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“Once you’ve made a good selection decision, everything else is training.” This quote came from the wisdom of a veteran corporate education and training director during my years at General Motors. He believed the statement could be applied across a variety of situations, both professional and personal. He also believed the opposite of that statement is also true, in that once you’ve trained someone to the best of their ability, if it doesn’t work out, then it was a bad selection decision. While there was no sitting at the feet of this wise guru, I couldn’t help but think how insightful the comment was and still is. The current competitive atmosphere has a number of companies trying to balance their restructuring and retention needs. In the midst of all that expanding and contracting decision making is one sure truth about remaining competitive. Maintaining a well trained, multi-skilled workforce is more than just an overhead cost consideration, but the recognition that without appropriate knowledge and skills, a company, irrespective of size, can lose its competitive and distinctive edge.

The unfortunate trend in short term cost cutting is to reduce or in some cases, completely eliminate the training budget. Embedded in that budget is skill training, knowledge acquisition and tuition reimbursement. It’s usually the easiest place to look because training is viewed as overhead costs. The quick slash and burn approach to help bring up the numbers typically results in a return to the hands-on, learn-as-you-go, scattergun approach to skill competence. The organization is then left with those individuals who are willing to learn in order to survive as opposed to a skilled workforce that wants to grow. What makes this strategy particularly dangerous is the unprecedented labor shortage unfolding in the United States and the ‘free agent’ approach to career development as seen among the current crop of full time employees. All conventional wisdom supports the notion that training is critical to the efficient functioning of an organization, but the link between conventional wisdom and practical reality gets lost when the idea is to keep the ship afloat. The often translates into organizations having a bunch of highly skilled employees who are proficient in bailing water, but once the waters are calm and stability has been established, no one knows how to row the boat.

Training is not a ‘recreational’ luxury to be implemented when times are good, but is an essential survival tool when times are pretty rough. It is important to maintain an ongoing assessment of the internal training needs of the organization while anticipating the changes in the external environment that will dictate new skills and knowledge. The corporate world has seen the emergence of E-Learning, Online Training, and Distance Education as expanding compliments to traditional in-class learning. These new approaches to training have helped to take some of the expense out of training (i.e. travel, hotel accommodations), but they also represent the continuing education and training opportunities that are consistent with the ‘lifelong’ learner philosophy that is a guiding beacon for contemporary organizations. In fact, the growth of the Internet has helped to take a lot of the sting out of costly training by allowing access to training Websites and online certification programs.
As the economic cycle continues to spin toward its next step in the process, many organizations are weighing the importance of training in lieu of other seemingly pressing concerns. The doubts are probably tied to an inability to measure the true impact of the training experience, and, consequently, its true worth. When all else fails, perhaps some reflective thought on the next quote and its corporate interpretation might shed some light.
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” In the business setting, that quote is taken to mean, “If you think training is expensive, try incompetence.”

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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