People are the key to success or failure. Ensuring they have the right skills shouldn’t be a question. As Ed Steward of Southwest Airlines put it: “any [airline] can fly 737s to different cities. Our secret weapon is people, so we still had to invest in them.”

Yet, when times are tough and there’s pressure to reduce costs, it’s often the budget devoted to developing people that goes first. In many organisations it’s seen as a “nice to have” or a “little extra” and, to be honest, I can often see why. Too much time, energy and money is wasted on training that doesn’t work.

And that’s the point. If learning and development isn’t valuable enough during the lean times, how can it be valuable during the fat? And if it’s effective in the good times then we need to protect it in the bad.

Of course, there will always be pressure to reduce costs. However, good training that supports businesses will always be worthwhile. We need to make sure training brings the kind of sustained behavioural change you want. It’s a mistake to just look at costs. Instead we should be looking at the benefits the training can bring – to the individuals, their teams and the organisation. As long as these outweigh the costs then the training should continue.

Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the world’s best companies shows that the highest-ranking companies give employees 40 to 60 hours of training and education each  and every year. Instead of reflexively cutting your budget, make sure your training is effective; that it changes behaviour. If it doesn’t then why bother? If it’s not worthwhile doing in the upturn then why do it when things are less rosy? And be prepared to make the business case. Find the numbers to show that your training makes a difference and remember to cover these points:

It sends a strong message

Training programmes send a direct message to employees… we need you and we are willing to invest in you. This translates into increased employee engagement, morale and productivity. A downturn spells fear in the heart of most employees and training counteracts the “I’m next” mentality. Your staff will think “Who would invest in my education if they are going to lay me off?” Job security means less time worrying and more time being free to innovate.

It allows you to get things done

Your most valuable asset are your employees. And they can do more, and do it better, if you train them properly. Training builds the important skills that your employees use to perform their job well. Highly-trained staff are willing to assume more control over their jobs with less supervision, freeing up management to focus on other more important tasks. The attitudes of your staff will always influence your customers. Good training is an attitude booster.

It helps you recruit and retain

When other forms of staff compensation are frozen, training becomes one of the most desired employee benefits available. If your company has developed a reputation of valuing employee learning, the best people will be pursuing you, instead of you pursuing them.

If you simply stop developing people you risk losing them. In a poll from October 2017, the findings revealed that a majority (85%) of professionals would leave their current jobs for better training and career development opportunities elsewhere. This sentiment is echoed once more in the Preferred Work Arrangements in the MENA Poll, wherein career growth and training emerged as the second-most valued attribute when looking at job opportunities at 23%, right after salary.

This is even more true when looking at millennials. In a recent Gallup poll, 87% of millennials said development is important in a job. An employee who feels stuck in their role is much more likely to get restless and look elsewhere for opportunities, so employers should offer an array of programmes to assist employees with improving and developing their skill set.

It sets you up for the future

Just as night inevitably is followed by the dawning of a new day, there will be an end to tough economic times. Your company needs to be poised and ready for that day. A skilled workforce is a workforce ready to capitalise on opportunities.

So think twice the next time that training budget is about to be cut. It could prove to be a very expensive saving.

This piece originally appeared in Arabian Business. You can see it here:


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