HOW TO DEVELOP A HOMEGROWN TRAINING PROGRAM
By James Thompson
Technology changes continuously, making it challenging for employees to stay current – especially for those in IT. It is imperative for employees to constantly be trained on new developments and able to offer insights regarding potential directions the market may take.
Often, it’s not feasible in terms of expense or benefit to rely on off-site, third-party training. The challenge is to develop employee potential that will benefit both clients and employees.
How can front-line employees be trained so they can provide the best service to clients, while not taking personnel away from their daily client work?
One way is to take the training in-house.
Creating the Agenda
During the fourth quarter of each year, under the direction of the HR manager, the topics that need to be addressed in the year ahead were determined. There were two categories – technologies and business skills. After identifying relevant issues, the technologies requiring the most attention, such as data analytics, infrastructure, IT security and mobile applications were set. The business skills selected were related to how IT yields competitive advantages to clients and how best to select candidates to facilitate those advantages. Although a schedule was established, everybody had to remain flexible as new topics were introduced to the curriculum based on changes in the market or a technology. The result? The training program became specifically targeted to what the employees needed at the time.
Once the topics were determined, a group was assigned to develop the curriculum and three team members are assigned to each topic. They were responsible for doing the research and creating the training content and materials. Sources include internal subject matter experts, interviews with known gurus on the topics (often at client companies), input from user groups and credible information found online. The outside perspectives were important to give team members varying points-of-view that contributed to their understanding of the topics and the impact on IT. A big challenge was to adapt the information specific to the audience, presenting it within the context of a specific industry.
Additional commitment was required by employees because the training sessions were mostly done on team members’ own time: during lunch, after 5 p.m. and on weekends.
Once the team was assigned and research began, it took up to three weeks to create the training. It’s was presented in a mid-day session lasting 60-90 minutes with lunch served. The sessions were conducted at HQ, but were available via web conferencing to other Texas locations. Offices close by drove to the main office for the presentation.
Training sessions were set up once a month, with the technology and business topics alternating. Training ran the majority of the year, skipping November and December because of holidays and an emphasis on reaching year-end goals.
Many lessons were learned. Originally groups of four researched the topics and presented the information. It was quickly discovered that three employees per group was more efficient and that the odd number allowed for a tie-breaking vote amongst the team, if needed. It was hard work. While tempting to let other responsibilities or deadlines get in the way each month, the employees knew they were becoming a better organization by staying committed to the program, even if they didn’t realize immediate returns.
The commitment employees have given to the training program has garnered many benefits – intellectual, psychological and fiscal.
Building the Team
Something that is hard to quantify, but easy to see is how the process has helped build trust and teamwork. When employees make the commitment to master the training topic, they expect their co-workers to do the same, otherwise the entire team suffers.
It also instills pride. Taking on a training session is a challenging assignment, but most of those involved have embraced it and are proud of their accomplishments. Colleagues can be a tough audience so teaching them has been a good motivator to hone presentation skills, resulting in more self-confidence and improved communications abilities.
On the fiscal side, training expenses have gone down. Although there are still outside providers for specific topics, most of the training is done in-house. The bigger contribution to the bottom line has been the focus on production as training no longer takes team members away from the office.
Worth it All
Another benefit has been the contribution training has made to corporate culture. Taking it in-house hasn’t been easy; however with the extra work has come the realization of the training’s impact. Now the team better understands the importance of continuous learning and improvement. The technology sector is volatile and competitive; if it isn’t changing and innovating, the company is falling behind.
Perhaps the biggest benefit has been how it is increasing the ability to serve clients as team members better comprehend the complexities and nuances of relevant technologies. In today’s business climate, market-leading companies can turn into relics in a matter of months if they don’t stay fresh. Embrace continuous learning. Undertaking an ongoing process of revitalization and rejuvenation is good for the company and good for individual employees. The process isn’t easy but it is necessary and well worth it.
James Thompson is the CEO and president of The InSource Group, a technology staffing and placement company with offices in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. Under his direction, the company develops its in-house training programs. He can be reached at JT@insourcegroup.com.