Training and Development

Training and development is a formal, ongoing process within a workplace to help employees develop and deepen their knowledge and skills, either to perform better in their current job or to become qualified for a more advanced job. Training generally refers to specific job-related functions, such as proficiency in a given software program. Development is more expansive and considers competencies like leadership and communications.

What Is Employee Training and Development?

The term “employee training and development” covers many learning experiences. What they have in common is that they are sponsored, encouraged or approved by an employer and undertaken by an employee to address knowledge or skill deficits, meet mandatory compliance requirements, deepen capabilities in a current job or qualify the worker for a new job.

Employee training and development has always been important, and in some cases, it’s mandatory—for example compliance training for managers that is mandated by law or mandatory continuing education for certain licensed professionals. But even when it is not mandatory, training and development is increasingly important. This is in large part because of the pace of change in today’s work environment. With technology changing so rapidly, jobs are constantly evolving, and workers need to evolve their skills with them. Some jobs that are common now will become obsolete over the course of the next decade and many of the jobs today’s elementary school children will hold don’t yet exist. High quality training opportunities are critical for employers and employees to keep pace with change and keep their knowledge and skillsets relevant. This is why so many employers have adopted “continual learning” as a priority that helps them acquire and maintain a highly skilled workforce and promote employee growth and advancement.

Training and development opportunities are also more important to some of today’s workers as a component of job satisfaction than they may have been in the past. Young people entering the workforce today are accustomed to a rapidly changing technology environment and to constantly learning new ways to do things as new technology emerges. These workers actively seek out new things to learn and new ways to learn them and gain satisfaction from that process.

Although training and development has always been present in the workplace, in recent years, it has taken on more visibility and significance as a formalized function with specific operational and strategic goals. Many companies now have a dedicated person or department focused only on the development and delivery of training and development opportunities for the workforce.

Why Is Employee Training and Development Important?

Having the right employees with the right knowledge and skills has long been regarded as a vital factor, possibly the most important factor, in the success of a business. Obviously, a part of that is hiring and retaining the right talent. But equally important is training the talent you have, so that as the needs of your business and your customers evolve and change, your employees can keep pace.

Today’s employees work in a constantly changing environment. Not only do they need training to grow. In most industries, employees need access to continual training simply to keep up with changes as they occur.

In a world where the standard software that employees use to perform key job functions may have new version releases five and six times a year, skills can quickly become obsolete if they are not maintained. If companies and their workers don’t actively push back against this, they lose ground. New efficiencies and capabilities in the new technology are not accessible to the workers because they don’t know how to use them (or may not even be aware of them). Competitors who are using these capabilities then have an opportunity to gain an advantage.

Good training and development programs also help employers to attract and retain the right people. Smart employees understand how critical continual learning is in today’s work world and actively seek employers who will support their desire for ongoing learning and development opportunities. As the job market tightens and the battle for top talent heats up, training and development programs will only become more important.

In a recent survey by the organization “Great Place to Work” training and development was cited more than any other factor as an area of focus by the 100 top rated companies in the U.S. The reasons are clear, organizations with highly developed workplace training programs report profits on the average three times greater than their competitors.

How Do You Create High Impact Training and Development Programs?

High impact training programs don’t simply happen on their own. They require careful planning and constant adjustment.

Often the training function is managed by the human resources department. A Human Resources Development (HRD) specialist can develop programs that will ensure that employees become and stay competent in their current jobs while simultaneously accruing the knowledge and skills they’ll need to grow into their next job. HRD specialists typically oversee manager, supervisor and employee training as well as tuition reimbursement programs, mandatory compliance training, review and feedback processes and employee coaching and mentoring.

Whether your company has an HRD person/department or not you can develop a high impact training program if you invest some effort in the following steps:

  • Carefully evaluate your company’s overall goals and then map the role of each department, team, and person to those goals. What are the contributions you need, at every level, to meet your goals and how do well do the current knowledge and skills levels of your people equip them to make those contributions?
  • Develop a knowledge and skills assessment for each department, team, and person that looks at skills needed, skills possessed, and any gaps. It can be useful to do this exercise looking at present day as well as one year from now, three years from now, etc.
  • Develop a training plan that addresses both organization wide knowledge and skills gaps as well as individual ones. In addition to ensuring the knowledge and skills you need are there consider succession planning. Is there an employee near retirement who possesses knowledge and skills not present elsewhere in your team? If so, is there an employee you can identify to begin acquiring that knowledge and skillset to position you for when the retirement occurs?
  • Think about how you will measure the impact of your training. Entrance and exit surveys can be a good way to see how much you have increased an employee’s knowledge and competency over time. Also look at other ways to measure impact, for example, a decrease in an error or a common customer complaint.

The best learning programs address both mandatory and nice to know knowledge and skillsets, and try to address employee motivation, employee skills mastery, and critical training.

Common Training Methods

On the Job Training: On the job training is exactly what it sounds like, training that occurs during performing the work. This can include apprenticeships, orientations, coaching sessions, internships, shadowing, and job rotation.

This is a highly practical way of training that does not take the worker out of their environment (with the corresponding lost productivity) and tends to be well retained. On the job training is typically delivered by HR, supervisors or more experienced employees. It is important to ensure that whoever delivers the on the job training is an effective trainer. The person who knows the most about a given task is not always the best at explaining it.

Off the Job Training: Off the job training takes the employee out of their day to day routine for a learning activity. It is not necessarily “off-site,” some off the job training activities might occur on-site in a conference room or even at the employee’s desk using an online training platform. This could include live or online attendance at a lecture, seminar or workshop, as well as conferences, film presentations, role playing and simulations, and a variety of other activities. Team building exercises would also fall into this category as well as self-instruction (independent study) using printed or online resources.

Some larger employers develop and deliver their own off the job training. In addition, much off the job training is delivered by third parties like professional trainers, consultants, associations, continuing education providers, chambers of commerce, community colleges and universities.

Off the job training activities can be a great compliment to on the job training but since the off the job training is generally not specific to one company, there is a necessary step to connect the dots between what the employee learned in the off the job exercise and how to apply it in your workplace.

Off the job training used to be very cost prohibitive and rare in smaller companies as a result but in recent years there has been an explosion of low cost online training options that have become available, making off the job training accessible to everyone and something any workplace should consider as a part of its training strategy. Online training options today abound, from live webinars in which attendees attend a class in real time, over a streaming web connection and can interact with the instructor and other attendees, to on-demand online courses, many of which are now interactive, as well as online simulations and adaptive learning which assesses what a learner knows and does not know and them presents them with targeted learning activities.

Coaching and Mentoring: Coaching and mentoring are both 1:1 training activities and used correctly both can be effective. In a coaching relationship, typically the employee has been paired, by consent, with his or her manager or an outside coach retained by the employer. The two meet regularly to address and process challenging situations and for the coach to provide feedback, advice, encouragement, reassurance and where needed, constructive criticism.

Mentoring is similar to coaching but generally pairs a senior, experienced person with a junior employee who aspires to a role like that of the senior person someday. Mentors are usually not the direct supervisor of the employee. It might be a senior person at the company or someone from outside the company. Many industry associations provide formal or informal matching services to pair people with mentors from their industry.

Components of a Successful Learning Experience

For a learning experience to be successful, you need to first know going in what the goals of the learning are. If you don’t have specific goals for the learning going in it will be impossible to measure how effective the learning was at bringing you closer to those goals.

Some of the key components of most successful learning experiences are:

  • Measurable impact: Both the employee and employer know what they are trying to get from the training and can recognize a measurable gain against that goal at the end of the learning activity
  • Buy in: Both the employer and the employee are invested in the learning activity and motivated for it to succeed, neither is reluctantly going along with the process because the other wants it or because HR said to do it.
  • Applicability: Both the employer and the employee can see clearly how to apply the learning in the day to day of the job. In an ideal world, the employee can bring the specifics of their job challenges to the learning activity and apply the learning to them with instructor feedback.
  • Positivity: The learning activity creates a safe environment where all participants are shown respect and sensitivity. The employee exits the training feeling positively impacted in confidence and self-esteem.

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