Many of our greatest quality giants have discussed the value of education and training. For example, Dr. Deming dedicated two of his renowned 14 points of management to the subject. These quality leaders continually made the argument that organizations don’t do enough training of their workforce, and those few organizations that do achieve greater results.

First let’s discuss the difference between education and training. Most managers don’t understand the difference between the two.

Education is the process of acquiring knowledge and information in a formal manner, and is something that most employees come to the job with. Education, which is more the responsibility of the employee, equips learners in the techniques required to acquire new knowledge by teaching them how to think. The outcome of education is typically measured by testing comprehension and knowledge retention.

Training is more job-focused. It is the process of acquiring proficiency at some skill or skill set (like the application of the Seven Basic Quality Tools). The outcome of training is measured by the learner’s ability to demonstrate the learned skill by producing desired outputs.

Training programs typically involve some education in the theory or principles underlying the development and need for the skill. Taking an ASQ preparatory course in advance of sitting for an ASQ certification exam involves learning new skills and techniques, but it is primarily the assimilation, or reawaking, of knowledge in a broad range of subjects, hence it is both education and training.

Progressive organizations understand the need for continually upgrading the skills of their workforce and the relationship it has to building the foundation for greater effectiveness. After all, the workforce is second only to customers as the most important resource to an organization.

Getting people trained, participating, engaged, motivated, empowered and loyal is management’s task. However, many organizations would get a poor score on their ability to do that very thing and then wonder what went wrong. Dr. Deming said, “The greatest waste in America is failure to use the abilities of people.” Drs. Deming, Juran and others, however, offered much for organizations to consider.

One of the more arguable points is the return on training investment (ROTI). Management expects training to pay large dividends immediately. A rule of thumb is that if ROTI is less than 3:1, then training should not be considered unless it’s mandated. Management, however, should consider two issues when assessing this ratio.

First, money and time spent for training is ineffective unless the inhibitors to good, productive work are removed. As Drs. Deming and Juran pointed out, that is something for which management is accountable. If management doesn’t encourage continued utilization of new skills or expect better outcomes, it typically doesn’t happen.

Second is the timeframe for ROTI. People receiving skills training will demonstrate those newly learned skills over the course of their careers. Recently a Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) with whom I am acquainted estimated that over the previous twenty years of his career he has led his company in saving or avoiding millions of dollars in costs as a result of the skills learned during his quality training.

Jack Campanella in “The Principles of Quality Costs” lists certain training expenses as a prevention cost. Even if the return on investment is at times debatable, the concept is still the same. The better-trained worker is more alert, motivated and engaged to stop or reduce problems before they happen or as early in the process as possible; as a result quality costs are lowered. Organizations tend not to capture these actions so they don’t get consideration in the ROTI.

Empowering workers to be responsible for the quality of their work has become routine in some industries even in the face of occasional financial pressures. These forward-thinking organizations see benefits in morale, attitude and reduced costs. For instance, inspection costs can be reduced significantly when workers understand the quality sciences. They comprehend that controlling their processes and/or preventing defects is critical to the organization, customer satisfaction and, in fact, to the continuation of their jobs. This doesn’t happen by accident.

Empowering the workforce has become more necessary as this generation of worker feels the need to gain more from their jobs than their parents. They are smarter in many respects, but not as well prepared. They want to do a good job and have productive careers, but they expect their employers to partner with them so both can succeed. Management must reassess their education and training approaches and include it in their strategic planning process. Failure to do so will be a limiting factor in their long-term success.