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Protect (don’t neglect) your training investment

I think it’s true to say that the current fiscal environment is tricky; some, but interestingly not all, economists around the world are predicting a deep and lengthy recession, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. As we emerge slowly from lockdown, businesses are struggling to balance the books, and as a result they’re having to make some really difficult decisions.

Whilst lockdown has led many to declare it a perfect time to ramp up training, learning and education, in tough economic times we know from experience that every element of the corporate budget comes under review, training and development included. But as Mark Twain once said: “Training is everything“.

The reason for this approach? The results of your corporate investment in training and development are invariably not immediately tangible and the skills and capabilities that have been developed are not always put into practice in the short term, and so “L&D” becomes a target for cuts.

However, training is a critical factor, for both survival and future success; and those organisations that don’t ring-fence this investment have been shown to feel the effects down the line. The impact can range from a vulnerability to compliance and risk management issues and costs incurred through claims for injuries from inadequately prepared staff, through to the loss of customers, compensation claims and lawsuits arising from poor or poorly executed working practices. And this doesn’t even touch the impact of lost opportunity from under-motivated or badly-managed and led businesses!

My colleague Paul Gibbons recently penned an article about his experiences in the learning sector over the last 20 years, encouraging organisations to learn the lessons of the past. Just like Paul, I’ve worked in the sector for many years, and have helped many organisations to grow out of recession, when others don’t. For this to happen we approached the challenge strategically, in a planned and controlled way.

We took training as a given for survival and growth, as well as an insurance policy against future challenges, and we sought ways to ring-fence and protect this investment.

In my experience three models can be used successfully, and have been adopted by a number of organisations recognising the importance of training and development.

  1. Outsourcing

Let me paint a picture, you’re the director of learning and development for a large organisation with thousands of staff, many of whom are in safety-critical roles. Each year you’re asked (told) to reduce your budget, and each year you argue the case against cuts; citing the potentially serious implications of ill-prepared staff.  The budget is scrutinised and the long-screwdrivers come out; you make unwanted cuts with your fingers firmly crossed. Luckily nothing bad happens.

You know you need to insure yourself against continuing cuts, because at some stage this will come back to bite you!

So, commit yourself to a long-term outsourced contract with a specialist training provider, and in doing so you ring-fence the budget for training. You’re able to focus on day-to-day operations of your organisation, secure in the knowledge that safety-critical training will continue for the foreseeable future.  Upside is that you gain certainty, and synergies from drawing upon specialist capabilities which are also being used by other organisations – you benefit from delivery at scale. Downside is you need tighter management of requirements (focusing hopefully on outcomes rather than inputs), and stricter reporting/measurement of progress/success. Partnering rather procurement is the key here.

  1. Streamline administration

Training doesn’t just happen. As a participant in training it is easy to just turn up on the day, and expect the instructor or tutor to deliver the content of the session. What about the content of the session, what about the room and catering (in the case of face-to-face sessions)? What about the materials you need to support embed your learning?  The same is true for learning delivered in virtual environments – except perhaps you’ll have to make your own lunch.

Many organisations have large teams of people responsible for co-ordinating and managing training programmes. They’re responsible for the scheduling and booking, logistics, creating content and making sure the right materials are available in the right place at the right time so participants get the most out of the learning experience.

For organisations spending thousands, or millions, on supporting the learning process, automation and integration tools have been used to great effect to drive both efficiency and effectiveness. They can book and schedule a training session, safe in the knowledge that technology will ensure joining instructions (and reminders) are sent out and all the right content is delivered to the tutor and the participants – even when last minute changes are made. They don’t maintain large warehouses of learning materials and associated resources which gather dust and run the risk of going out of date. ; automated processes ensure that materials are printed and delivered on demand, often on a next day basis, and make use of digital solutions for the provision of content needed to support the learning experience.

  1. Change the delivery mechanism

In recent months, much has been written and said about the use of digital to support the learning process or to deliver learning. At the time of writing, universities around the world are grappling with demand for places, a desire to provide a meaningful experience, and the need to adhere to social distancing requirements. They’ve plans afoot for using digital solutions both in both the short and longer-term.

The use of digital is not a new thing. A few years ago, I recall reading Towards Maturity’s “Embracing Change” report. It determined that learning strategy, underpinned by digital transformation, can deliver tangible business impact in learning organisations. Towards Maturity reported a 16 per cent cost reduction in learning and development. Other benefits cited: 12% improvement in productivity, 15% improvement in customer satisfaction and 19% improvement in time to competence.

Digital can work, and can deliver results.

But a word of caution, not all digital and learning technologies are equal. The best examples I’ve seen are when digital delivery is used strategically to add value to the learning experience – rather than as a global solution for every aspect of learning. It is used as a way to support the learning process or to administer learning, rather than deliver all of the learning.

There really are a number of ways to protect and maintain your training budget. In difficult times, you can still realise Mark Twain’s view. Take the opportunity to think differently so you can develop and prepare your organisation’s talent and skills for the future.

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