Getting the team up to speed

The benefits of workplace training for small businesses.

Training, applied and practised methodically, can and does make a significant contribution to the longevity of SMEs. In difficult times like those thrown up by the pandemic, the main areas of focus should be in response to the question, “Is each of our staff able to competently undertake the tasks for which they are employed, or which will arise tomorrow?”

One of the first things to go in a recession or other period of economic hardship is the staff training budget. It’s often seen as a luxury rather than a necessity, and quickly faces the chop.

However, putting people-development on pause during the pandemic until we “get back to normal” is, quite frankly, not an option. Why? Because we’re not going “back to normal” anytime soon.

Why train staff?

Training is concerned with helping people acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to do the work for which they are employed or to prepare them for future activities.

It must, therefore, create changed behaviour.

Essentially, training should have two purposes:

  1. The production of work to a required standard of quality, quantity, cost and time – for this is why the organisation is in business.
  2. The development of staff, by skill and knowledge, to meet the foreseeable future needs of the organisation – and thereby seek to realise the potential of each individual in the desired areas.

As COVID has shown only too clearly, businesses need to be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. This doesn’t happen on its own: it takes a skilled team to devise and action those transformations.

“An understanding of workplace training enhances both personal and professional output.”

Hence why training is arguably more important now than pre-COVID: the scale of change, and pace with which that change is occurring, in response to the virus demands a skilled, knowledgeable and adaptable workforce.

Key principles of training

For training to be effective in achieving its purposes, it must adhere to a few core principles:

  • People must be interested and willing to learn before they will accept training.
  • The operational objectives of the training should be known by both those responsible for it and by those involved in it. Time constraints and performance standards should be predetermined and made known beforehand.
  • Training must be geared to the individual needs of those undertaking it, and be seen to do so.
  • Training must be done either by a supervisor or by an agency acting with a pattern fully understood and approved by the supervisor or management. That person or agency must then also maintain and reinforce it for consistency.
  • The rate of training should equal the rate at which an individual can learn; this should be confirmed by testing.
  • People can learn by being told or shown how to do work, but the best method of acquiring new skills comes from personal involvement of doing work to accepted standards under skilled coaching and guidance.
  • Training should be planned, executed and evaluated systematically, in the context of organisational needs.

Fundamentally, all staff have a right to expect adequate training before being held responsible for their work.

Assigning responsibility

Those directly in charge of people at work are responsible for ensuring that they are adequately and competently trained – not only to do the work for which they are employed, but also to meet future organisational needs.

If training is to be effective, it must have – and be seen to have – the commitment and support of senior management.

Sadly, this can all too easily fall victim to the many pressing needs facing management during times of market turbulence. However, where this support is not visible and the implementation of training is delegated to a lower level, its impact will be blunted, and the continuity of training activity will then fluctuate in response to various other pressures within the organisation.

This is how the real value and impact of training can be lost.

For training to be at its most effective and deliver optimal return on investment, management must ensure that there is:

  • A training policy that has been or will be implemented.
  • A training budget.
  • Provision of time in the standard workflow to undertake the required training.
  • Provision of the facilities necessary to complete this training – i.e., competent people and appropriate resources.
  • A continuing evaluation of training effectiveness.
  • Information regarding career paths available for advancement within the organisation.

Importance of a training policy

The purpose of a training policy is to provide a clear overview to all staff of what training requirements are needed to perform various job functions, how and when it will be needed, and the required standards to be achieved.

Each organisation should have as standard practice a training policy, appropriate to its needs. This policy should be known by all personnel, and for which authority and responsibility have been assigned for its implementation and continuing review.

Without it, the success (or failure) of training programs cannot be properly assessed.

Training objectives should include the need to:

  • Carry out the induction and training of new employees, and those appointed to new positions by promotion or transfer. The purpose here is to promote a sense of identity with the enterprise and full job efficiency as quickly and effectively as possible.
  • Ensure that all staff are competent in basic work skills and knowledge of their individual assigned responsibilities.
  • Keep all staff up-to-date with technical and specialised developments concerning their own areas of work and areas associated with it, for both current and projected activities.
  • Provide opportunity for employees to seek and obtain vocational enrichment.
  • Train those promoted to supervisory positions in the necessary skills to adequately carry out their objectives.
  • Develop people towards positions of executive or higher technical responsibility.

Role of the supervisor

The supervisor’s job is to facilitate well-motivated employees to produce work which meets the requirements of quantity, quality, time and cost.

To do so necessitates the following:

  • Good introductory training for each new employee.
  • A job description for each position, including expected performance standards.
  • Training in the skills and knowledge needed by each worker now and in the immediate future.
  • Analysis regarding work objectives and progress towards their achievement.
  • Encouragement to gain advancement by work performance and by educational attainment if appropriate.
  • Notice to management of training needs which cannot be met by existing resources.
  • Adequate updated training plans and training records.

Training for sustainable growth

The training function is the subject of more lip-service than most other business and industrial activities. It plays a key role in the quest for efficiency, effectiveness and, ultimately, profit.

An understanding of workplace training and its contribution to operational effectiveness enhances both personal and professional output. During times of great uncertainty, this is even more significant, given the now urgent quest for higher productivity and increased efficiency.

As the COVID situation continues to play out, there is no perfect option; developing a blended learning approach is most effective.

The one certainty, though, is that employee skills are a competitive edge for any organisation. Investing in training and development is therefore critical for businesses to be able to thrive in our new normal.

This article first appeared in issue 32 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine