Paying for training is a waste of money!

Or is it? Tim Phillips of IMI Europe explains why this needn't necessarily be the case ...

All companies need to train their staff, and for most there is a decision to make: stick to on-the-job training or look outside for help? It is often tempting to take the in-house route, especially for technical training, as this appears lower cost and is highly job-specific, relying on more experienced staff to pass on their experience to newer and less experienced members of the team. There are clearly advantages to this, as a similar level of understanding, and similar ways of working, can be established within a team. For this reason there will always be a place for on the job training, but there is also much to be gained by adding external training to the mix.

Before discussing the issue further, we should distinguish between pure training on the one hand, and training that has an educational element on the other. A typical definition of education includes acquiring general and specific knowledge, as well as developing intellectual capacity, and is usually thought of as something undertaken at school or university prior to entering a job. Training, on the other hand, is thought of as something more specific that is done during, or as part of, a job.

I believe a case can be made for investing in external training for key technical staff, as the right courses can provide broader, more educational, input to supplement on-the-job training. The case is as follows:

External training allows specific selection of the trainer from a wide range of possibilities, rather than relying on existing staff, so that the required expertise should be able to be sourced. As long as the correct courses and trainers are chosen, individuals and teams can benefit from the knowledge and experience of the best educators and trainers in the industry. Even with very large companies, such people may not be present inside the organisation, but by sourcing expertise externally precise requirements can be met.

Training externally allows a broader, more educational approach, which allows training to be placed in context more easily. More time can be spent understanding the background to the technology and the thinking behind techniques, rather than just being told ‘you do it like this’. External training also allows understanding of what best practice is in other organisations, rather than just your own, which also helps to add perspective to what is being learned.

A significant, though hard-to-quantify, benefit of external training is simply the fact that it happens externally. Time spent away from the usual routines and pressures of work allow complete focus on the information being imparted. This makes the experience more efficient and allows learning to sink in more completely, with time to reflect ask questions of the course provider. An additional benefit not usually counted as a saving to offset against the cost of external training is that the internal ‘trainer’ that would otherwise have been busy on ‘non-productive’ tasks is now free to do actual work!

It is an oft-quoted benefit of attending conferences and other public events that as much can be learned from the other attendees or delegates as from the presenters/speakers. This can be true for training as well, and sharing notes with workers from other institutions makes the experience richer and more valuable, sharing inspiration and potentially sparking future collaboration.

In a restricted gene pool, lack of diversity can lead to genetic erosion and the decline of a species: in the same way, a company that trains itself can become stagnant – relying on the same information passed down (and potentially corrupted) over time. This information may originate from a single individual who may not be in possession of the most up-to-date thinking. Bringing in information, experience and techniques from outside refreshes the company’s ‘gene pool’ of information and learning, allowing a step-change improvement in performance.

In summary, while the costs of external training may be a concern, if the right courses are chosen for key team members to supplement both their existing educational background and existing internal training, the benefits can far-outweigh the costs.