Training / Train-the-Trainer
Are Corporate Training Programs Worthwhile?
Twenty years ago or more, so-called corporate training programs (in broad terms) had the following characteristics. They were:
- Reserved mainly for managers (and often only the senior ones)
- Long (2, 3, 4 or even 5 days)
- Off-site (at least for the most part)
- Classroom based (with an occasional diversion to an outdoor activity in a “blue moon” perhaps)
- Instructor-led (more in the style of lecture or mainly one way informational flow)
- Expensive (in time away and money invested)
At the time, these corporate training programs were considered to be a sound and central development approach for many medium and large organizations. Course participants (when they had permission to do so) could attend a variety of both in-house privately run or public externally run courses and expect to meet and socialize with several peers (which many reported was often the best part of the experience).
Whether or not these older style courses worked in practice was always difficult to determine, according to training and HR managers at the time, and any efforts to measure success were narrow (mostly using post-learning experience “happy” course evaluation sheets to gauge the general reactions of attendees to the content or the trainer).
Although we may laugh at how things were done years ago as we look back, and we know that the approach taken has changed considerably in recent years, the real questions now are:
- Has our modern approach changed for the better and
- Does it work or add value (or are our current corporate training programs worthwhile)?
Let’s therefore look at these two questions in turn.
The modern approach to corporate training
Although we cannot completely generalize here (as each organization will take a very different approach) in medium or large scale organizations today, the following can be said to characterize modern corporate training. It is:
- Aimed at and available to a wider population of employees (although the managerial population is still dominant)
- Often short (half and one-day courses are much more common)
- Mainly on-site (at least for the most part)
- Sometimes classroom based (but other spaces are also used and on-line virtual attendance is now also commonplace)
- Facilitator led (allowing much more interaction and two-way flow of dialogue)
- Cost efficient (with return on investment being a much greater need)
On the face of it then, the modern approach seems to be much more positive, egalitarian, cost effective and focused. Attendees on a general leadership course, for example, may be able to interact with a wider cross-section of people (not all at the same level or knowledge level), can experience the learning in a more time-efficient and less costly way and even get to contribute more than they might have done in the past.
But we can also argue that some valuable things may also have been lost. Some learning cannot be shortened to half a day or a day (and we may have to run multiple programs to cover the same ground therefore). In addition on-site programs tend to be more interrupted and informal and social learning is minimized (as people rush back to their desks to return phone calls or read emails etc.). All we can therefore say is that today’s corporate training programs are certainly different but not necessarily better.
So do modern training programs add value?
Given everything we have said above, it is clearly the case that modern day courses are likely to cost much less in expense outlay per person. This allows an organization to offer training to more people or to potentially enrich the number of courses offered to create a more diverse or focused training experience for its employees. However, this does not mean that this is what a considerable number of organizations have done in practice. Instead many have started to spend their money in a range of non-traditional training or development realms such as:
- Coaching programs for individuals
- On-line learning experiences of various kinds
- Opportunities for conference attendance
- Internet based development programs of various kinds etc.
This would suggest that organizations are voting with their feet to try alternative approaches and only engaging in corporate training when they can fill a class (or several people genuinely have a common learning need). In effect then, corporate training programs are perhaps no longer the central plank of the development effort that they once were and may even account for only a small part of any development budget.
So does this really matter in today’s fast-paced, high technology world? Well, only if we believe that getting groups of people together to focus on a given topic creates a better contribution to organizational success. And in order to determine the answer to that question, we need to evolve better measures of the value of the whole training exercise-as we still have yet to do this in most organizations, it can still be successfully argued that we just don’t know the answer to this.