The training and development department is a very misunderstood beast. In my early years, working in organizational training I was often told that employees go to school and get their education and then they go to work. I still run into the occasional manager or executive that carries that sentiment. Why should our organization pay for an employee’s learning?
Having set up and managed a number of training portfolios over my career, I can safely say that the training and development department is often the least understood and most heavily underrated department in an organization’s structure. We uniquely stick out like a sore thumb in the Human Resources Division but that seems to be the most widely accepted place to park us.
But is it? I guess that depends on what training and development services you provide. If you are mandated to focus on educating employees on corporate policies and procedures then maybe so. I always called that “compliance training”. We did it less to change attitudes or behaviours but more to cover our collective butts. For example, if an employee violated our Respectful Workplace policy, their first defence was, “well I didn’t know, no one told me that it was wrong.” So we educated our employees to read each policy and then sign a paper saying that they had done so. Then came the next excuse, “yeah, I read it but I didn’t understand it.” So arbitrators started to look for evidence of understanding and that’s when corporate training shifted formally on curriculum development for policies and procedures. And in many cases, the training department (like mine) came out and said maybe we need to ensure that the training is designed to shift attitudes and change behaviours to create a more harmonious work environment.
That of course elevated the role of training because it required more sophisticated training techniques and also couldn’t be taught in two hours. Suddenly we expected employees to attend a full day or (heaven forbid) a two-day workshop to develop a deeper understanding of their role in maintaining a respectful work environment. Many an executive has upbraided me saying, “do you know what it costs to have 600 of our employees out for a two day workshop? Who is going to do the work?” Those executives are probably still puzzling over why there is such a negative culture where they work. Too bad they don’t measure the cost of that!
In the more innovative organizations I worked in, the t&d department eventually became mandated to develop a global training initiative. This included on-the-job training for new technology and new equipment. It also included leadership development, various organizational interpersonal communications initiatives, customer service and the list goes on. The largest training department I managed over 25 years had six Training Specialists. Most had 2 or 3. Each department became an internal customer and each had their unique concerns that they felt training could solve. The only thing they lacked was budget. And of course, the t&d budget was often an offshoot of a larger Human Resource budget so there was plenty of competition for resources. With this expanded role, human resources may no longer be the best place for training and development. There is a need to be closer to our subject matter experts and more responsive to leadership needs that may not always be in total synch with HR.
As my career progressed Training Departments became “Learning Departments” because the latest thinking was that employees should be responsible for managing their own learning. Which from an andragogical perspective is true. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Learning is lifelong became a reality because change became the new standard. The days of starting a career in one company and retiring there have largely disappeared. Whatever you learned in formal schooling was becoming redundant after a few years on the job. How many mechanics would have dreamt that they would need to be IT Specialists to fix vehicles? Suddenly every time we changed software systems, equipment, or tools we had to have specialists come in to retrain everyone. So Training Managers often became Training Co-ordinators whose main challenge was to find expert vendors to deliver training.
Then there was the resistance to the new. Employee attitudes went downhill very quickly when they found out that because of a technological change they had been reduced to newbies on work for which they were once considered masters. This also required additional training. How do we teach our employees to embrace change? Change management programs became standard. The ones that worked best were the ones that focused on the employee developing an understanding of how they typically react to a major unplanned shift in their life. Leave the past behind you where it belongs and develop yourself for the new!
Change causes stress. This led to both physical and mental health problems for employees. It cost organizations significantly in lost work time and benefits payouts. Resiliency and stress management programs became part of our portfolio of offerings.
In my experience training has made a significant positive contribution to our workplaces. Organizations that invest in learning reap the rewards. Those that don’t pay the price in lower productivity, high turnover, legal costs and poor morale. Technology is also making learning more accessible to all employees through online and eLearning. It is also making it more affordable.
Learning today, truly is lifelong. And your training or learning department knows it! Hug your Trainer!