Your definitive guide to employee training: Why, when and how

Employee training is one of the most significant investments in time and money that your organization may make, but it’s also one of the most critical initiatives impacting the long-term success of any business.

After all, employees don’t just walk in the office door initially with all the information they need to do their jobs well. Maybe they’re experienced and highly knowledgeable, but there are still unique factors at your workplace that can impact their performance.

And most employees want to advance in their career, not remain rooted in the same spot for years on end. Reaching one’s ultimate career destination – whether it’s a lateral move into a specific dream job or upward progression to a leadership position – requires the acquisition of additional knowledge and skills.

Furthermore, organizations are constantly in flux, with both internal and external conditions evolving. If economic conditions, industries, marketplaces, technology and the legal landscape don’t remain static, your employees can’t either – lest they and your company fall behind.

In short, there’s always something new for employees to learn that brings value to themselves and businesses.

Who needs employee training?

With this in mind, let’s start with the easy question: who needs to undergo training? Everyone in your organization, at various points – regardless of role or rank.

The following questions then become:

  • Why – for what purpose does training need to happen?
  • When – how often should training happen?
  • How – by what means should training be delivered to employees?

In this discussion, we’ll cover these questions and evaluate how to set up a meaningful and effective employee training program.

Why employee training matters

First, employee training is incredibly important for both companies and their workforces.

For employees, training programs:

  • Prepare them to do their jobs well
  • Give them an understanding of what’s expected of them and put everyone on equal footing
  • Maintain and enhance their knowledge so they can continue to do their jobs effectively and even improve performance over time
  • Motivate them to grow professionally and achieve personal career goals
  • Build confidence
  • Make them feel valued
  • Keep them engaged

For companies, training programs are also critical for:

  • Imparting knowledge and information to employees consistently
  • Inspiring a culture of continuous learning
  • Keeping up with trends and, as a result, remaining innovative, competitive and profitable
  • Retaining employees and encouraging internal mobility
  • Avoiding accidents or costly mistakes
  • Protecting the organization from legal liability
  • Boosting their reputation
  • Preventing knowledge and skill gaps related to the Great Resignation or layoffs

Types and purposes of training

Over the employee lifecycle, there are many different types of training that employees may need, including:

  • Initial training as a means of introduction to a company and job role (onboarding and orientation), which usually covers topics such as:
    • Culture
    • Mission
    • Vision
    • Values
    • Expectations
    • General office and team policies
    • Processes
  • Systems and technology training
  • Safety training
  • Ongoing knowledge, skills and competency training related to a specific job role
  • Leadership training
  • Teamwork training
  • Cross-training employees to learn the competencies of other departments or roles
  • Reskilling employees so they can shift over into new roles
  • Reinforcement training (for disciplinary reasons or when a skill needs to be revisited)
  • Any training that’s highly encouraged or required by law in some industries, examples of which include:
    • Compliance
    • Ethics
    • Discrimination and harassment
    • Human rights and fair labor practices

For some of these types of training, it’s immediately clear why it needs to happen and what the objectives are. Often, this is the generalized training that applies to all employees or is required by law.

In other cases, the need for training may be less overt and perhaps more specific to certain teams or employees. You’ll have to perform a deeper assessment to understand what’s necessary, why and the results you should expect.

Determining where your company needs training

When it comes to identifying which areas of your business would be best served when establishing a training plan, here’s a checklist to get you started.

Generally, it can also be helpful to think about organizational goals, mission and values. Are there any missing pieces that can hold your company back from reaching goals or realizing its purpose?

When it comes to individual employees, understanding their training needs comes down to having an ongoing dialogue with them. Ask them:

  • What are their strengths and weaknesses – and how each of those can be leveraged
  • In which skills or knowledge areas they most need improvement
  • About their personal interests
  • How they learn best
  • In which way they can best serve organizational goals
  • What the next steps in their career look like, and how training can facilitate their progress

Training frequency

Some training may be time specific. For example:

  • The first few weeks of a new employee’s start date is optimal for conducting orientation and onboarding.
  • Your company just implemented a new technology and employees need to be able to use it.
  • A new law was recently passed that impacts your business in some way, and employees need to understand new regulatory requirements and associated processes.

Or, training may be dictated by the government or another external authority to recur at prescribed intervals – annually, semiannually or quarterly, for example. Examples of this could be safety or compliance training.

In most other cases, training will be situational and should happen whenever you identify a need for it and the timing is convenient for your employees.

Look at the impacted employees’ schedules. Consider whether any major project deadlines or work events are happening, and try to work around those schedule conflicts. Let employees know in advance:

  • That a new training is happening and why
  • What the training will cover, what they will be expected to demonstrate at the conclusion of training and how the training will benefit them
  • How they should complete the training and by when
  • The duration of the training

If you identify several training needs, prioritize them based on importance and business impact. What needs to be done sooner rather than later for employees to be effective? What is most urgent?

Training selection

As you decide which training options are best for your company, or you need to vet a training opportunity pitched by an employee, consider the following.

Any training that your company delivers should be:

  • Clear in purpose and objectives
  • Relevant to a specific business need or employees’ roles
  • Achievable according to established metrics of success

All training should have measurable value – it should never be about training just for the sake of it.

  • Evaluate what participating employees and, by extension the company, should get out of the training. Is it meaningful?
  • Examine the costs of the training against the benefits. What is the anticipated return on investment (ROI)?
  • Define what success looks like. What knowledge or skills should employees be able to showcase? How will they demonstrate this? Will the company realize any quantifiable benefit and, if so, what?

With the rise of remote and hybrid work environments and increased workplace flexibility, as well as the presence of multiple generations in the workplace, ask:

For external training, perform due diligence to assess the expertise and qualifications of the provider, and how reputable they are in your industry. All training should come from legitimate, respected sources.

How much travel or time away from the office does training require, and is this acceptable to you?

Additionally, be realistic about the limitations of training. For example, all the training in the world cannot overcome or fix underlying problems with your workplace, such as:

  • A negative culture
  • Interpersonal issues between colleagues
  • Disengaged and uninterested employees

If you’re trying to correct any of the above issues, more training isn’t what you need.

Training execution

Here’s a list of creative and effective learning and development ideas to consider.

The main thing to remember is that, today, most employees want their training to be:

  • Short and concise “micro training” (20 to 30 minutes maximum)
  • Highly focused in subject matter
  • Immediately relevant
  • A blend of media and methods, including:
    • Recorded presentations
    • More interactive presentations (live, instructor-led with opportunities for questions)
    • Printed materials
  • Seamlessly integrated into the workday (in-the-moment, on-the-job learning)

Consider offering an online learning portal to make training easily and consistently accessible.

Important: don’t give up on training when times get tough

When an organization faces budget constraints or financial pressures related to an economic downturn, employee training is often one of the first items to get scaled back. This is a big mistake – especially in tight labor markets in which the balance of power is shifted in employees’ favor.

Employees crave opportunities for learning and development, and frequently cite it as an important factor in their engagement and retention. This because they want to keep:

  • Improving themselves
  • Making themselves more competitive
  • Benefiting their career path

When employers have to work harder to attract and retain top talent, a robust offering of training and development opportunities can be a key differentiator between your company and competitors.

Summing it all up

Employee training offers many critically important benefits for employees and companies alike. There are many types of training that your business may need to implement. In evaluating what makes the most sense for your organization, conduct the appropriate analysis of your business situation and goals, talk to employees and consult what the law says (if relevant). Select training based on its clarity of purpose and objectives, relevancy to employees’ jobs and company goals, and achievability according to metrics for success. Also consider the ROI and appeal to a broad cross-section of employees. Employees want their training to be short, focused, on the job and diverse in approach.

To learn more about delivering effective and meaningful training, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to learning and development.

The Insperity guide to learning and development
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