Training - How to Make it Pay

by Stephen Newton

In a nutshell


1. Why train at all?

Training falls into three categories: mandatory, necessary (to achieve essential basic skills) and discretionary. It is in cases of discretionary training that there is usually a need to justify value (and these are the trainings that are the most likely to be seen as unnecessary and hence to be cut in tough times). Formal training is only one of several possible development activities. Other possibilities include

  • Coaching (by senior staff in house or external specialists)
  • Mentoring (usually by senior staff)
  • Direct supervision on the job, using your own staff
  • Academic study/using publications or videos and so on (‘book learning’)
  • E-learning (or computer-based training), combined with self-testing or external moderation
  • Off the job training using your own staff.


2. Justifying training

The full costs of any training must be understood and justified in the context of specific benefits, both to the firm and to the individual. A benefit may be financial (for example, a cost saving from reduced error rates), but it may also be defined in other ways, such as enabling the trainee to take on a team leader role or to cover an additional function, thus adding to staffing flexibility for the team as a whole.

Making training (or any other development activity) pay for itself is driven by three factors:

  1. The work done before the event to identify the actual needs
  2. Identifying before the event both the specific benefits expected and how success will be measured
  3. Ensuring that the training is reviewed and that the trainee has ample opportunity to practise newly-acquired skills after the training event


3. Before you begin

As a manager, you need to

  • Ask yourself what the individual needs to be able to do more of, do better or do differently that they cannot do now, and how you will be able to measure success
  • Get agreement and full understanding from the individual as to the benefits expected and within what time-frame
  • Get the trainee to sign the agreement, before training starts
  • Include a review process in the signed agreement.


4. What should ‘it’ be?

Questions that will help you to define what training or other development activity is likely to be most effective and the probability of its success include

  • Does he/she want to be trained?
  • Is he/she willing and able to put in the necessary work?
  • Does he/she have the necessary basic skills at an appropriate level to benefit from this training?
  • Should the training activity be phased over time to allow practice (for example, it is hard to move directly from driving a car to HGV1 without experience on large vans and so on)
  • How will you (and the trainee) measure success?
  • What would be the impact, if any, on the employee of failure?


5. Selection of courses and suppliers

In order to select suitable courses and suppliers of training, it is essential to start from the clear statement of the outcomes you seek to achieve and the resulting benefits.

  • Identify what you require from your ‘perfect’ trained employee, where improvements are currently needed and exactly what these are.
  • If HR is responsible for finding trainers, they can use this.
  • If you are choosing the trainer, choose someone you like and can relate to.
  • If possible, talk to the trainer before the event to explain exactly what results you are hoping for.


6. Before the event

Prior to the event, remember to agree with the employee what outcomes you both seek and how success is to be measured. Write this down; both you and the employee should sign off on the document.

  • Work with the employee to identify specific issues to be addressed in training and any workplace examples they can take with them.
  • Make sure that the employee has adequate time for preparation.
  • Make sure that all the logistics arrangements are sound and clearly understood.
  • Make sure their work will be covered in their absence and they will not return to a full in-box or a crisis caused by their absence


7. Post event review

The review is a critical element in ensuring that you can evidence pay-back from training.

  • Gain feedback as early as possible from the employee and, if possible, from the trainer about how the activity went and how well they felt the desired outcomes were achieved.
  • Give the employee time to practise any new skills.
  • Review formally what has been achieved and plan for further development, as necessary.
  • Ask co-workers how they feel the training of their colleague has impacted.
  • Assess the ‘stickiness of the training (in other words, retention of learning).
  • Make it part of Business as Usual.