Can you afford to give your staff the training they are hankering after? The fact is, you can't afford not to.
Improving the quality of your employees through training and education is key to long-term profitability. It increases productivity, boosts the skills of new employees and helps existing staff to adjust more rapidly to changing job requirements.
But a good training strategy is about more than merely sending your employees - or yourself - on a couple of courses. It should also address the following:
- Who are your customers and why do they buy from you? Do they have a need that your employees aren't properly equipped to meet?
- Who are your competitors? How do they serve the market and how do they use their skills to create a competitive advantage?
- What are your business's strengths? And weaknesses?
- What social trends are emerging that might affect your operations?
Assess the status of your business, how it does what it does best, and how capable your employees are of performing these tasks. This will help to pinpoint the areas that most need improving. It will also give you a benchmark against which to evaluate the effectiveness of any training you put in place.
Then weigh up the pros and cons of doing the training internally versus outsourcing it to an expert. On-the-job training schemes (such as apprenticeships, learnerships and internships) allow people to learn while they work. Their trainers/mentors typically have in-depth knowledge of the business, and there is no outright cost.
Off-the-job training (such as lectures, workshops and formal studies), on the other hand, might be more convenient for smaller businesses that don't have the time or resources to take on an apprentice. However, it tends to be costly.
Get it right first time
According to the Learning Resources Network, only about 15% of organisations measure the behavioural change that results from training. As few as 8% measure the efficiencies or productivity improvements that follow.
As an SME owner, quantifying the return on your training investment is crucial. Use these guidelines to ensure that the training you put in place is both needed and effective:
- Is it the right solution? Ensure that your employees have the time and tools needed to perform their jobs, and that they understand what is expected of them. Do they have the right temperament and talent for the position? If not, training won't help.
- Ensure the training is relevant. It must teach the specific skills that you want your employees to attain. If external training providers won't customise their offerings, consider doing it internally instead.
- Create context. Explain what the training will involve and how the employees' new skills will relate to the tasks they do on a daily basis.
- Agree on measurable objectives and outcomes. Generalised training sounds great in a lecture hall and looks even better on a CV, but can be hard to translate into practical actions that make you more efficient or cost-effective. Set very clear goals for what you want to achieve, including milestones that plot employees' progression from where they are now, to where you want them to be.
- Get buy-in. Make it clear that the training is the employees' responsibility and that they are expected to apply themselves diligently.
- Ask for pre-training assignments. Exercises that are completed and marked in advance of the training allows for more interaction and new information on the day. It also stimulates interest and ideas.
- Stay involved. Before the training starts, chat to your employees (or ask your managers to chat to them) to find out what they hope to learn. Discuss any concerns that they have about applying the training in their day-to-day work.
- Keep your managers in the know. If your managers understand the skills and facts that are provided in the training, they can act as role models and show other employees how to apply their new knowledge.
- Coach your managers: Give supervisory staff an easy-to-follow tip sheet that explains what they can do to support effective training.
- Recognise achievement: Reward staff for completing and/or applying the training.
Eight steps to successful training
- Set organisational objectives. What is your business and what should it be? Where do you want it to be in five years?
- Assess needs. What will it take to achieve the business's objectives? Compare this to the current skills and performance of individual employees. Is there a gap?
- Set training objectives. Create written summaries of individual job descriptions, outlining what each person does on a task-by-task basis. Clarify what behaviour or skill will be changed as a result of the training.
- Select the trainees. Ensure that the person you wish to train is capable of handling the tasks you've set out. Also ensure that the training material is at a level that the employee will understand.
- Select the training methods. Can the training be done in-house (eg, learnerships, apprenticeships and coaching) or through external workshops and formal studies or lectures? Balance the time and skills it will take to do it internally against the higher cost of outsourced training.
- Choose a means of evaluation. Break up the overall training objectives into measurable milestones so that you can monitor the success of the training as it progresses.
- Administer training. For on-the-job training, develop a clear plan and timetable that takes the person's current workload into account. This helps to avoid the training being pushed asidewhen the business gets busy.
- Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate! If your training falls short of expectations, it might be because you didn't evaluate soon enough. Check people's progress throughout the training process. This will enable you to adjust the training where necessary.
Measure results to see impact
- Measure the learners' reactions to the training programme.
- Measure the amount of learning that has occurred.
- Measure the changes in behaviour that participants exhibit on the job as a result of the training programme.
- Quantify the results of this behavioural change, as this is what affects the organisation's bottom line.
Why SMEs don't train
- Time. Training is time intensive and prevents the SME owner/manager from doing the work that earns the business's profit.
- Lack of knowledge. For many SME owners training is unfamiliar territory.
- Broad expertise. Training requires specialised skills - something that few SME owners have.
- Lack of trust. An SME owner's unique knowledge and experience is often his or her competitive edge. Sharing it with subordinates might not come naturally.
- Scepticism. Not all training translates into immediate profit, and in many cases
SME owners prefer to focus their spare resources on areas that will generate immediate growth.
… And why they SHOULD
- It builds up a pool of readily available replacements for staff who may leave or be promoted.
- It builds a more effective, motivated and therefore productive team.
- It reduces employee turnover and the need for supervision.
- It enhances your business's ability to adopt and use advances in technology because of sufficiently knowledgeable staff.
- It ensures adequate human resources for expansion into new markets.
Good news for SMEs
The Skills Development Act (1998) and Skills Development Levy Act (1999) make it compulsory for most tax-registered businesses to contribute a percentage of their payroll to a national fund. The business can then claim back the costs of any training they provide through one of the approved skills development systems.
However these systems require rigorous planning and reporting, which means that smaller business (who don't have the capacity for this sort of administration) tend not to use them.
The good news is that the Department of Labour is compiling a reference resource of all the skills development support strategies that have been implemented for small businesses over the past six years. This will include a comprehensive listing of organisations that offer support to SMEs.
For more information, or for basic guides on skills development, visit www.labour.gov.za, or
Remember: An investment in your staff is also an investment in your black economic empowerment profile: the BBBEE scorecard awards points for skills development spending on previously disadvantaged employees.
For more information see www.thedti.gov.za/bee/beecodes.htm