Training and development initiatives are important because they help ensure your staff continually improves and keeps their skills current. They’re also a great way to boost employee retention. When you invest in your employees, they feel valued and are more likely to stay put.
Unfortunately, many small business owners don’t have the budget for big-ticket seminars or workshops, so they assume all company-sponsored professional development is simply out of reach. Sadly, this is often to the detriment of their business, and their bottom line.
The good news is, even if you don’t have the deep pockets of a big corporation, you can absolutely build up your employees’ skills – all without paying for high-priced courses or conferences.
Here’s how to educate your employees without breaking the bank:
1. Take advantage of industry offerings
Professional organizations offer a wealth of educational programs and content, such as webinars, blog posts and white papers on business topics, and much of it’s free. Tap into memberships with organizations in your field or industry to access free webinars on topics such as workforce planning and analysis. They can help keep you up to date on current topics and business strategies. You can find educational content for nearly every industry and discipline out there. At most, you might have to pay a nominal fee for an annual subscription or membership, but you’ll have access to relevant content on a dime.
2. Organize a book club or employee forum
This is a fun way to share the latest ideas in your industry, while getting to know other members in your company better. Vote on a book or topic you would like to discuss, and meet regularly – maybe once every week, or monthly – to talk about it. This type of program has many benefits: It encourages employees from different teams or departments to come together, helping them automatically learn about other roles within the company and achieve a kind of “organic” cross-training. Plus, it costs next to nothing to implement, especially if you obtain books from a local library or professional book exchange.
3. Establish a mentoring program
Some of the best trainers are already in your back pocket: your current workforce. Set up a mentoring program to access and share their wisdom. Pair employees knowledgeable in a subject with others who need to improve their skills. For example, a seasoned manager who knows about project management could mentor an employee taking on more complex projects.
4. Invite an expert from your network
Reach out to your network of business associates and clients for experts who would be willing to speak to your employees. For example, let’s say one of your professional contacts is a whiz at time management. If you ask him or her to speak to your employees, they’ll likely be flattered by the offer, and your employees will learn something new. Your contact may also return the favor by asking you or someone from your company to present to his employees or peers, which may eventually lead to new business for both of you. It’s a win-win.
5. Launch a “lunch and learn”
If you get a good response from your expert’s talk or presentation, consider making it a regular event. Many companies have success offering educational programming during lunch – commonly referred to as a “lunch and learn.” You provide lunch, or ask your employees to brown bag it. Lunch and learns are popular because they make smart use of employees’ time and don’t interrupt a busy work day.
6. Embrace new platforms
New communication platforms continue to revolutionize the way we learn. Now, you can go to YouTube anytime to grab a quick, five-minute presentation from an expert in your field. Similarly, TED Talks cover nearly every topic under the sun, and LinkedIn Learning offers thousands of online courses on a variety of business, creative and technical topics. Although we usually listen to podcasts for entertainment, they are increasingly being downloaded for educational purposes. Since they’re available anytime from anywhere, they remove any logistical barriers to personal development.
7. Don’t ignore the tried and true
There’s still value in some old-fashioned educational approaches. Trade magazines and journals are a reliable source of industry news and trends, and most also have an online presence. Also, Toastmasters, an organization which has been around for more than 90 years, provides a low-cost way to train employees in public speaking and leadership, and in some cases, will even customize an onsite program for you.
8. Tweak what you’re already doing
When thinking about how to improve your training and development programs, don’t be so quick to focus on what you’re NOT doing. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll probably discover that you’re already providing some level of informal employee training and development, such as mentoring or on-the-job training. You may just need to pull those efforts together and package them into a formal program with some consistency.
9. Uncover hidden talent
Do a little sleuthing and find out more about your employees’ interests, hobbies and expertise. You might uncover employees with valuable skills they can teach to others. A respected senior executive could teach a seminar about leadership, or your IT expert could lead a workshop on a new software program recently implemented. Be forward-thinking and try to recruit employees who are qualified and have an interest in contributing to your company’s training and development efforts. This ensures ongoing and future growth within the company, while giving employees the opportunity to build sought-after leadership skills.
Aim for employee engagement
The days of all-day seminars led by droning instructors who subject participants to yet another episode of “Death by PowerPoint” are numbered. Companies can’t use that approach anymore and expect employees to be engaged, especially millennials and Gen Z workers who’ve grown up with a collaborative mindset. No matter what employee training and development program you launch, it’s essential to make it interesting, interactive, brief and easy to access. The best programs also target workers of all ages.
Younger generations like the convenience of online courses, but because they are both collaborative and independent-minded, they like to take them with other people. A good way to do that is to host a lunch in a conference room or other available space, and have everyone take the course together. Be sure to give workers who can’t be there the option to take the course later. Consider making training available on demand, whenever feasible, so employees can log in when it suits their schedules. All employees, including Generation X and baby boomers, appreciate the time efficiency and flexibility of online courses.
If you’re planning a stand-up training, make it short, succinct and group-oriented. Ask your employees for input and ideas, and welcome their questions. Avoiding meandering monologues. Instead, give out information in bullet form. Then, there’s a chance your employees might actually look up from their phones and learn something that could help improve your business.
What do these ideas have in common? They’re all low-cost or free, and easily within the reach of resourceful business owners. To learn more about how to invest in your employees, download our free e-book, How to Develop a Top-Notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.