Small businesses reap big benefits through staff training

Staff training can give businesses – especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – the edge they need to survive and thrive in a fiercely competitive market, an industry insider says.

“There has to be investment in training in the workplace [and] SMEs have to see how it affects the bottom line,” said David Sable, director of the Information Technology Human Resources Council in Halifax.” He said currently Canadian SMEs are not investing adequately in staff training.

A tool recently announced by the Software Human Resources Council (SHRC) in Ottawa may help remedy the situation. The SHRC is a not-for-profit sector council that works with industry, education, associations and government to address employment issues that affect information technology workers at all points of their career paths, in all sectors of the Canadian economy.

Dubbed OPELS (Online Performance Evaluation and Learning Support), the new tool’s objective is to help Canadian SMEs realize the benefits of investing in employee training. OPELS – says the tool’s Web site is a hosted web application that provides a secure, online feedback and reporting system to track the impact of training on productivity and performance.

Hosted tools such as OPELS can benefit SMEs, according to Greg Ambrose, program manager for e-learning and skills development at IDC Canada in Toronto. He noted that SMEs do not have the required resources to make their own investment in large scale training programs. As OPELS is hosted, smaller companies don’t have to allocate IT resources towards hosting the information themselves, he said.

Users go to the OPELS Web site and create an action plan detailing what the learner would do differently in their job as a result of training. (The training could be on something as fundamental as taking course in Excel to create better business proposals or learning about new procedures to be followed).

These action plans are then aligned with expected business outcomes from management. By aligning learning objectives and business outcomes, management is able to see whether improvements have been made in areas such as productivity and customer satisfaction. Sable said this has unexpectedly improved communications between learner, support staff, and management.

According to Sable, once a learner starts using OPELS, management can determine via a feedback loop if the learner is getting any benefit from the training based on the learning objectives and business outcomes. By knowing this, Sable said, management can ensure the learner gets the appropriate tools and resources they need to reap expected benefits.

“Training [has] become more and more critical to the success and competitiveness of Canadian organizations,” Ambrose said. “Having metrics and methods available to measure the impact and success of training investments [is] essential.”

OPELS is only available to SHRC members and was developed in 2002 by Sable. Nine companies across Nova Scotia pilot tested the tool in 2003 and version 2.0 has been in use since January of this year.

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