Workplace Training and Education: Does it Makes Sense?

Workshop by ECV, Wikimedia Commons

With an increasing skills gap and an aging workforce, a number of employers are reconsidering their reluctance to train new and existing employees beyond the essentials. Progressive employers understand that continuous learning and capability development will be essential going forward.

This renewed focus on training, whether aimed at developing the capacity of new hires (who lack needed skills) or upgrading existing employees’ skillsets (to build bench strength and support succession planning), stirs up many doubts that management has always harbored about the value of training. Some of the most common include.

 We’d rather hire someone who already has the skills.

  • It is too expensive to train people.
  • We can’t manage the workload if people are out being trained.
  • Employees take our training investment and use it to get a better job elsewhere.
  • Employees hate training.
  • Training doesn’t work – employees don’t remember what they learn.

In Favor of Workplace Training

Since these objections are common, they can’t simply be ignored or swept aside. Let’s consider each of them individually and provide some counter points based on employer experience as well as recent and established research.

We’d rather hire someone who already has the skills: So would many employers. Aside from the fact that this is becoming very hard to do, there are distinct benefits in hiring someone with skills gaps who has fewer bad habits to unlearn and who will be more committed to the company that invests in their development from the start.

It is too expensive to train people: There are always costs associated with training. However, hiring the fully qualified person over the one with some gaps will likely be a costlier hire. In addition, the highly trained individual may need to unlearn old habits before being fully functional in the new role. And don’t underestimate the ROI of investing in employee development. Increased employee engagement and retention improve the bottom line.

We can’t manage the workload if people are out being trained: This one is a bit of a red herring with respect to new hires, since the workload is being managed without them now. Admittedly, having an entire department or the whole management team involved in lengthy training commitments can be a challenge. This is where it makes sense to take advantage of the many technologies that exist to support asynchronous learning, such as eLearning modules, massive open online courses (MOOC), and online learning groups.

Employees take our training investment and use it to get a better job elsewhere: Considering the fact that workplace training and opportunities for education are top contributors to employee engagement, and that high performing employees prefer to work for a learning organization; this argument doesn’t hold water. Yes, the occasional employee will use your training as a springboard to better things elsewhere, particularly if there is no clear path for advancement within your organization. When you decide to invest in developing your employees, make sure internal opportunities for growth are made clear so their focus and loyalty remain with you.

Employees hate training: We’ve all heard employees groan about training. Yet we’ve also seen the research that indicates workplace training and educational opportunities are highly valued. What employees really hate is bad training: training that wastes their time, does not help them do their jobs better, is poorly constructed or badly delivered. No one thinks fondly of full day “pour and snore” training sessions or dysfunctional workplace health and safety eLearning programs that crash or don’t save your progress. Make sure that you develop good training material that incorporates sound adult learning principles and provides relevant content in a variety of formats to address various learning styles. Don’t leave the development or delivery of training to chance. If you outsource training development and delivery, do your homework and speak to former training participants/users before making a selection.

Training doesn’t work – employees don’t remember what they learn: There are a number of things that can be done to improve the level of knowledge retention and transfer from training activities. First and foremost, offer good training (see above). Here are a few other ways to make training stick.

  • Make it relevant and directly related to work activities and challenges.
  • Provide context (Why are we doing this and how does it fit into the bigger picture?)
  • Respect the experience that employees bring to the table.
  •  Go with shorter, more frequent training sessions.
  • Get people talking—people remember what they say.
  • Have participants apply what they’ve learned during and between sessions.
  • Evoke emotion in participants—people remember what they feel.

The Bottom Line on Workplace Training and Education

When it comes right down to it, there is no good reason to avoid investing in employee development and a multitude of good reasons to embrace it. Whether you opt for traditional face-to-face training, eLearning, online group work, or helping employees put together self-directed learning plans which they pursue through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); a growing skills gap, the pace of change, competition for talent and accelerated attrition of experienced staff have created a perfect storm, ensuring that workplace education and training will be a strategic priority for years to come.


This is the first in a series of five articles on the topic of Workplace Training and Education. To be notified of future articles in this series, subscribe to the TribeHR blog today!

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