to many people. For some it means career growth. For others it may simply be another way to describe their annual performance review. And still others may think of professional development as their career track within a company.
The results of annual reviews could lead a company to institute a training program. For example, an employee may be told that they are lacking in a core set of necessary skills for their position. The company may then see fit to offer some training to that employee in an effort to help them with their development. Or the evaluation could point out that the employee is excelling in a certain area and it might be a good idea to offer training in order to enhance some existing skills.
Training is a part of any professional development program. Good companies offer strong professional development opportunities. Note that this does not mean that the company has positions of advancement to offer; in most cases they will not. But what good companies will do is make certain their employees are given opportunities to pursue positions they enjoy. Sometimes those positions exist and sometimes they are created. But without training it will be difficult for the IT director to be able to evaluate the employee’s growth potential.
Employee desires and motivations change over time. As a result it will often be necessary to have employees change roles. Sometimes this could mean a promotion, but it could also mean a lateral move. Perhaps someone has been working in the QA department and wants to move into a junior administration role. Companies that have training programs in place allow for this changing of roles easily; otherwise it would be very difficult to allow for internal growth opportunities. And if there are no internal growth opportunities for the employees then low morale could be a result.
Piloting New Systems
Systems come and go, especially in the IT sector. When new systems come into your shop your company is going to need someone to administer and support them. This can be done by (1) training existing employees, (2) hiring new employees or contractors with the necessary experience, or (3) doing nothing.
Doing nothing will lead to poor administration and support, which will lead to poor customer satisfaction. Hiring new employees is an option, but may be cost prohibitive. Most of the time the best course of action is to train current employees to work with the new system.
Companies should always be looking to increase customer satisfaction. After all, if they alienate their customers to the point that no customers remain, then they will not be in business very long. Training programs have the ability to increase customer satisfaction as an end result. How? By improving the morale of the employees first. When you create a positive work environment you allow for the opportunity to create a positive customer experience as well.
Think about places you may have worked where office morale was low. What was it like to be a customer of that company? Was it a positive experience? Chances are that most interactions between those customers and your company were not very positive. Now I cannot pinpoint that bad interaction on a lack of a decent training program; what I am saying is that one reason for instituting a training program would be in order to have higher customer satisfaction as a result.
There is little question that there are lots of benefits to the employees that are receiving the training. They get to increase their skill set, make new contacts, expand their network, and essentially increase their value to the company. After all, what company wants to lose an employee that they invest training dollars on?
There are a lot of other benefits that employees receive through training that many people do not consider because they are focused only on the short term. But when looking at the larger picture one can start to see a host of ancillary benefits.
Training your employees gives them a sense of confidence which then boils over into their overall job satisfaction. They become more confident in their daily duties as a result of training. Better yet, instead of just their routine duties, their training allows for them to take on new responsibilities. While most people enjoy some routine in their lives they also enjoy a dose of variety. As they gain confidence, they enjoy their jobs more, leading to increased job satisfaction.
Training can lead to an increase in employee motivation. In addition to the confidence and increase in job satisfaction, employees will find themselves motivated to do more. That extra bit of training may be the difference in having employees that are just punching the clock to having employees that come in early and stay a little late.
Probably one of the least obvious employee training benefits would be the increase in efficiency that can result. An employee could find ways to take a 30 minute task down to a 5 minute task. As a DBA you may find ways to performance tune queries that can cut your tuning time from days to hours. That saves time and we all know that time is money, right?
When you become more efficient, you start to save time. What you also get is the ability to better manage your time. How many times have you been expected to drop everything and respond to a critical issue? Then, after responding, you do your best to dissect the problem and are then badgered for constant updates: “How much longer before you fix the problem?”
With training those issues take less time to resolve, giving you the ability to effectively manage critical issues and continue to get your regular workload done. In short, you have the ability to manage your time better.
Even if you are not attending a class designed to work on communication (or “soft”) skills, you can see an increase in those skills regardless. Through training you get the opportunity to interact with others in an environment outside of the office. After the training is complete and you start applying your new skills to your current position you will then start having the opportunity to be interacting with different people inside your office.
In most cases your training will give you the opportunity to share your new skills with others in your office, particularly with other team members. This is certainly a chance to improve upon your soft skills; a chance you may not been given without having been offered the training to begin with.
When it comes to training programs most people tend to think that the only person receiving a benefit is the person receiving the training. While it is true that the employee is getting a direct benefit, it is also true that the employer also receives a benefit. Some of these benefits we have already seen, such as an increase in customer satisfaction that is brought about by providing better customer service. Or an increase in productivity as a result of increased efficiency. But there are a handful of other benefits to the business that can be directly attributed to training.
We already saw that training can lead to an increase in job satisfaction. And employees who feel satisfied in their jobs are going vital to ensuring that office morale stays high. It may not be practical to train everyone so the IT manager is going to have to find a way to justify and rotate the training needs of the department. When done correctly, training can have dramatic effects on office morale.
We already saw that training can lead to an increase in job satisfaction and improve morale. And employees who feel satisfied by their jobs are less likely to leave. Employee retention is important for two reasons. First, you want consistency in your ability to support the business. Second, you do not want to go through the time and expense to find new employees. Given the choice between spending tens of thousands of dollars to find new employees it would be cheaper if your company offered some periodic training.
Training can be effective in the reduction of risk. The risk in question can vary; it could be making certain that everyone has sexual harassment training, for example. Or you may want to reduce your risk with regards to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. I cannot think of one employee that desires to go to a training class on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, but I can think of many businesses that would see a benefit in doing so.
Training employees offers a business the ability to stay competitive in their industry. They have the chance to take advantage of new technologies before a competitor, for example. In some industries it is vital to stay on the cutting edge of technology; in others it is vital to be able to use existing technology but simply be the first one to get a specific product to market before someone else. The business benefit for this aspect of training dollars is potentially the most lucrative.