by Dave Gardner
Employee training throughout Northeast Pennsylvania is receiving an assist from government grants as well as renewed recognition that staff knowledge is vital for maximizing profitability.
Formal employee training is relatively limited within the vast NEPA small business community, according to Helene Mancuso, certified workforce development professional and certified career coach with the Wayne-Pike Workforce Alliance. Most of these businesses have no HR departments or professional programs for staff development.
Therefore, according to Mancuso, the companies must often look to public partners to fulfill formalized training needs.
“Penn State University came in here recently and presented a program about leadership,” said Mancuso. “It was fabulous.”
She explained that organizations such as the Alliance are increasingly functioning as HR departments for the small business community. In addition to training, functions such as employee recruitment in today’s tight applicant market using modern in-boarding processes are available.
“It is being recognized that employee retention is vital, particularly when a job is specialized and involves processes that require training,” said Mancuso. “A loss of legacy knowledge for a business can therefore be disastrous, and in addition to that there’s a gray tsunami coming with retirements, which will require extensive training for replacement employees.”
One of Mancuso’s favorite programs offered by her specific agency is called simply “On-The-Job Training,” where a new employee in need of vocational preparation is paid 50% with a minimum of $8 per hour through a government revenue grant. Within the Pocono region this system can be accessed by employers who have a job open with 30 hours per week minimum, provided the employer will submit to a visit by program administrators and sign a contract.
The wage payments will last for the number of work hours it takes to train the employee, up to three months, and each job is looked at individually. According to Mancuso, the overall program has proven to be easy to use with a minimum of employer paperwork and documentation.
“In my opinion, this is the best kept employment secret in the region,” said Mancuso.
Also available through Mancuso’s organization is incumbent worker training, where a current employee in need of training to remain employed or advance can have their wages, with a job minimum of $10.50, assisted through a government grant, up to 90% of $3,000.
“This program is new to us since 2016, and offers great promise,” said Mancuso
Virginia Turano, executive director of the Lackawanna County Workforce Investment Board, explained that employee training must be divided into the very different categories of incumbent training versus that for new hires. Only if this definition is clearly made can government funding for training be properly applied.
She also is a fan of the On-The-Job-Training program, and how the financial metrics of the program can be adjusted according to the market conditions each agency must deal with. Within Lackawanna County, the program is often accessed by manufacturers, while a companion program focusing on occupational skill training, such as CNC, can be utilized to help pay for the costs of employee instruction by a formalized school provided the job centers on needed high-priority work.
Turano’s group is also working to help alleviate the nagging problem with employee soft skills virtually every employer is dealing with. Representatives of her office are visiting grade 10 schoolrooms and disclosing the realities of the working world, plus the need for proper behavior, discipline, consistency and commitment.
“The soft skill gap we keep hearing about out there is very real, and quite frankly I don’t know how it happened,” said Turano. “It’s true that the older employees are very set in their ways, but work ethics are vital in a place of employment if it is to have structure.”
Turano added a variety of other training programs utilizing government funding are available. These include state and local internship programs for 18-24 year-old adults.
“I’m optimistic about training in the future,” said Turano. Over the years we’ve seen thousands of people get back on their feet, and it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.”
A different set of challenges must be confronted by private training organization, according to Ted Pease, general manager of ManageAssist. His company is active in 10 states on the east coast, and he finds the “psychological” aspects of training to be an issue.
According to Pease, the current job market is an issue that advocates for training. Unemployment is low, the job candidate pool small, and virtually every quality position involves the application of hard skills specific to that position.
Employers needing personnel must therefore confront the choice of hiring someone with skills that will be wage-pricey, versus the cost-effective situation inherent with training an existing employee. Business has also caught on to the reality that failure to retain skilled employees is expensive.
“This scenario is playing out in a world where there is an air of decreasing employee loyalty and less perceived company loyalty,” said Pease. “Employees have also figured out that when they learn skills, they will earn more money and that they become more marketable, advancing expectations of upward movement.”
From an employer standpoint, training takes time and money, and management often may not understand the reality that training investments can save process dollars and raise profits. However, according to Pease, when training is done properly, it does not inhibit production.
“The core group we serve are manufacturers, and often they just can’t see waste as an expense,” said Pease. “To stop waste and operate lean may require a root cause analysis that indicates the need for management and supervisory training, plus for those personnel being promoted who have no prior supervisory experience.”
A common objection to training heard by Pease involves time management. Managers often state they have no time for training, despite the lean advantages of a trained workforce, and in these situations a case must be made that employee errors and the faulty processes created by them are damaging to the company’s profitability.
Pease also is optimistic about the future of employee training. He commented that evolution already unfolding allows webinars to give instant access to all sorts of valuable information, kindling environments for a company’s continuous improvement.
“Often, it’s senior management that really needs the training,” said Pease. “They must take the lead with the support of training, plus the subsequent application of the knowledge learned.”