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A recent Conference Board of Canada release, Learning and Development Outlook, indicates that Canadian organizations have increased their spending on employee training by $17 per employee, modestly reversing a downward trend of the last two decades. This equates to an average spend per employee of $705, compared to $688 per employee in 2010.

The report further outlines what has been long touted: that a learning culture promotes and propagates higher performing organizations, and a more engaged workforce. Investing in employees by providing relevant training has been shown to improve “employee performance, customer satisfaction, and quality products and services compared to the competition,” says Donna Burnett-Vachon, associate director of leadership and human resources research.

So with all of the benefits that are accrued to increased spending on training, why do organizations still seem somewhat reluctant to invest in training? Let’s put into perspective the $17 per employee increase in training investment – that equates to how many lattes from a well-known coffee place that most of us frequent, at least on occasion? That’s a little more than I spend on one car wash, it almost covers the cost of two burgers … I trust you know where I am going with this. A $17 increase since 2010 – that is an average of $5.67 over three years.

The reality is that the total average of $705 spent per employee means that many companies are spending more, and many companies are spending less, probably a lot less, or nothing at all.

It’s not only the direct costs of training that need to be factored into the cost equation, but the indirect costs that continue while employees are being trained, such as employee salaries, possible impact on productivity due to employee absence, and so on.

For those companies not providing any or enough training, it is their competitive strength and viability that are put at risk. As we are living in a globally competitive economy, the opportunity cost of not entering into the training arena is huge.

Some organizations are challenged to actively engage in the training equation due to financial or other constraints; however, it is those companies in the “spend less or nothing” group that really can’t afford not to be spending less or nothing. These companies need to spend additional or some monies in order to realize the ROI and inherent benefits of training that the Conference Board report articulates.

So what might be a solution? Well, the article does mention that there is an increase in e-learning for social networking, which is great. But I would suggest that not only is there value in e-learning for social networking, but also for a range of other areas. There is great opportunity here to develop or access online learning platforms that can make training more accessible, more affordable, and help organizations of all sizes invest training dollars to further benefit their workforce and enterprise.

I did a bit of research and found a link that accesses online learning opportunities across Canada via community colleges and universities. There are a vast array of courses offered, some of which lead to specific, career-enhancing certifications. At the risk of sounding political, what about the federal government’s program focusing on skills training? It may be of interest to those in the IT world to know that there is a program specific to building digital skills.

Although college or university e-learning courses typically require three to four months to complete, they arguably are filling a different learning requirement than a shorter-term professional development course. However, the point is that those e-learning options could provide a more financially viable training alternative for some organizations, particularly for those lacking either the financial or personal resources to hold on-site or off-site training.

Hopefully, companies who have not fully participated in employee training will find that other options are available, and the next time the Conference Board does their report, the average spend will have gone up again.

To help companies secure their training investment, those e-learning courses could be provided via educational subsidy programs where the employee is reimbursed by their company in whole or in part for their fees upon successful course completion. That way, there is a mutual investment and a mutual benefit for employer and employee alike, and if I may suggest, for the broader economy as a whole, and that means you and me. What could be better than that?

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