Training and Budgets: Make the Most of Your Limited Training Dollars

I mentioned in my previous post that for the most part, the first area cut in any budget is money allotted to the training and skills maintenance of your staff.

Even in industries that require education in order to retain professional standing, the training attended is usually not chosen because it is the best learning opportunity, rather because it costs little or nothing to  attend.
How can you make the most of your training dollars and still provide the best education to your staff?
In this article we'll discuss two alternatives to provide end-user training for your staff. Yes, there are so many more options that I could discuss the possibilities all day, but I doubt you want to read that so I've limited this to two options that are fairly easy and cost effective to implement.

1. Bring a Trainer In-House

When was the last time you brought a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in-house to offer their expertise to your staff?

I'm not talking about the sales person for the LOB (line of business) or proprietary software you use, I mean an actual trainer for that product.  Many companies that produce software have trainers they will send to your site to provide training to your staff so that you can use their software better. Trainers may be support staff that know the product inside out, or industry professionals who moved into the training arena because they believed in the product as a business solution. Those are the people you want in to show your staff how to really use and make the most of the software.

But Beware! Approaching the vendor to offer training to your staff may be more costly because they have overhead that needs to be considered in the fees you pay for the trainer such as airfare, hotels, meals, transportation, office space and so many other items and fixed costs you may not have considered.

If your LOB vendor doesn't have a trainer on staff, find out if there are consultants for that application. Ask the vendor. They may have a list of qualified consultants they will refer. Alternately, a simple MSN, Yahoo! or Google search will show you if there are consultants for that software in your area.

Many consultants for specialty software have expertise because they may have been working with the product for years, they have solved problems that no one else has, they may have participated in user groups, forums, the development process or because they are former employees (support or training staff) of the software vender and have a keen knowledge of the system and your industry.

Most consultants that offer training for LOB applications completed hours of training to become an effective trainer and have the skills to provide instruction, transfer knowledge,  deal with difficult situations,  and work a class environment successfully.

In general, the cost of an independent consultant in-house to provide instruction to your staff is greatly reduced because many consultants are self employed. You may be able to negotiate fees and transportation costs more easily as well, you may find a SME close by so you don't have to pay those costs.

To sum up point number one, approach your vendor first to find out if they offer training, and if not, do they know of a consultant that does. You are almost guaranteed to get the best education for your staff at a lower per attendee rate then sending each staff member out of the office for the duration of the training.

2. Train the Trainer

The most cost effective means of training your staff is long-term investing in your own people to provide training. This may also be best for your corporate environment. You may already have a SME on staff. Did you hire someone because of their industry and product knowledge? If so, now is a great time to find out if they are interested in leading your staff training sessions.

If you have a staff member interested in offering to provide training to your staff, the first thing you will want to do is find a Train-the-Trainer course that specializes in providing training and testing to qualify your staff member as a trainer.

In Train-the-Trainer courses topics covered include things like presentation style and skills, pacing, handling demos, handling difficult classroom situations, analyzing the classroom environment, evaluating  (the students and the instructor) and communicating with the learners. Those are just a few items that will be tackled in a class designed for Trainers. Expect to have the staff member away from the office for 3-5 days depending on the course content.

Something to keep in mind if this is the route you want to go, ensure that the course you send your staff to offers evaluations of the course participants training skills and provides that information not only to the staff member, but to you as well. This will provide an excellent overview of how they did in the course and where their strengths and weaknesses in presenting and training are. These evaluations open the door for you to work with the new Trainer prior to any training session they will lead.

Using a staff member has it's pro's and con's but in the long run, you are able to offer more flexible training to your staff because training sessions can now be any duration you need to tackle the pressing issues that come to light during staff evaluations or valuable client feedback. They can be lunch and learn, so as not to interrupt busy call centres or they can be half/full day sessions. Additionally, because the investment in the new Trainer is now spread over weeks or months and maybe even years, you see a clear savings while you ensure consistent training for your staff.

No matter what choices you make when it comes to providing education for your staff members, bringing a Trainer in, sending your staff out or investing in an in-house Trainer via a Train-the-Trainer course, the important thing is that you value your staff and show it by investing in their continued success as an employee and representative of your company.


Comments (2)

  1. Anonymous says:

    In this article we’ll discuss two alternatives to provide end-user training for your staff. Yes, there…

  2. jointer says:

    Hi Jacqueline,

    I advocated the approach that you mention when I was an IT Manager, particularly the "train the trainer"; retained knowledge is always more cost effective than re-attained knowledge. The problem that I ran into was that the Senior Management liked the cost effectiveness arguements (which included allowance for a portion of the in-house trainer time) and agreed in principal to the in-house trainers having time to do that work, and go on improving their own knowledge. BUT when push came to shove it was still difficult to get use of the in-house trainers’ time to the top of the priority list because it wasn’t a full time position, and it would have been difficult to make that case! So it came down to the same old arguement, "where does training lie in the priorities of the organization?".

    It didn’t change my mind about what I considered to be a valid approach but there must be REAL commitment on the behalf of management that a portion of those people’s time is truly inviolate when it comes to training. If not, then you wasted your money anyway. It is akin to sending people on outside training and then never giving them the opportunity to consolidate that training on the job.

    All too often there is expectation that going on training is like some magic ‘injection’ which gives you the knowledge and experience to be instantly productive, when in reality there may be a less productive period before the value of the training is realized, if you are lucky. I have long believed that we often overpower people with quantity, on say a 1 day course, rather than quality. I think that the most commonly used minimal subsets of a product taught in depth with lots of practice is most likely to produce the best result. It must be our aim to send people away feeling ready and willing to move forward. Unfortunately, it is a commercially competitive environment and training company clients often want to believe that if they send their employees to company X that they will be ‘magically’ trained and almost instantly newly productive.

    So we have this interesting problem of companies wanting to make the minimum investment but not fully appreciating that if you overwhelm people on a course, give them some very nice material to take home (which many of them probably won’t read) that may not be the best investment. It is not possible to ‘transform’ someone in a day but by studying a limited amount of the ‘right’ material I believe that their ‘start-up’ curve on the job will be much faster and more cost effective. Combine that with part-time in-house trainers, who work within the same environment (ie. are trusted) and then you can make good use your dollar.

    There are a number of practical problems with this unfortunately. One I have already mentioned regarding part-time in-house trainers. What are the right sub-sets of features for a given product? This may vary from organization to organization. If you want customized training that will increase the cost substantially. By learning in smaller more effective chunks that means more training days and more days absent from work.

    In effect you have swapped the time that the worker was supposed to be learning ‘on the job’ for classroom time. But will they get quality on the job learning time? When looked at this way, very few companies are going to see this as attractive. The important component that is missing from the assessment, of course, is why are they being training anyway? If it isn’t to make them more ‘productive’ in some way, or avoid them being gradually less productive with changes in technology, what is the point? If there is no ‘holistic’ view of where training fits in then you are highly likely to just spend your money for limited return. Larger companies can often afford Training Officers who consider all aspects of training but the world consists mainly of small to medium sized companies.

    Training techniques are changing and a company may invest in something like computer based training, for example. However, employees may still be expected to study on their own time, which may or not be feasible or attractive on an individual by individual basis. The ambitious ones may make the commitment but they may not be your ‘best’ employees. It won’t be the first time, or the last, that companies try to get ‘free’ time from employees. This is not a managed approach to training, which ultimately is paramount if you are going to get the best bang for your buck.


    Graham J.

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