Where Did The Time Go?

It is nearing the end of a rocky year in almost all industries. In the small but close-knit world of technical training, this is especially true. I have seen many outstanding professionals - in training development, delivery and technical support - lose jobs this past year for "numbers" reasons only. The training industry is worse off for it.

While I'm not naïve enough to think that staff cuts won't include training and HR positions, I'm also of the opinion that ongoing training is especially important in leaner times. Leaner staffs and the need for increased productivity among those left demand that everyone be at the top of his or her game.

Over the past year, I have seen trainers cut both internally and among our suppliers. Training centers have been moth-balled or closed entirely. Technical support staffs have been stripped to bare bones. What hasn't decreased, however, is the demand for training.

One of the reasons for this is that technicians who once may have specialized in certain areas are now being asked to be a "do everything" guy. This has sparked numerous training requests for both maintenance and regulatory training courses.

Trying to meet the demands has been especially challenging, not only because of the smaller staffs among our training suppliers, but also due to furloughs, mandatory vacations and travel restrictions. This has required a number of creative solutions.

Distance Learning and eLearning courses have predictably increased. Our technical eLearning catalog at United Rentals has grown by about 40 percent. More of our suppliers are scheduling Web meeting sessions to replace at least some of the classroom time.

We have also seen more requests for shorter classes. When I surveyed our branches back in early 2007, most respondents at that time said they preferred fewer, longer classes than a lot of short classes.

Economic times, however, have reversed those sentiments. In 2009, most of our branch managers and service managers were asking to reduce three days of training to two, or two days to one. Losing a technician from a leaner staff for more than a day or two has become more of a detriment to the day-to-day shop operations.

Finally, we have taken a look at "train the trainer" opportunities for 2010. In this scenario, we would send one of our top technicians or service leaders to a manufacturer-provided class. Part of the class would include going through the trainer's instructional materials, so our employee could return to the shop and "train it forward."

Vehicle and equipment technology is not getting any easier. The need for timely, instructionally-sound training remains, even in tough times. While the concerns over the costs of training are legitimate, it is important that your company's commitment to retaining and developing talented employees doesn't waver.

It's good to see that a number of HR professionals are "getting it." Vance Kearney, HR director - Europe/Oracle, had the following to say in January of 2009, but it is still true going into 2010: "Cut discretionary spending, but don't cut training . . . invest in the future and be ready for recovery. It is more than ever a time to engage talent."1

1 Craig, Tara. HR Survival Guide for 2009: Challenges and opportunities for HR. January 13, 2009.

Stephen Howe is employed by United Rentals, the largest equipment rental company in the world, with nearly 700 branches in North America. Stephen is also a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC), a global, non-profit organization of over 60 member companies dedicated to recognizing training excellence and raising training standards in the automotive, heavy vehicle and related industries.