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by Trent Phillips

One of the top priorities of any military organization is keeping soldiers fit for deployment upon demand. This usually involves exercises to maintain and increase job skill, physical abilities, overall health and mental capabilities.

Troops are encouraged and required to participate in activities that achieve these readiness goals. Why should your organization and position be any different? What are you and your organization doing to ensure fitness for job deployment each day? Are your employees trained to function like F Troop or SEAL Team Six?

American companies spend billions of dollars each year on employee learning activities. Even with this huge investment, the majority of companies still lack the required skills for success. This proves that just spending large amounts of money will not solve a problem. It can be argued that employees are a company's greatest assets. Therefore, investment must be continually made to maintain and grow human capital. But the investment must be done in a way that secures the greatest return for stakeholders. Human capital affects every aspect of a company and is directly tied to the successes and failures experienced. Lack of employee development or misguided training activities could be one of the contributing reasons for failure within your corporation.

It seems that most companies track employee learning and development in dollars. This form of tracking may show the associated costs of these activities, but does little to show the returns on the investment. Instead, learning activities should be developed and focused on:

  • Training: Focused and evaluated against the employee's current job function. Do not overlook critical craft and technical skills, such as proper use of tools (e.g., measuring devices, etc.), understanding procedures, precision maintenance practices, appropriate safety, etc. This will ensure the employee can operate and maintain equipment in the most efficient and safe manner possible.
  • Education: Focused and evaluated against job positions and responsibilities that the employee may be assigned in the future.
  • Development: Activities that encourage and prepare the employee for greater job responsibilities, growth and advanced skills that are aligned with mutual strategic goals.

Job responsibilities should be clearly defined. By doing so, an employee can be evaluated and focused training can be developed or sought externally to produce competency and confidence. To achieve the greatest return on investment, each of the following areas should be looked at:

  • Obtaining results and not just on delivery of materials or entirely on money spent.
  • Alignment with clear and strategic goals, like increased production, improved safety, better maintenance reliability, etc. Otherwise, the results will be difficult to measure and obtain.
  • Ensuring employees fully understand why the training is being provided and how it is linked to strategic company goals.
  • Focusing on resolving identified knowledge gaps within the organization. Employee development is expensive and the investment should be maximized. Therefore, it is critical that assessments be completed to determine what knowledge is lacking within the organization and how this lack of knowledge impacts the strategic goals of the corporation.
  • Employee involvement to help determine what knowledge, skills and abilities are learned.>
  • Ensuring employees are encouraged to participate in the learning experience.
  • Training to be conducted in a safe, supportive and respectful environment.>
  • Employee development as a building process that is linked to an employee's past training and work experiences.
  • Methods utilized to verify employee understanding of the subject matter conveyed. This should include skills verification activities, testing, etc. Most people learn from doing, therefore, development activities should be reinforced with practice during and after the learning experience has been completed.
  • A manner to provide feedback is included. This will allow opportunities for improvement to be understood and implemented.
  • Recognition of the trainer. Someone can be knowledgeable in a subject matter, but lack the skills required to convey that knowledge to others in a meaningful way. It is critical for the trainer to have professional knowledge in the subject(s) being taught, have the dedication and ability to transfer this knowledge, be recognized as a leader in the area and understand the strategic goals of the training exercise.

Human capital is one of the greatest expenses within a company. Companies that effectively train employees are more likely to retain them and receive the greatest return on investment. Skills development is one of the primary reasons employees are either attracted to an employer or decide to seek other opportunities. Employees typically have greater job satisfaction when their employer makes routine investments in them. Management is rewarded with increased performance, a happier workforce, improved safety, lower risks, easier goal achievement, competitive advantages, lower costs and increased profits. The workforce is rewarded with improved job satisfaction, greater skills, higher self-esteem and employment stability.

Human capital development should not stop at formal training. Coaching, mentoring, networking and appraisals should be provided. This helps to build relationships, reinforce training and generate feedback for both the employee and employer. The coach should provide guidance, feedback and reassurance of skills. The mentor should provide advice and support. Appraisals allow for development, evaluation and resolution of issues. Employee interaction at seminars, professional groups and with other employees should be encouraged as well. This allows for networking, knowledge transference and development to occur.

Employee development is a shared responsibility between employee and employer. An individual’s willingness to be fit is just as critical. How can an individual maintain job readiness when he or she does not read books, refuses training when available, does not maintain or increase his or her skills, or challenge himself or herself? Employers can provide an employee the opportunity to learn, but cannot make the person do so if he or she is unwilling.

Basically, as the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” This means you have to work to maintain the skills you have already acquired. Life and our employers constantly expect us to do more with less and this will never change. Usually, it is not about how much you do, but ensuring that what you do is done correctly and the desired results obtained. Guaranteeing results requires constant usage of current skills and development of new ones. Every employee is responsible for constantly seeking learning opportunities that help them maintain and grow skills. Otherwise, you will most likely become obsolete to your employer.

Sometimes, management only asks half of the questions that should be asked and answered before investing in employee development. For instance, most companies struggle with the question:

Q: What will happen if we invest in this person and he/she leaves?

This is a valid question, but it always should be accompanied by the flip side question:

Q: What will happen if we don’t invest in this person and he/she stays?

Always remember two key points. First, an employer that makes continual investments in its human capital (employees) will most likely retain them and receive the most return on investment. Second, an untrained employee is an unfit employee for the job demanded of the individual! The employee will be unable to perform in a safe, consistent and effective manner. It is difficult to hold employees accountable when they have not been properly prepared to perform what is being asked of them.

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