Question 9: Training: Do It Right or Do It Over

Let’s talk training. I’m sure we can all agree training is imperative, but there are a few essential things to consider.

First things first, we’re not just talking about technical training. Nontechnical skills are just as important as technical skills, though they can seem like more of a hurdle to engineers with a more technical mindset. Improving nontechnical skills helps people build interpersonal relationships, confidence, and more, and this helps round out their technical skills.

Moving past the what of the training, let’s talk about the how. Many companies don’t set aside budget and time for training past the initial onboarding and even expect their employees to self-train in their own time and on their own dime. This is a mistake, especially in the current job market.

For one thing, self-training doesn’t work for everyone. Just like kids and pets, adults learn things in different ways and at different speeds. Multi-modal learning should be accepted and—insofar as budget and time allow—facilitated. Luckily, there are many options (some of which are free) for almost any skill, including online courses, in-person classes, group learning activities, practices like “see one, share one, do one,” shadowing, etc.

There are some clear guidelines you should follow when including shadowing in a training plan. The first is to make sure you give the person being shadowed more time for each task. It takes about three times as long to accomplish a task when you’re walking someone else through each step and answering their questions along the way. The second is to make sure it’s only part of the training plan.

A training plan is key to success, even with nontechnical skills. It involves regular conversation with your employees, which helps build a feedback loop on what’s working and what’s not. These conversations allow you to build and adjust the training plan—what they want or need to learn, the method(s) of learning, timeline expectations, and expectations of the business for the use of these skills.

All this leads me to management’s big fear: what if we do all this training and they leave? What you need to ask yourself (and your management staff) instead is, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?” As stated by Henry Ford, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” This should be the real fear: keeping staff members who never improve and won’t evolve as the business needs. The price of ignorance will cost more in the long run than the cost of proper training.

How do you handle training for your employees?