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4 ways to deliver learning on a budget
published by , on 29/03/2009

Learning is one of the factors which people love about their job, but many training departments are dealing with having had their training budgets cut. This presents a challenge for many L&D departments. When companies are under pressure, multiple factors seem to conspire to make it well nigh impossible to initiate new training initiatives:

  • No money – We all know that training should be maintained to keep motivation levels high, but the reality is that this is often one of the first areas to be cut when cash is tight
  • No time – A reduction in staff numbers may mean people are being expected to do more. This makes it tough to justify a day, or even half a day, out of the office for training
  • Lack of focus on training – Managers are focused on sales and delivery. An ‘all hands to the pumps’ ethos prevails which doesn’t leave much head-space for thinking and learning.

boston_learning.jpg

BUT, there are critical reasons for keeping the learning process going despite these issues. The last thing you need when you’re relying on a smaller employee-base is to lose some of your best and brightest. And it is the best and brightest who will have the ability to be more mobile when jobs are scarce. They need to see a career development path within the organisation, and be convinced that the company will support that development. Providing the continuous ability to learn and grow their skills is one way to do that.

History has shown that typically it’s forward thinking companies that come out on top when economic activity levels pick up. That means staying abreast of new developments in the industry and making sure your people are equipped to work together, manage and lead. Removing the opportunity for staff to learn severely limits the company’s ability to ramp up when demand increases, and even more, to become a leader in their market. The complacent may find that they are overtaken by smaller, nimbler companies.

Firstly, wherever you can – carry on using external trainers. They have the experience and the expertise to do the best possible job. Remember – you’re going to want them to be around when the upturn starts, so it makes sense to use their service as much as you can now.
Then, the challenge is to find ways of delivering more learning opportunities that have minimal costs attached to them.

A few ideas we’ve come up with are:

  • In the areas of people skills and team working, it may be useful to partner with other similar size companies in the same area as you. Staff from each company could attend and with costs being shared proportionately. The Learning Collaboration in Cambridge is a good example of this.
  • Skill up line managers to deliver training to small groups of their staff on key topics that will improve productivity. They may not be as proficient as professional trainers, but as Sam Wood reminded me, this has the added advantage of people getting to know their team mates better.
  • Provide a library of books and DVD’s that people can use to increase their knowledge in their spare time. The company could make an initial investment and the collection could then be grown through setting up your own version of BookCrossings.
  • Start lunch time learning sessions where staff can elect to deliver a session on their topic of choice. Even if the topic isn’t work specific, you’re giving staff the opportunity to see a different side of their colleagues, and the person delivering the session is able to share their energy and enthusiasm for something they’re passionate about. Great for upping the energy levels. Great for engaging staff.

You may also find a few ideas in this – Alex Dawson pointed me at a compilation of expert advice on dealing with training budget cuts on Training Zone.

[Tip: The training budget isn’t the only place you can look for training. Is there a small excess in any department budgets that could be used to help the line manager develop that particular team?]

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