By Dave Gardner
Employer-provided training has evolved into a window that seems to display the needs of American society at large.
Above all, in-house training surely is big business. According to the Association for Talent Development, workplace instruction is now costing employers more than $165 billion annually.
A consensus exists that a conservative approach to company balance sheets prevalent since the Great Recession remains the strongest inhibitor for training investment. The select companies who do invest in their workforce often have one key leader within the system who sees the value of training.
Nicole Darling, an educational consultant and career coach based in Dallas, explained that despite the conservative nature of most regional employers, shifts toward a training-friendly culture are occurring. Demand remains strong for on-site courses dealing with customer service, and employers are asking for instruction that will kindle supervisory and leadership skills in newly promoted staff members.
The demand for supervisory training also is being fueled by new employer awareness that a company’s top performer for tasks is not necessarily the best choice for a leadership position.
“Skill sets for a leader are quite different from that of a top solo performer,” said Darling. “The majority of employers have not yet figured this out, but more are learning every day.”
According to Darling, total employer investment in crucial soft-skill training has actually declined since 2008. This has occurred despite employer complaints about the need for employee soft skills, accompanied by a persistent belief that job applicants should walk through door at HR with these soft skills in place.
“The soft-skill problem then surfaces when the employee is hired and does not produce, creating a lot of trouble for the employer,” Darling said.
A relatively new and popular facet of employee training involves generational adjustment. Employee behavior and belief systems are not always pure across generational lines, but generational members apart from the millennials often must be trained to address the needs of millennials if the organization is to attract the needed workforce talent, and then have these employees co-exist.
Work expectations also vary by generation, and Darling is firm in her assessment that the millennials are a product of their time. Most millennials want to play at work, have diverse duties, feel that they are contributing to the mission of the organization and demand work-life balance.
This is different from the generations before who often ignore balance and work solely to fully complete tasks. Mentoring is also vital to millennials, who often have no concepts within them of traditional values and work habits while also exhibiting verbal communications problems, particularly with face-to-face encounters.
Darling tells her business clients that, to a large degree, maturity and life experience will help to alleviate many of the problems the millennials deal with as professional pain creates growth. Yet, employers must also play a role and be consistent with training investment, which can’t be a one-time affair.
Purely emotional outreaches also don’t work as a conflict solution.
“Every employer must now project a learning culture and deliver a consistent training program, despite their individual workforce needs,” said Darling.
Michael Novak, chief administrative officer with Johnson College, reported that many employers are now providing training money because they need an infusion of new employee skills. Retirements of many skilled people are underway as the baby boomers depart from the workforce, and an employer can suddenly find itself in deep internal trouble if it has not properly managed workforce talent succession.
“The fundamentals of training are also changing,” Novak said. “The instructors are finding that long lectures won’t work, and 20 to 25 minutes is the maximum you can hold a student’s attention. It’s interesting to me that this is the same within the public schools.”
Jane Ashton, director of continuing education office with Penn State University in Wilkes-Barre, has found that NEPA employers may still fear that employees will leave for a competitor once trained. Yet, large segments of business and industry do understand modern workforce needs, creating high demand for leadership and supervisory development with rookie managers.
Ashton’s office focuses on customized employer training in-house known as contract education. The university carefully hires quality instructors from the staff and community who undergo an intense approval process.
“We just love real-world experience in our trainers,” said Ashton.
She noted that training dollars flowing through Harrisburg still exist but are declining as government, which had been investing in targeted growth clusters such as health care and logistics, cuts back. Despite these cutbacks, federal EAP training funding is now being channeled to Penn State through the Earth Conservatory totaling $200,000 over three years.
The future of employer training, according to Ashton, is an unknown. Automation growth within business is a game-breaker, making employee adaptability to change essential. Technology, environments, and the need for new knowledge can all be expected to evolve at breathtaking speed as scientific breakthroughs are commercialized.
“What we will be teaching the kids who come after the millennials is a great question,” said Ashton. “We can be sure this will change as much as the basic delivery systems for education itself evolves.”
Relevance and vigor
Employee training has offered many transformative moments for Chris Whitney, director of the center for career development at University of Scranton, as barriers fall between schools, the community and business. She, therefore, is certain the effects of education flow in multiple directions, particularly if training is directly tied to specific career needs.
Her school, as part of its mission and outreach, offers faculty visits to workplaces, students working out in the field, and the award of selective advanced placement credits. This proven formula has the power to offer employers a well-trained candidate immediately upon hire, thereby making subsequent training a system for increased employee excellence.
“Training must include relevance and rigor if it is to be effective,” said Whitney.
Susan Shaffer, a workforce consultant based in Covington Township, added that the regional workforce is displaying literacy issues that appear across all racial and ethnic lines. In addition, problems exist with the ability to focus so that students can gain needed skills, with critical thinking and interpersonal abilities topping the list.
Employers are also reporting to Shaffer that the manpower excess created by the Great Recession is ending as shortages of quality and trainable job applicants appear. The quality of training available for even the best applicant may also be questionable.
“As a rule, corporate trainers know their subject matter, but many are not effective with their delivery,” said Shaffer. “The business therefore has no choice but to spend and bring in outside trainers.”