In uncertain economic times, investment in workforce is key

From Wall Street to Main Street, businesses today are fighting for survival. When faced with cutting costs and reducing staff size to stay competitive, it is often the training budget that is reduced or eliminated.

That is a short-term strategy and now, more than ever, businesses should be thinking long-term.


The need for training

As Sharon Daniels, chief executive officer of workplace consulting firm AchieveGlobal, notes, "Firms that train existing talent will create a workforce that is better educated right now and will be more poised than competing peers when the recovery comes."

Instead of implementing an across-the-board cut to your training budget, consider these points:

First, the economy will eventually recover and your organization will need to compete after the slowdown. If you have stopped investing in your employees, it will be difficult to maintain a competitive edge and position your business to take advantage of the recovery.
Second, an organization that has downsized is doing more with less. Providing training after cuts gives employees support and confidence. It encourages them to work smarter, more efficiently and achieve better results.

Marketers tell us it takes five times as much effort to win a new customer as it does to retain an existing customer. Which company will be in a better position to grow when the economy recovers, a business that downsizes and cuts its customer service training program or a business that downsizes and continues its customer service training efforts?

Training on the cheap

Training can be conducted at little or no cost.

Today a third of all corporate training takes place online. Whether a program is conducted entirely online or in a hybrid format, e-learning is a viable way for a company to reduce training costs, increase employees' time to competency and provide additional flexibility as to when and how employees can access content.
In a recent case study, industry research and advisory company Bersin and Assoc. found that, even with frequent budget cuts, companies are able to do more with less when they use e-learning to support business initiatives.

Companies like IBM, Intuit, Home Depot, Adecco and Aetna are able to use technology to streamline programs and make learning experiences more effective. Leveraging e-learning has allowed the companies to augment traditional face-to-face training programs and reduce costs.

It also has allowed them to expand the reach of their training and better align and integrate their training content to their business processes and strategies.
There are other basic options available for businesses – free webinars, subscriptions to professional newspapers and magazines and creating or taking advantage of networking opportunities, which may include giving employees a chance to meet over coffee or lunch to talk about the organization.

This is likely to increase productivity but also morale. Some of your business partners are facing the same challenges as you. Why not meet with them to discuss ways to work together?

Regional organizations and institutions, including local chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, offer educational programs and networking events on an ongoing basis.
Employees are a business' most important asset – and investment. It's true in good economic times. It's even more important today.

Todd Oldham is executive director of corporate and continuing education at Clark College. He can be reached at 360-992-2356 or