Staff training in a small business

How important is staff training? Absolutely vital, whether you’re part of a multi-national corporation or a small business or just one or two people.

Small businesses all too often neglect the areas of staff training and development, for financial purposes or because they simply don’t see the necessity.

Studies have shown, however, that staff training typically:

  • Increases profits
  • Enables employees to meet more of their goals
  • Encourages long-term service and staff retention
  • Can be the difference between a company thriving and failing, particularly if management training is lacking
  • Will create a more skilled workforce, with more adaptable employees that can bring more to the table

Are there multiple types of training to choose from?

The type of training that you choose for your employees will depend on a wide range of factors, from your available funds to what you’re hoping each employee will learn. Other factors might include the location of your business, working hours and staff availability, and whether or not you require a formal record or qualification at the end of your training course.

Internal, External or Online

Many small business owners choose to train their staff on-site, either by providing the training independently or by hiring someone else to provide it. This can work out cheaper than external options, since there are no associated venue and accommodation costs.

External training is another option, often a little more expensive but also more likely to put employees into a ‘learning’ mind-set that they might not get into if they’re in a familiar place. Additionally, external training can offer access to spaces and resources that a small business would not otherwise have available.

A third possibility is online training. Online training courses can often be completed from any location, with nothing more than a PC, laptop or portable device and an internet connection. Free courses are available, as are courses that will require a significant financial investment. In many cases, online courses are provided by professional bodies and are accredited, complete with qualification certificates. Sometimes, courses are offered by individuals and independent providers with no guarantee of quality, which is why it’s important to do your research before investing in anything online.

Brief or Lengthy

A 10-minute session at the end of a weekly or monthly meeting can be classed as staff training, if you use that session to impart useful knowledge or to expand someone’s understanding. This might be time that you use to show someone a new piece of software, or to show them how to improve their speed doing a task that they carry out each day.

Alternatively, staff training might be a week-long event that involves being away from the workplace and completing session after session for more intensive and in-depth learning.

Formal or Informal

When you think about staff training, your first thought might be of a stuffy room in which employees are staring at a presentation screen. In fact, it’s this image that can become one of the biggest obstacles for an employer that’s planning staff training. Broaden your mind and you’ll discover that there are a huge range of staff training opportunities, many of which are completely informal and almost free of charge.

Sending an employee out to speak to clients can count as staff training, if it’s not something that they usually do as part of their job and if it will improve their understanding of their role. Training might involve attending an event or conference to pick up tips, even if it’s not intended as a training course officially, or temporarily swapping jobs with a colleague to experience a different perspective. Many training opportunities will cost nothing more than the price of a train ticket, or the slight slow-down that’s caused by people trying out unfamiliar tasks.

What kind of training is right for your small business?

Often, the best approach to staff training is to mix up all of the above. Have some formal training and some informal opportunities, some on-site training and some off-site training, some online training, some quick ‘top up’ training and some longer courses. That way you’re sure to appeal to the learning styles and preferences of each and every employee, whilst ensuring that you’ve maximised their potential.

It’s vital to remember that training shouldn’t be something that happens only once, or very infrequently. You can’t train someone for a job and then leave them with no further development. Developing job roles, industry changes, equipment upgrades and culture changes are just a few of the many things that can affect someone’s ability to do their work, meaning that knowledge should be constantly updated and adjusted.

Can you run the training on your own?

One of the biggest costs associated with staff training is hiring an expert to impart their knowledge, and so it can be tempting to try and run the training on your own.

Always hire someone, or look online for a specialist course, if you don’t have the required knowledge to do a professional job. Training someone when you’re not confident in what you’re telling them can have long-term detrimental effects, not just for your business but potentially throughout their future career.

As an additional benefit for a small business, it may be that you have highly qualified and experienced people amongst your own staff base, who will be able to train their colleagues in areas that you don’t quite understand. Your in-house expertise may enable you to boost the skills of every single member of staff, through knowledge sharing. This option typically isn’t available for a larger business, where an individual person’s skills and attributes can be lost amongst the crowd.

You might find that it is more cost effective to send one or two people to a seminar, event or training course, and to then ask them to provide a training session for the rest of their colleagues. This can be a great option for a small business, but it’s worth weighing up the risks that second-hand training can bring – will messages be altered, or important details lost? If you’re running a small enough team, can you instead afford to send everyone to the same event?

And finally…

Don’t forget that staff training need not be directly related to a job role.

Encouraging your employees to develop their own talents and interests, and to improve the skills that they associate with their hobbies, can bring unexpected opportunities in the future (as well as improving staff morale). You might have one employee that’s interested in photography…if you foster their interest, can they eventually become an in-house photographer and remove your need to outsource? A photography course might not be directly related to your employee’s job role – for example, if they’re currently your receptionist – but could make them even more valuable in the future.