Training Slowdown?

It's no secret that we are currently in the midst of a slow and extremely shaky economy. For some of us, these are unprecedented hard times. It's also no secret that training budgets are often among the first ones slashed in times like these.

However, when companies are downsizing and being forced to run on fewer and fewer employees, it is even more important that this leaner staff be able to work at peak performance levels. The costs of not training--direct or indirect--are frequently higher, and many companies discover this too late. Lost production can far outweigh training costs, while also leading to employee frustration and declining morale.

I spoke about distance learning in a recent issue of Fleet Maintenance. Technologies such as WebEx, NetMeeting, GoToMeeting and Genesys can be excellent tools to help reduce classroom time. They can also be used to reach wide audiences over a virtually unlimited geographical area.

The Center for Effective Performance (CEP) also recommends job aids to reduce or even replace some training.

If a performance gap is related to "procedural" tasks that can be documented, a job aid can be developed and posted to help close the gap and increase efficiency. For larger fleets and companies, job aids have the additional benefit of ensuring that similar tasks are performed consistently throughout the organization.

Job aids can take the form of tip sheets, posters, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or online tutorials. There is an up-front cost to developing job aids that can include: interviewing Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or top performers, benchmarking other companies in your industry, documenting best practices, developing content, and printing and/or Web programming for the finished product. But over the long haul, the savings in reduced training time can be substantial.

Job aids do not need to be limited to print or static Web pages. Video can be a powerful training tool, and with video cameras and editing software available at a fraction of the cost you would have paid just 10 years ago, it does not have to be expensive.

With the resulting increase in amateur "filmmakers" all around us, a number of guides to making clear, well-lit and well-composed videos have appeared and are just a mouse click away on the Web.
Beyond using technologies or job aids, there are some overall steps to take if you are faced with a reduced training budget next year:

Prioritize your training needs

Go through your current training courses and schedules, and separate courses into three categories: "critical," "important" and "nice to have." Training that is critical to day-to-day operations should never be eliminated. Your budget will likely dictate which of the "important" classes you can keep. "Nice to have" courses would be those that may be useful for long-term competitiveness and team morale, but ones that could be put off for a year without severely harming your company.

You may also find that some important and nice-to-have courses can be repurposed as distance learning or job aids.

Get feedback from employees

If you haven't already kept post-training surveys from your employees, start now by asking: What training did they take over the last 12 to 18 months that they really thought was valuable? What skills and knowledge did they acquire through training that are they frequently using on the job? This will help you to make the above priority decisions.

Tap into internal experts

Your internal SMEs may also be experiencing slow-downs in work. Use them whenever possible to supplement training at virtually no additional cost.

Don't throw out the baby with the bath water

In other words, make informed decisions and continue to think about the long-term health of your company. Completely eliminating training, even for 12 months, is seldom a good idea.

Vehicle technology is continuing to change, and those who are not equipped with the latest knowledge and skills during a down economy will find themselves ill-prepared for the upswing.