Sunday, 17 May 2015

Investing in employee education

'Classroom' by Emory Maiden
under a CC license
Lifelong learning is not a new concept. On the contrary, it is quite established, at least as a term. Today, there are numerous courses, taught and self-taught schemes on a wide variety of topics. Some of the training schemes are even available for free - usually in the form of online courses. In many countries there are also legal or financial incentives to encourage education and training in businesses and organisations. However, despite lifelong learning schemes being abundant, there are still plenty of employers that discourage or deny the participation of their employees in such schemes.

Often, the reasons they quote include the constantly high workload, the lack of resources to cover for the employees' "lost" training time, the lack of resources to sponsor the training and the lack of clear benefit from the training. There are also cases where the potential benefits of further education simply go unnoticed by the managers responsible. In a few cases,  unfortunately, it may also be the result of tainted management beliefs, where keeping the staff's skills stuck at a certain level is thought to ensure"stability" for the management crowd.

To be fair, allowing or providing access to education for the people of an organisation needs to take into account operational constrains. But it is also something that the organisation will eventually need to do despite whatever constrains. The case for investing in employee education is too strong to be ignored.
The benefits of lifelong learning within an organisation are widely known. They include improved skills and competences for the individuals and the organisation, better access to state-of-the art know-how, improved innovation capacity, higher employee satisfaction and, possibly, better employee loyalty rates. These normally translate to higher productivity, boosted competitiveness and, thus, higher revenues. Additionally, training an employee is normally cheaper that getting a new employee with the target skills, especially if those skills are the result of scientific or technical specialisation.

Employee education can help a lot achieve higher specialisation or higher diversification without the risk of investing in new personnel. Indirectly, it also helps create a positive, fertile environment within the organisation, which benefits the entire organisation. Additionally, in an organisation where knowledge flows amongst employees, the input from lifelong learning courses for a small number of employees will, eventually, spread further.

It is no coincidence that continuous eduction and personal development are amongst the requirements of the Investors in People standard, which is sought by both potential employees and clients in some regions.

Today, lifelong learning is of acknowledged value by large and small businesses and organisations. However, there is still a lot to do to improve participation. For instance, increasing internet speeds are making access to content-rich online courses easier. On the other hand, rapid developments is most (maybe all) sectors of economic activity increase - at least in theory - the demand for high quality training schemes, adapted to the employee needs of each sector.

Organisations need to embrace (or further embrace) the training opportunities available for their people finding the optimum way for that to happen. It could take the form of providing in-house seminars, sponsoring specialised courses, providing paid leave time for training, allowing at-work time to be devoted to training through online courses or, even, allow sabbaticals for employees to get experience or knowledge in other tasks or environments.

Clearly, lifelong learning for employees can deliver strong benefits to organisations. Really, it needs to be present in the competitiveness toolbox of every modern organisation that wishes to remain relevant for the days to come.

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