Finding strategic learning funds

Training Industry Times recently published some rather disappointing statistics: Over 92% of surveyed business have experienced pressure to reduce their training budget in 2007. Worse, 56% reported that the pressure to reduce or altogether cut training costs were “significant.”

Is this attitude regarding education part-and-parcel of the declining attitude toward education in the United States? More to the point, how will organizations continue to function if they curtail strategic learning initiatives? People don’t “just know” how to apply complicated concepts. They need training, particularly in areas such as software quality assurance, safety & reliability, validation & verification, and the basics of leadership, mentoring, and working as a team (including formal process education). And I haven’t even touched on morale issues, upward mobility and challenging our employees to aspire to improve their career path.

The fact of the matter is, in today’s economy we should be pressing for more education not less. This is called “recession proofing your organization.” Inevitable pressures to reduce staffing means fewer employees will need to do more, do it more effectively and take on new challenges they’ve never faced before. How about preparing them for it?

So, in an environment that doesn’t support training, how can organizations find educational funding?

Recognizing that training is not a wasted expense is probably number one. This needs to happen with management, but it doesn’t need to begin there. Training programs that are relevant to your work and beneficial to your employer are clear wins. Document the benefit of offering greater cross-functional capability within your team, of improving your efficiency, and reducing mistakes. Put together a training plan that demonstrates how the organization will benefit before you take a training request to your manager.

Consolidating training is also a huge win in most cases. For example, if you send five people to training courses around the country you’ll likely spend at least $15,000 (assuming the course costs $2,000 and then factoring in reasonable travel costs for each person). Consider bringing training on-site instead. Most programs that are available in public classes can also be delivered at your organization, and tailored to your specific needs. You get better, more relevant training and comparative costs are low. (An on-site workshop costs as little as $5,000-10,000 and becomes more cost-effective with more employees).

Use digital learning tools to reduce training costs as well. In particularly tight times, many web-based training programs exist. While not as effective as on-site, person-to-person training with an expert they can still provide a huge benefit to the student.

Focus on internal cost savings as well, and justify how the saved costs should at least in part be translated into better organization capability through training. For example, if you have more than one document repository (a problem many organizations suffer from) implement a single, consolidated document management system to improve efficiency and lower licensing costs.

One final idea that might find some traction: Audit your internal learning requirements and processes. Put together an analysis that demonstrates organization weaknesses and tie those weaknesses to actual issues the organization has experienced. Document the costs of handling those problems in retrospect and show how improved capability and efficiency would have avoided the problems—and will likely avoid future problems.

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