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Training shouldn't be just for the hell of it

Oct 17, 2009 10:28 PM By Margaret Harris

Many spend a lot on training but have little to show for it, writes Margaret Harris.

Companies invest a lot of money and time in training their staff. But how can they make sure that they see a return on this investment?

Simply sending people on random courses is no use. Companies need to make sure the courses are suited to their needs.

Liza van Wyk, chief executive officer of AstroTech, says training needs to support the company's strategy.

"Sometimes managers consider sending their staff on a course an employee requests as a 'reward' for good work - without giving enough attention to the type of training involved and how this supports the company's objectives," she says.

David Conradie, director in human capital at Deloitte, agrees. "The companies who get it right are in the minority. Many spend lots on training and development but have little to show for it," he says.

Van Wyk argues that training should be seen in the context of performance reviews to make sure that any courses employees attend add to the expertise they need.

Once the needs have been identified, the right service provider needs to be found.

"Many vendors offer off-the-shelf solutions, but the more reputable providers will try to customise and adapt their courses to the particular needs of the organisation," says Conradie.

Van Wyk advises companies to consider the following aspects before signing up for a course:

  • The course outline;
  • The course facilitators and their business/industry experience;
  • Course reviews and referrals;
  • The type and number of clients that are using the provider;
  • The facilities used as a learning environment; and
  • The range and depth of courses offered by the training provider.

However, Conradie warns that even when people are sent on courses that meet their particular needs, a lack of support when they return to the office will undo any good done during the course.

"Many people are left to their own devices when they return from a course and the environment does not support the new learning."

With mounting economic pressure, many companies are moving to shorter courses - which are less expensive and make it easier for companies to balance the day-to-day operational needs with development requirements.

Van Wyk says short courses are more concentrated, meaning that attendees can learn as much or even more in a few days as in many hour-long lectures over an extended period.

"It also means you can set aside a short period to focus on the development area and schedule your work demands without a significant impact," she says.

Another development in staff training, says Conradie, is a more blended approach. One example is adding an e-learning component to the course so that employees can study after hours.

The recession has had a mixed effect on training, says Van Wyk. "Initially, some companies cut back on training to reduce costs. However, there were also some who were more secure financially, and they used the opportunity to train their staff more during these quiet times.

"Also, following the wave of retrenchments, many companies increased training to help upskill the staff who remained to allow them to take on additional roles."

But, even if people are sent on courses adapted to the needs of the company and then given all the support they require when they return to the office, can adult brains actually be expected to learn new skills?

According to a new study done at Oxford University, you can teach an old dog new tricks. The research found that there is improved connectivity in the brains of adults who have been taught to juggle.

"We tend to think of the brain as being static, or even beginning to degenerate, once we reach adulthood. In fact, we find the structure of the brain is ripe for change. We've shown that it is possible for the brain to condition its own wiring system to operate more efficiently," says Dr Heidi Johansen-Berg of the university's department of clinical neurology.