Posts Tagged ‘Conundrum’

Learning without training

by Wayne Turmel on January 18, 2010

I love the word “conundrum”.  It’s defined as “A paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma”. Here’s the conundrum that has impacted the training business more than any other lately: Companies complain about a shortage of skilled workers, but have slashed training budgets and the big traditional corporate training companies are bleeding customers and money at a time when what they teach has never been needed more. How can you have a shortage of skills that cost companies billions of dollars but no one’s willing to pay for it? That, my friends, is a conundrum.

The problem, I believe is a sea of change, not in what skills people need (as Drucker pointed out, the Leadership, Project Management and Strategy needed to build the pyramids aren’t any different than what we need today), but in who needs them.

Traditionally, the companies identified “competencies” that everyone needed across the organization, and either had their training department provide the content or went out and found it, brought training in-house (or to a centrally located sterile hotel ballroom) for employees to learn. This is still the model that most training companies follow- sell to the entire organization and look for company-wide initiatives… and it’s why they’re in trouble.

The audience for training is no longer the companies themselves, but the individuals in them. One manager might need to improve their business acumen while another does just fine with the numbers but can’t deliver feedback that doesn’t make people cry.  They know they need to develop these skills- if not for this job then for the next one. How do they identify, pay for and attain the learning they need?

Here’s how the players at companies will look at training in the New Year:

  • The Company– will be looking for training that is short, cheap and won’t involve travel or taking people away from their desk. This will mean a huge  increase in web-delivered training,  and if they’re smart, a mix of asynchronous (recorded, available any time) and synchronous (live with a facilitator that knows what they’re doing- and they’re in short supply).The fact that they will ask the impossible ( highly specialized but off the shelf so we don’t have to pay for customization, deep enough to show ROI but we don’t want to pay very much for it or let people invest time away from their jobs) is nothing new- customers always have asked the impossible. It does, however put a lot more pressure on…..
  • The Training Department– which is largely reduced to an administrative function. Rather than deliver a lot of training themselves, slimmed down Training Departments ( or more likely an HR professional juggling multiple jobs) will be asked to source and evaluate training  when it’s needed. This means fewer scheduled “catalog” classes that go on a schedule and are then canceled for low enrollment, and more specific just-in-time requests. What will determine what’s needed? Usually what shows up on performance reviews so an individual manager will have a different training requirement than their coworkers. This will mean they’ll need trusted sources of content, focused on niches or specialties, inexpensive and either public enrollment (so the manager can attend  by themselves but might mix with people from other companies) or scheduled for small groups of like-minded people. How will they find and evaluate this material? Well that’s a problem for….
  • The Training Companies… who will have to move away from licensing their content (because there’s no one left internally to deliver it, and each course isn’t being delivered often enough to provide economies of scale for the Companies) and into varied ways of delivering other than putting an instructor at the front of a room. Again, whether this is the most effective method of training is almost irrelevant, it’s where the market is moving, right or wrong. Gone are the days of huge corporate-wide initiatives, and they’ll be selling through their contacts at the Company to smaller groups (business units, project owners) rather than to a VP with a vision. They will also have to change how they bill their clients as more individuals will be paying (probably with a credit card over the web because who wants to issue 25 Purchase Orders for one class?) and definitely will have to move more of their training either online or into shorter chunks. The days of the 2-week “boot camp” training are gone forever. Additionally, they will have to be able to prove the value of what they do- either in Return on Investment (which for soft skills training is almost impossible but people keep trying) or in value to the learner through Continuing Education Credits, Professional Development Units or accreditation. Even a printed certificate of completion looks great in an HR file. The real change, however, will be for….
  • The Individual Learner– who will have to be responsible for learning what they need to know as they need to know it and finding it in a variety of ways. Maybe it will be traditional training, maybe it will be a book or a podcast.  The team leader who learns from their performance review, shows initiative to learn a skill and prove they’ve learned it (even if it’s just showing the certificate of completion) will be miles ahead of the worker who can’t explain what they can do or how they learned to do it. Additionally, more training will be paid for by the company (in small doses, as long as it’s not too expensive) but will be done after hours or on the employee’s time.  Online courses from trusted sources, marketed to individuals are the wave of the future.

In essence, training has gone from a B2B model with large contracts and licensing agreements to a modified Business to consumer model (the company might pay for it…they might not but if they do they’ll want to be involved in selection and pricing).

Companies that are really serious about helping their people develop skills will have to work with this new dynamic. Training companies that are serious about surviving will have to move to more web-based marketing and offerings, and individual employees will have to take their learning into their own hands.