Training consultant WARREN SMITH advocates maintaining a training program during economic downtime. This is to nurture a more innovative and competitive work team in anticipation of better times.

Faced with economic and geo-political uncertainty, companies make decisions about the future: Cut costs and staff to protect profits and ride out uncertainty in a survival mode or, prepare themselves for the future by being innovative and more competitive.

Training and development cost cutting is an easy target and may bring short term profit benefits. However, it may reduce future earnings and productivity, leaving staff unprepared to meet new challenges in an economic upturn.

Post GFC Research has shown that training and development maintained during an economic slowdown has a significant benefit. Properly managed it can generate innovation, development of new skills, products and services. Staff capabilities will grow, as well improving morale and staff engagement. Maintaining a training program, albeit limited, is better than not having one at all.

Tips for training during economic downtimes
The most common response in an uncertain economic or geo-political time is either to cut costs, overheads, functions and focus on basic operational activities, or be smart and use it as an opportunity to retune, restructure operations and innovate for the future.

Here are six strategies to ensure training and development are important tools that prepare staff for the future:

  • Short training programs

Short intensive courses to improve the quality of service will quickly differentiate you from your competitors. There is real value in content-rich, short face-to-face training. Apart from the skills or knowledge, the human connection can enhance staff morale and improve services.

  • In-house training:

o Identify existing skills of the staff and use them as internal talent, to conduct training. Training costs are kept low and it boosts the esteem of the staff.
o Create in-house Communities of Practice (small groups of staff) who share ideas, resources, knowledge and skills.

  • Train managers and team leaders

Managers often are unable to manage effectively in challenging times. Developing their skills reduces costs of poor decision-making and creates readiness for the good times.

  • Re-design training to meet actual needs

Review current training and find out if it is effective. Design new training opportunities by streamlining training methods and approaches to become a continuous learning organisation, using the downturn as an opportunity to learn and grow.

  • Technology – effective approaches

o Technology can make information accessible, either informally or formally from anywhere by using smart phones, tablets as well as PC’s.
o Advantages of this form of learning are

  • Cost effectiveness. Once created and set up, operating costs are minimal and can be easily integrated into a wider blended learning program
  • Quality of training is controlled, consistent and fits organisational needs and can be easily modified to meet changing needs.
  • Courseware can be distributed to any part of an organization instantly and efficiently.

o Use webinars rather the external training or conferences. Skype or Face Time can be useful tools in short-term small group training experiences.
o On-line learning courses, Micro – learning, Social media, Mobile learning, Podcasts Twitter – chats and short Videos (2D or Virtual Reality) are all available tools to assist or operate low cost training opportunities.
o Use the company website and set up internal blog spaces where ideas and knowledge can be shared (communities of practice) to keep staff engaged and valued.

  • Self- paced learning

o Setting up self-paced learning using projects, case studies or research-based activities are easy to create and cost effective as it doesn’t intrude into daily work time. Blended with approaches provided by information-based technologies mentioned above, this approach can be engaging and effective for the learner and beneficial for the organisation.

  • Conclusion

Companies regardless of size can take advantage of an economic downturn by becoming a learning organisation and using a few simple low-cost training and development approaches to maintain morale, become more competitive and prepare for the upturn.