“Dispirited, unmotivated, unappreciated workers cannot compete in a highly competitive world.” –Francis Hesselbein
In a previous post, I covered strategies for successful onboarding of new employees. The topic today is training current employees – on a small budget, especially.
Many small businesses find traditional employee training programs too expensive and either forego training or look for ways to accomplish that training at less cost. This can be a challenge, but there is some good news. The demand for efficient, high-quality, and cost-effective training is growing, and the industry is responding well. And small business owners who get a bit creative can devise some out-of-the-box methods too.
10 ways to get affordable training
1. Identify training needs
Most small businesses do not have a huge staff in each of its departments. There may be several sales pros, a content marketer or two, perhaps an HR recruiter, clerical staff, and employees who produce products or deliver services to customers and clients. The first step is to determine which employees need training and development over the next year, and exactly what type of training they will need. Ask for their input as well. There may be someone in production who would like to go into sales or someone in sales who would like to get into content marketing.
Morale is maintained when employees have some input in the type of training they would like to receive. A recent survey revealed that employees do want training, but they want it individualized for their needs. They also want the opportunity to complete that training at their own pace, and they want the delivery model to be interactive and engaging.
Once you’ve identified individual training needs and wants, it is time to look at options for obtaining that training.
2. Explore training on the government’s dime
In 2012, the SBA launched a professional training and development program specifically for small businesses. It offers both offline and online training programs in a wide variety of employment and career areas. For offline training, they often bring in recently retired professionals to conduct the training, and this makes that training current and “real-world.” Online programs incorporate all of the latest technology that allows trainees hands-on activities as well as communication with trainers.
3. Consider e-learning training and development programs
A huge variety of options for employee training is available in a digital and virtual environment – everything from MOOCs, which are free courses offered by top universities across the country, to programs and series developed by experts in different fields that provide engaging and exciting delivery. Do some research, and talk with other small business owners. It’s quite likely that they have recommendations.
Employees who have had good experiences with online education, perhaps while in college, will probably be thrilled with the possibility of completing their training at their own pace and on a flexible schedule. And you will find that the cost is far less in most instances.
Keep your ear to the ground and do some local research. Larger businesses nearby may offer employee training by bringing experts into their facilities. Contact them and ask if you can send one or more of your employees to attend these sessions; it will likely be less expensive than bringing the trainer in yourself.
5. Collaborate with other small businesses
If you belong to a business networking group, consider pooling your financial resources with other members to bring in a known expert in an area of training. Or perhaps someone in your group knows an expert who is developing an e-learning program in a specific area one or more of your employees need.
6. Check out local community colleges
Community colleges are no longer institutions that simply prepare students for a specific career or for transfer to a 4-year institution. Many have developed training programs based upon the needs of local businesses and other organizations. They are also open to suggestions for additional seminars and workshops that they could offer.
At most small businesses, everyone is part of the entire team of employees. The IT worker may not know anything about production, but maybe she should; likewise, the HR officer may know nothing about content marketing, but maybe he would like to.
Learning someone else’s job can be a great experience.
Team members come to understand the challenges of other staff members, and such cross-training generally develops lots of empathy. Another benefit: If there should be an emergency, someone else will be capable of completing necessary tasks. Continually rotate cross-training so that ultimately everyone has at least some skills in all areas of responsibility.
8. Reading assignments
Assign each employee an article or a book that is important to your business or its culture. There are some great books out there on team-building, leadership, and a host of other topics. In the course of a year, each employee can be assigned a book and prepare a review of that book describing how the content could be applied to your specific business environment. This activity can stimulate lots of discussion. One owner assigned the book Fish: A Proven Way To Boost Morale and Improve Results, by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, and John Christensen (Hyperion, 200) to an employee, and the discussions that occurred resulted in some positive changes in the workplace. (If you have not read this book, you should!)
9. Rotate ambassadors
There may be an extremely important conference or seminar coming up, and you really want this training for you staff. You can afford to send only one person. Do it. Have that person bring the important learning back to the rest and train them. The key here is to rotate who gets to go.
10. Equal treatment
When employees see things as unfair, morale suffers, and they become less productive. On the other hand, some employees will need more training than others because of the nature of their positions. The IT pro may need training more often as technology evolves, for example, and new employees may need more guidance in their specific roles until they are fully competent. These are exceptions to the rule, however. Your general policy should be to provide training opportunities as equally as possible, as your budget allows. If and when you have to veer from that, you must be willing to explain to others the reasons for those changes.
Budgets are always tight. But to remain competitive and maintain a committed and productive team, professional training and development is a mandate, not an option.
For more employee training strategies, see A New Model For Corporate Learning.