When money and time are tight, assisting with your employees’ continuing education may seem like little more than a nice idea: one of those potentially rewarding but ultimately non-essential strategies you’ll employ once your bottom line is a bit healthier. But in a service-based economy that thrives on innovation—and with young people bringing more advanced education to the work force than ever before—refreshing the education of your own employees begins to seem less like an option than a necessity.
A team advantage
When it comes to the quality of your product or service, the benefits of having a knowledgeable staff, abreast of all the latest trends and strategies in your industry, are obvious. But continuing education for employees can mean less stress for managers as well. “The advantages [of continuing education] are clear,” says Mayralisa Arbelo, founder of Florida-based business education consulting firm Global Business and Education Consultants. “You’re empowering your staff, you’re improving morale, and you’re saving money in the long run because you don’t have to outsource.”
Additional training may be an especially good idea ahead of the implementation of a new program or technology in your business. The more someone on your staff already knows about advancements in your field, the more you save on outside consultants and instructors.
A deeply and diversely trained staff will also be a benefit in the case of an upper level employee leaving the firm. “Someone might leave and you won’t have [the type of employee] you need to fill the position,” says Arbelo. That is, unless you encourage your employees to seek additional cross training, especially for tasks that may be beyond the parameters of their current positions. This way, you’ll already have a pool of qualified candidates on hand and, best of all, you won’t have to devote valuable time and resources to an outside search.
“You have to be able to diversify your skill set to be employable in this society,” says Arbelo. That logic is as applicable to a company as it is to a single employee. The more you and your staff know about advancements in your field, the more innovative and useful a service you’ll be able to provide potential clients. Publicize any additional degree of expertise or new level of certification you and your staff attain. Doing so will bolster client confidence and position your firm on the cutting edge of your field.
The logistics of learning
There are, of course, logistical concerns that come along with continuing education. First, there is the question of access. Community colleges, technical schools, and industry associations frequently offer continuing education courses, but it will be difficult to persuade your employees to take one if the classroom is miles away. Thankfully, distance learning makes scheduling classes around work simple and saves employees the time of an extra commute. Most online courses only require six to ten hours a week that can be completed any time of day.
“Ease of access is key,” says Arbelo of online courses. “They’re so automated and well packaged. Employees can work [classes] into their work day or their own time during the evening.” This also means they won’t have to miss work in order to continue their education.
Then there is the matter of cost. Many one-time continuing education courses are offered through community colleges and trade schools for less than $100. For a longer, more involved course of study, including textbooks and course materials, costs will naturally be greater.
Tuition reimbursement is a common practice among business owners who want to encourage continuing education and in most cases it can quickly more than pay for itself, especially in the case of a manager enrolling one employee in a continuing education course, who can then teach what he or she has learned to the rest of the staff. “It’s a win-win if one person goes and does the training, then passes the knowledge along [to other employees],” says Arbelo. “It’s common practice.”
If an employee has a real desire to continue his or her training, and presents the idea to you, offering to at least split the cost is an excellent way to both applaud his or her initiative and engender loyalty.
Of course, there is always the danger that, as your employees become more knowledgeable, they will also become more desirable to the competition. Covering the costs of a training course for someone looking to invest their knowledge back in the company is one thing. Doing so for someone who may already have a foot out the door is another. “Sure that’s possible,” says Arbelo. “But the question is, what are you willing to do to retain them?”
As it turns out, simply giving your staff the chance to continue their training may go a long way towards doing just that. In a recent study conducted by national staffing firm Spherion Atlantic Enterprises LLC, 61% of respondents receiving additional training reported that they were likely to stay with their current employer for at least the next five years.
Besides, any employee with the drive to continue their education was valuable to begin with, and would be a desirable prospect no matter what. Continued training will only make them more of what they already were.
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