Let Training Be Your Ally

September 22, 2008
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OK, go on and admit it. If you haven’t already done so, many of you are at least considering cutting back on training as a cost-saving measure during the current economic downturn.

All too often, when looking for places to cut, the ax falls squarely on the training budget. For some reason, training seems to be viewed as a noncritical expense rather than as an investment in the future, and in the profitability of the company.

So, if you are one who has cut back on your training, or are thinking about it, I’d like to propose that you reconsider. Take another look at how training can help you through the tough times, and let you come out even stronger on the other side.



THE RISKS

Just like deferring needed maintenance on other assets like equipment and vehicles, putting training on the back burner can come back to haunt you. Companies that want to stay on the leading edge of our industry will continue to invest in training and employee development. And in the long run, they will come out far ahead of their competitors whose standard strategy is to slash and burn when things get a little rough.

A company that is not developing its people runs the risk of losing its competitive edge. A recent Gallup survey found that two of the 12 key requirements of a “Great Place to Work” relate to the value of investing in employee training and development. We all know how tough it is to find and keep good sales people, installers, technicians, and office staff. Making our companies a great place to work is critical to employee retention, and we shouldn’t fall into the trap of assuming employees will stay with us just because the economy is tight. By investing in your employees, you send the message that you care about their welfare and about the company continuing to move forward.

And while cutting back on employee programs often has a negative impact on company morale, there is certainly a very real risk of bottom-line impact. According to an Employment Policy Foundation tabulation of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employee turnover in the construction industry costs employers an average of $13,935 per employee. Now you can get a whole lot of training for a lot less than that!

Also, studies by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) show that companies who reduce their commitment to developing people tend to have poorer overall business results than those that maintain their investment.



THE OPPORTUNITY

One thing doesn’t change much, whether the economy is good, bad, or somewhere in between - your best chance at success is doing things better than your competition. But sometimes when things start to tighten up, we can lose sight of that and get overly focused on cutting costs. Now that’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to make smart decisions about how and where you spend your money, but don’t allow yourself to become shortsighted about the long-term health of the company.

So the opportunity presented to you is to come out of this economy better and stronger than your competition. How is that going to happen, you may be wondering. I believe that the key here boils down to basic customer satisfaction. If you can continue to deliver outstanding customer satisfaction while your competitors have stopped thinking about it in favor of focusing on cutting costs, you can build both profitability and market share.

In order to build and maintain customer satisfaction, you have to continue to deliver great products and services to them. And to do that, you must continue to build and develop your employees’ skills. Be it technical skills, sales skills, or customer service skills, by not cutting back, you win, because all roads lead to more business for you. Your higher skilled (and happier) employees mean more satisfied customers, and more satisfied customers mean more business for you. On the other hand, your competitors’ less skilled (and less happy) employees mean fewer satisfied customers, and that means more business for you.

So with all this in mind, here are a few tips to take maximum advantage of this opportunity:

• Spend the money you do budget for training wisely. Look for training bargains, but don’t purchase training based solely on price. Sometimes the cheapest price tag is not the best way to go. Investigate and make sure the training will address a need of the company and the employee and align with your business objectives.

• Look for training that will improve productivity and/or cut costs, as well as provide potential new market opportunities.

• Remember that training is an investment in your business, not a cost.

• Using downtime for training rather than other lower-priority jobs (like sweeping the shop or painting the office) is a better return on investment for the company. Yes, training can be expensive, but it is not nearly as expensive as losing a good employee that you will badly need when business improves.

• Use all your resources. Your staff may have training ability also that can be very effectively used in your company. Utilize your own team members to retrain other people and share what they have learned from outside training professionals.

Now by this point you might be saying, “Hey, this guy works for a training company, so he must be biased on this subject.”

Well, maybe I am, just a little. But most of that bias comes from also being on the management side of HVAC contracting and seeing the value of getting the right training at the right time. Sure, training for training’s sake does not bring much value to your company. But using the right training as part of a comprehensive business strategy to get through the rough times can offer great benefits for both the company and your employees. If you can resist the temptation to lump training in with other, less essential, operating expenses, you can see that if there were ever a right time to increase your employees’ productivity and competitiveness, it is now.

A poor economy has a way of culling out the weaker companies in our industry. You can not only survive, but come out on the other side stronger and more profitable than ever. Take a fresh look at your company’s training opportunities and you might just find a strategic ally for your success.

For more information, visit www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com.

Publication Date: 09/22/2008

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