Learn while you earn
In a rough economy, most businesses still support education – especially online.
Bob Fisher, CEO of Grow Federal Credit Union in Tampa, Fla., believes strongly in the value of employee training and education. He maintains a training department that offers four or five programs daily, ranging from classes in public speaking to instruction in coaching and mentoring. He also sends executives to a writing seminar at the University of South Florida.Skip to next paragraph
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"We spend a lot of money in that area," Mr. Fisher says, referring to his commitment to training. "So far it's worth the money spent. We owe it to our employees to make sure they have all the tools necessary to do their job."
Not all executives share that attitude these days. As businesses trim spending in a slow economy, some regard training and continuing education as easy targets.
"During recessions, many companies view employee training as the big E – expense," says Steven Feinberg, an executive coach in Palo Alto, Calif. "They think, Cut it, don't spend. They don't see it as an investment."
But not all trends are negative. A February survey by the consulting firm Mercer finds that although 9 percent of companies have cut back training and development programs, 14 percent have increased them.
Those who do value these benefits are finding creative ways to maintain programs at a lower cost. To remain true to its mission and values, a marketing agency called Creating Results in Barrington, R.I., has started an internal "university" with monthly classes, guest lecturers, a library, and homework.
Some firms cut expenses by holding training sessions on-site or online instead of at a resort.
"Where in the past we might have brought 100 people together for a conference, now we ask, can we achieve the same outcome in a more cost-effective way?" says Tom Starr, a principal at Booz & Company, management consultants in New York. "Typically we would have had a two-day meeting. Now it's one day. Managers might ask, Can we do three two-hour sessions via the Web rather than one eight-hour day?"
Increasingly popular "webinars" enable managers to reach employees thousands of miles apart.
For some purposes, e-training is effective, says Al Switzler, cofounder of VitalSmarts, a corporate training company in Provo, Utah. "If you want to learn PowerPoint skills, you can do that online. But in teaching interpersonal skills – being good team members, cooperating, holding other people accountable – it hasn't proved very effective."
Mr. Starr finds another limitation. "You sacrifice the opportunity for people to get together," he says. After group sessions, when he asks participants what they liked best about the training, they often answer, "the opportunity to get together with my peers and talk to people I never get to see face to face anymore." He adds, "There's a pent-up hunger on the part of employees to engage more often than they do today as we work virtually."