There is a growing skills gap in nearly all sectors. While there may be many jobseekers, their skills do not often match labour market demand. A poorly trained workforce needs training, as does a highly skilled workforce to be productive and competitive.
Much ink, blood and tears have been spilt by training researchers in trying to determine if training works.
But many frontline managers at the coal-face of industry are less enthusiastic about training. Often, less than positive experiences sour opinions of training. Most have experiences of a poorly informed trainer, an irrelevant workshop or some sort of children’s game packaged as a ‘transformational experience’.
A good training program should meet specific objectives. However, it is also useful to have a check list for what to avoid in a training program. Training programmes "fail" for the following reasons:
1. Misdiagnosing the real problem.
Training is the answer to poor or no learning. It is not the answer to poor motivation, bad management or someone with no ability. A charming trainer can lift spirits for the afternoon, but no training course can help morale in the long run. Too frequently external training is used to address a problem that needs to be fixed internally.
2. Lack of specificity.
It’s the end of the fiscal year, there’s a bit of money left that needs to be spent, and suddenly a last-minute training course sounds like a good idea. Use the money, and mark ‘training’ off the HR checklist. If neither the trainer nor the participant is able to specify an explicit set of desired outcomes it can never be known if the course has failed or not.
3. Unrealistic expectations.
How long does it take to be a competent second language speaker or master conflict resolution? The answer is nearly always longer than you think or would like. Higher-level skills are not that easily acquired and take time to master. Optimistic managers set goals far beyond what can be learned in an afternoon, and set the trainees up for failure.
4. Wrong type of training.
There are many types of training from self-directed, online learning to instructional courses and participatory workshops. Some training is about theoretical ideas, other about practice. Not all skills are best taught in the same way. The preferences of the trainer and the trainee and the skill being taught combined should mean that the appropriate method is being used.
5. Training goals not aligned with work goals.
Training should be relevant and useful to the job at hand. Unless the trainee and the manager have got together and made sure they agree on the ultimate goals of the training it is quite likely that one or both will be disappointed. It is surprisingly rare for the two parties to discuss explicitly what they want.
6. Poor transfer of training.
When a trainee returns to the workplace, he or she needs a clear plan to practice, make mistakes, learn from them and develop the new skills, otherwise they are soon forgotten. New skills may require new technology and certainly require new styles of supervision. Frequently however, jealous and incompetent managers punish, rather than reward, new skills and hence extinguish the beneficial effects of training.
7. No accountability for follow-up or implementation.
Successful training does not end on completion of a class or workshop. It is the responsibility of the trainee to practice, maintain and even improve on the newly acquired skills. It is also the responsibility, or should be, of those who initiated the training, to make sure that expensively acquired skills are practiced and developed.
If you think training is expensive, consider the alternatives. What is the cost of an unskilled, untrained and unproductive workforce? Training does not necessarily have to be expensive, but it does have to be continuous and carefully planned. But training has to be carefully planned and thought through. It does not have to be expensive, but it does have to be continuous. The best training is a lifelong activity, not a quick fix.