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Making the most of training is now more crucial than ever

The importance of making the most of training opportunities during the recession has been highlighted by an expert on the issue.

Paul Loftus, a Montreal-based industrial/organisational psychologist, who was in Bermuda last week meeting with companies and will be hosting a number of seminars later this year to help workers improve their effectiveness, said staff development and training were even more key in these tough economic times.

Mr. Loftus reckons that due to the economic downturn human resources departments and managers were under much greater pressure to prove that its investment in training was making a significant difference to the individual and business concerned.

And he expressed his surprise at the number of companies that fail to follow up with their employees to see how effect the training had been.

Among his recommendations are:

• Sitting down with the individual before they attend the course to find out what they hope to achieve from the exercise and make sure they share the same goals.

• Getting them to complete a pre-seminar assignment in order to set objectives to be met for the course.

• Running quizzes, pre-tests and post-tests on specific subject areas, such as effective listening skills and customer service, to determine how much they know before and have gained after the seminar.

• Holding a follow-up meeting with them after their training to see how what they have learned can be put into practice and will ultimately help the organisation.

Furthermore, the process can be broken down into four steps featured in the Kirkpatrick Levels of Participation (named after Dr. Don Kirkpatrick, past president of the American Society for Training and Development) - namely reaction, learning, behaviour and results. This evaluates whether participants have met their objectives of attending the course, by gauging their reaction to the seminar, what they have learnt (measured through a pre and post-test), their change in behaviour from the training they have received, and how the business's bottom line has been impacted.

Mr. Loftus said it was critical that in order to get the best return from their staff member, employers needed to create a conducive environment for them to implement what they had taken on board in the classroom, while employees should focus on sharing their new-found ideas with their colleagues in order to make the company more effective in the future.

"The bottom line is how has the effectiveness of the organisation been improved as a result of the seminar," he said.

"And you want to be able to say that the course has made a difference."

Mr. Loftus said that during economic hardship many firms cut their training, public relations and marketing budgets and indeed staff, but he added that could prove to be a big mistake, particularly if their competitors maintained theirs and were able to move ahead of them.

He gave two examples of how training could add value to a company and its employees - through keeping a log of how their time is spent for a minimum of three days before the seminar to enable them to manage their time better and work out where their time is going, as well as carrying out a cost benefit analysis of their expenditure of time to eliminate factors ranging from procrastination to failure to complete tasks.

"If you receive a phone call you need to find out who is calling and work out how important the call is," he said.

"And, similarly, if you are making a call you need to look at your communication skills and whether they are being effectively used."

The second case might involve time management of meetings, in light of research which has revealed that many managers are finding that one third of their time is taken up by meetings, but if they are able to make small changes like making clear points, sticking to the agenda and avoiding going off on tangents they can cut down on their amount of meeting time and therefore improve overall productivity, said Mr. Loftus.

He said you only got out what you put into a seminar and stressed the value participants could derive if they became actively involved and interacted with the learning process, asking relevant questions and employing effective listening and note taking techniques, allied to a post seminar progress report conducted between 30 and 45 days after a course to see how those ideas had developed and been used.

"In my seminars, I give the attendee a copy of their completed eight-page progress report to keep and I keep another copy and mail it back to them within one month as a reminder of what they have to achieve," he said.

"It includes what they have done to save time, how has it saved time for an team member, line manager, administrative assistant or the whole business, what remains still to be done and when do I intend to do it, as well as what barriers exist in the organisation which stand in the way of getting the ideas implemented.

"By doing that, you can improve the overall productivity of the organisation as well as a result of that through coming up with an average and applying that to the average salary of the participants to work out how much the company has gained in real terms in money as a result of going to the seminar.

"After all, if people are your best resource then you have got to invest in them and get the most out of them."