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.