Training could lead to loyalty

Technical skills aren’t the only thing that Proctor & Gamble is looking for in its IT workers. In fact, they may not even be the most important thing.

Instead, what the household product manufacturer is most interested in is an employee with all of the right soft skills. The missing technical skills, it figures, can be taught. Plus, providing training has benefits for both employer and employee.

The person with all the right technical skills may not necessarily be the right person for the job if that person doesn’t possess leadership qualities, said Daniel Raithby, a systems analyst at P&G in Toronto. So when an employee starts working in the company’s business intelligence services, which is creating a massive warehouse of information using an Oracle database, they go for almost three weeks of training in Unix, scripting, SQL and PL SQL.

After the initial sessions, employees are also encouraged to take at least 10 days worth of training throughout the year. Providing employees with an opportunity to train is a win-win situation, Raithby said. It makes for happier employees who then tend to stick around longer. The department didn’t always encourage training on a proactive basis and that used to be a bone of contention with the employees, Raithby said. Most take about 10 or 11 days worth of training throughout the business year.

According to the Cutter Consortium, P&G is like most companies in actively encouraging training for their tech workers. A survey the company recently did found that 63 per cent of companies have proactive training programs designed to keep their technology professionals current. The benefits of such programs, said Steve Andriole, a senior consultant with Arlington, Mass.-based Cutter Consortium, are employee loyalty and a well-trained workforce.

“Most people think that money explains employee loyalty (and) motivation, but the reality is more complex,” he said. Factors determining loyalty include a company’s attitude about employees’ learning and development.

“Employees use a company’s attitudes and policies about training as an indicator of a company’s long-term interest in their employees.” It’s a perk that extends beyond its dollar value, Andriole said.

The economic downturn, however, is having a negative effect on training, he said.

“Unfortunately, training is way too often seen as vitamin pill rather than pain killer, so when the economy turns south, companies stop giving their employees vitamin pills.”

This, he believes, is a mistake.

Richard Gordon, the Ottawa-based VP and managing director of Global Knowledge, which provides enterprises with both classroom- and online-based training for IT employees, says he’s noticed a decline in companies seeking training for their employees in the last 18 months. However, it has started to pick up again as companies focus on training for employee development as a way of retaining those remaining after layoffs.

Cutter also found that 41 per cent of companies have deployed some online distance learning courses, while a further 16 per cent are planning to in the next six to 12 months. The remaining 43 per cent of companies surveyed haven’t deployed any e-learning programs.

Gordon, however, says that most individuals prefer classroom training. Many of those in the workforce didn’t grow up with e-learning and aren’t comfortable with it, he said.

“I think there’s still that hesitance on the part of individual that e-learning isn’t as good. Even in the IT community, there’s a dose of that.”

E-learning requires a lot of discipline, he said. It means committing of your own volition to spending five hours a week taking a self-guided Web program rather than having to go to a classroom for the same amount of time.

Gordon recommends that companies consider more than just the bottom line before deciding which type of training program to offer their employees. If an employee isn’t inclined towards e-learning, then he or she may not retain as much information.

Cingular Wireless in Atlanta offers self-directed Web training, live online seminars and traditional classroom-based training to employees. Rob Lauber, the executive director of learning services at Cingular, said personal development training programs are probably better handled in the traditional manner, while professional development programs can more readily lend themselves to e-learning. The content and the audience determines which approach the company takes.

“If we’re trying to build skills, we find instructor-led activities tend to be best. If we’re trying to build knowledge and distribute knowledge across the organization, we find online experiences tend to be the best.”

Like Raithby, Lauber believes training programs can be beneficial to both employer and employee. A project management course, for example, can result in better methodologies for the company while at the same time providing employees with the growth opportunity they are looking for, he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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