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Don’t Jeopardize Your Future

In a recession or economic downturn, many employers look to find savings in what they consider to be non-essential spending. One of the first places they look (after salary and benefit cutbacks) is in their training budgets. In my view, this is not only cutting off your nose to spite your face, it's the absolutely wrong decision to make when things gets financially difficult.

Brian W. Pascal
That's because our investments in "human infrastructure", as the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) calls workplace training, can provide long-term benefits not exclusively to the particular organization. It can also help our economy and country respond to emerging challenges from a position of strength when the cycle of economic decline starts climbing back towards growth and profitability. For all of the physical stimulus spending that governments are trying out, the CCL claims that workplace training can be three times as important to economic growth in the long run than investments in roads, buildings and equipment.

Unfortunately, many organizations have not read the CCL report "Securing Prosperity through Canada's Human Infrastructure: The State of Adult Learning and Workplace Training in Canada” ( Instead, organizations are endangering their potential and their future by snipping, trimming and slashing their way through their workplace training budgets in the name of restraint.

According to a survey by the Conference Board of Canada, for the first time in twenty years, many employers in Canada are doing just that. The survey of 218 Canadian employers in January 2010 found that 51% of them were planning to cut training spending and that the percentage of payroll budget that companies were allocating to workplace training was down to 1.5 % from 2% in the 1990's. This is certainly a disturbing trend for a country like Canada that depends on our ability to develop a skilled and flexible workforce that can adapt to rapid societal changes and compete in a truly global marketplace.

Yet the news is not all bad. As organizations trim their formal training budgets, they are being forced to consider new, innovative and cheaper ways to ensure their employees have the tools and training required to help the organization and hopefully the country continue to grow and prosper. One of the signs of this from the Conference Board of Canada survey is that the number of hours of "classroom" training an average employee received in 2004, 26, had shrunk to only 20 in 2008. That doesn't mean employees weren't receiving workplace training, they were not just getting it via a formal, classroom model.

So how are employers managing to continue to provide workplace training and still pare the budget? They are shifting away from costly training resorts and off-site facilities which cost both time and money and using technology and their own resources to deliver many of the same desired results.

E-learning is certainly not new, but many organizations are rediscovering its potential to help equip its employees for today and tomorrow. Some experts have estimated that e-learning has now grown to nearly a quarter of all employee training hours across North America in recent years and this trend just keeps growing. There are also increases of up to 10% in training being done through social networking and on an informal basis. Computer based training is not only cost effective, but it can also be delivered without having to sit through time-consuming public “in class” sessions.

Other organizations are developing their own specialized in-house training programs that feature specially trained facilitators that are probably more aware of the company's training needs and can deliver training in a manner that incorporates the company's value system and business model. Mentoring, job shadowing and internal team training are also valuable delivery systems for workplace training. Many employers who may not have the resources to outsource their training needs are finding that this in-house combination is giving them equal or better results at a much lower cost.

Another way that employers are reacting to the conflicting requirements of providing training while reducing costs is that they are starting to priorize their training programs and limiting those who will actually receive training. There may be areas like health and safety training or new employee orientation that everyone will still receive, but when it comes to high level technical training or management training, then employers are picking the best of the bunch to take advantage of these opportunities.

I still believe that the smartest and most successful companies of the future will be the ones that invest in the training and development of their employees. It is a model that has had singular success in the past and will certainly work again today. If employers can use these difficult economic times to come up with cheaper and even better workplace training models, I think that Canada will be just fine in the future.


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