Training You Get What You Pay For

November 7, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — When looking for ways to sharpen the skills of workers, employers can find the training they need by sticking to the basics.

That means identifying the desired end result, learning about the options and shopping around for the best possible solution.

Options available for worker training cover a broad spectrum, from group seminars to customized training, offered through local schools and colleges, business organizations, product vendors and private consultants.

The key is to start out by fully assessing what you need, said Nancy Boese, regional director of the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center.

“You have to ask some hard questions about what you want to accomplish and then find a training program that fits,” Boese said.

“Figure out what’s important to you and find out what resources are available.”

Sounds easy, but often it’s not, Boese added. She recently tried to track down a listing of all the options available locally for computer training and found that one didn’t exist.

Lacking a single source for what’s available, employers need to shop around, she said.

A good place to start is the local chamber of commerce, a trade association or other business organization such as the Small Business & Technology Development Center that offer regular seminars on a variety of areas throughout the year.

Boese said business groups, public and intermediate school districts and colleges also can arrange a customized training program for employers, from teaching production staff a high-tech manufacturing technique, to bringing employees up to date on a new business system.

In researching their options, she said, businesses first need to determine whether there is “something out there occurring on an ongoing basis, or do you need something customized?”

Business associations are a good place to turn for help in upgrading “soft skills,” such as customer service, team building and communications.

“Those are the ones that companies have the most challenges with,” Boese said.

Business owners and managers may also want to use their own peer network in the community and ask a colleague for advice, or perhaps turn to a private consultant who can help them identify what they need and what’s available locally, Boese said.

Throughout the process, remember the simple rule that you get what you pay for, she said.

Customized training for a handful of employees, for example, may be more costly than a large group seminar, but may prove more effective, she said.

Once the right option is determined, employers may want to consider going slowly at first.

If practical, Boese suggests that a business send a small number of employees for training and then assess whether that particular training will work for them.

“Before you send 60 people, send one and see how it works out,” Boese said.

“Before you spend thousands of dollars, do a trial run.”

Within the process of researching their options for worker training, Boese said, business owners and managers need to assess whether they and their staff are prepared to use the new skills.

Boese said owners and managers need to ask whether they are ready to change their habits and apply what they have learned into the workplace.

“Are they really going to implement that when they get back?” she said.

“Once people get back to the office, it’s business as usual.”

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