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Education and training of the organization is important, if not critical, for not only the current health of organizations but future survival as well. After my October 2013 column there were many who voiced comments; therefore, I thought it worthwhile to focus a column on the importance of management support for training.
Although most managers agree that training and development of their employees is vital to their company’s future, their actions speak more forcibly because many of those managers are unwilling to allocate the time, money or resources to make the investment in training. Certainly training can be expensive and for most organizations it is not an expense which can be “passed on” to their customers, leading to the age-old argument on the return on investment discussed in my October column.
The benefits of training are not always immediately visible, but the expense is readily seen on the profit and loss statements. The late Philip B. Crosby, a former vice president of ITT, often spoke about the language of management (i.e. money, making more money, and not losing money). With this in mind management’s difficulty is believing that there is actual value to investing in employee development.
Ultimately upper management must decide the extent of training that their organization is willing to provide. The desire for training cannot be fulfilled at lower levels in the organization without management top-down support to provide funding for the training.
New and rapidly growing organizations are typically very supportive of training programs. As these organizations expand, new skills are needed, and the organization fills this need by hiring new, qualified people and heavily investing in training their current personnel.
The true measure of upper management’s perspective about training is more accurately determined in periods of downsizing, characterized by reductions in workforce, restrictive cash flow, and asking employees to do more with fewer people. Although many left to function with greater responsibilities don’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to perform as those no longer available, management is hesitant to provide training. Some of these actions are justified when it is a matter of short-term survival, but there are many instances of an organization wanting to expand their bottom-line profit, which makes it another matter.
Management support for training might come from the realization that training can support the achievement of the organizational goals. Advantages in the marketplace, either technological or resource driven, are typically short-lived. To remain competitive, organizations must evolve; therefore, training and development become catalysts for change which often leads to new ideas and processes. This can translate into new revenue growth and competitive advantages over competition.
A case in point is that many organizations are becoming increasingly supportive of certification programs (i.e. welders, machinists, assemblers, inspectors, technicians, manufacturing engineers, quality engineers, etc.). Some industry experts estimate there is a significant gap in skilled workers. Targeted certification programs can help resolve those gaps. Certified workers typically provide dramatic returns on investment via efficiency and effectiveness improvements.
Additionally, management’s support for training may be driven by the need for stability and flexibility in available work skills. Consistent with Frederick Herzberg’s two-factor theory, employees who are cross-trained to perform other functions are less bored, more satisfied, and able to continue operations with little disruption when other workers are unavailable.
Employee job security implies an expectation that the employee will retain a position for as long as their tasks are performed satisfactorily. In the rapidly changing competitive environment, specific jobs can be eliminated overnight because of technology, market forces and organizational changes. The concept of job security is being replaced by employment security. What must be understood, however, is that training and continuous education are essential to the concept of employment security.
Employees must be flexible and willing to learn new skills so they are able to perform in new positions with expanded responsibilities and seemingly limitless boundaries. An employee training to perform various functions gains employment security rather than job security, increasing his/her value to the organization. Obviously, there are no guarantees, even with training, for employment security or company survival.
Training programs need management support at all levels if they are to be successful. The desire for training by a subordinate cannot possibly overcome resistance by higher management for that training. Bottom line, it is management’s authority to allocate the time and resources permitting training to take place.
To that end, lower levels of the organization need to think in terms of organizational benefits such as return on investment as they seek support for their training initiatives.