It is not always practical to recruit for skill as we know but I’d argue it’s not always desirable either. All organisations are attracted to the idea of recruiting those with the right certifications and skills, but with ever more understanding of more subtle traits that are at least as important (such as management potential, emotional intelligence and cultural fit) pre-existing skills are increasingly seen as something “in the mix”. In fact, many of the more sophisticated traits we now demand are more in-grained and harder to teach. Arguably we should view vocational skills as the easier ones to flag for future development in the right candidate and to an extent, prioritise character traits that are essential.
That’s one reason why vocational training is becoming ever more important. It was always true that workforce training had the potential to transform any organisation and make it far more nimble, responsive, effective and profitable as we know. However the more sophisticated our recruitment practices become, the more central training becomes in providing the freedom to recruit wisely. The more we can rely on staff development to fill gaps reliably and rapidly, the more freedom we have to build the best possible teams.
That said, just because training and development is important, it doesn’t make it an automatic win. Like anything, it will require planning and investment to work. Everyone wants to do it, but most of us are confronted by the question “can we afford to do it well enough to make it worthwhile?”. It’s a good question too – I would argue that subjecting people to a poorly planned, tedious and only partially relevant training program does more harm than good. If training is the first thing a new worker experiences, we do not want their first impressions to be irrelevance, poor quality, cheap and disrespectful.
So where does that leave an organisation with limited resources and experience in training delivery? What are the measures they might take to ensure their first steps towards training initiative will actually deliver them results?
The first thing to say is that workforce development takes place in every workplace; in other words you are doing it now whether you realise it or not. Contemporary thinking is that most learning is experiential – almost everything we learn we gain through experiences that just happen whenever we show up to work. The easiest and most effective starting point for any training program is to make those experiences as valuable as possible. Simple initiatives such as a staff rotation program and a mentoring program are arguably the most effective things an organisation can do to upskill its people. They are also some of the easiest things to do.
But what then?
If we assume your competition have most likely also achieved the basics, then to do better than them, we have to consider structured learning. That might sound scary but remember it’s intended as icing on the cake – your good experiential program is the cake itself.
Also, there are options and your structured training does not necessarily involve an internal program; indeed many of the largest companies are partnered with RTOs or TAFEs. From a financial perspective, it’s frequently cheaper to get the economy of scale by asking large external trainers to skill your team rather than replicate their efforts on a small scale internally.
However a surprising number of organisations elect to institute their learning and development programs completely internally and many even go as far as to establish an enterprise RTO and claim funds for it. This is of course more ambitious but don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s out of reach. Many people are surprised to learn just how many of these programs are operating very effectively in small and medium enterprises. The good news is that they also talk about it so there is a wealth of information online and countless vibrant forums on social media for the new learning and development manager to read. Jump in, ask for help. What is there to lose?
Of course, running an internal program is not for everyone, so when is it the right way to go?
Internal implementation allows a program to be highly specialised. That’s perfect for highly specialised or niche organisations. It’s also great when you seek to train people in a context of an organisation’s competitive advantages.
Another important point is that no training is every as good as that delivered from the workplace itself. Only there can it truely capitalise on experiential learning for maximum relevance and interest. The extra effectiveness delivers cost and time savings in turn.
Another consideration is that when people are trained at work their employer organisation gets to see outcomes directly in a way that returning from an external course brandishing a certificate can never do. This helps maintain commitment to the program and allows it to be continually enhanced.
No matter what approach you take, a quality training program will foster a culture of collaboration, learning and of continuous improvement and delivers bottom line outcomes in the process. But best of all, your training program will allow you more freedom to recruit from a wider pool of candidates and make your workplace more sought after.