By Katie Gallagher, Managing Director of Trade Association for Digital Businesses in the North West, Manchester Digital

Most medium to large sized companies have training programmes in place, which is essential for organisational development and success. If trained well, an employee will become more competent and productive in the workplace.

However, it can be difficult for small businesses to keep up with larger company’s training programmes due to lack of resource and smaller budgets. The digital sector in particular is suffering with a skills shortage that means businesses are struggling to expand.

Here are some ways that small businesses can train employees at low cost:

Online courses:

Looking into online courses such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) can save your business expense, whilst still building your staff’s skills.

MOOCs offer the opportunity to study courses online, and often at little, or no cost. Although they don’t always lead to formal qualifications, they are a low cost route to accessing quality training and can be done outside of office hours, as well as being accessible from any computer at any location. In 2012 the Open University launched FutureLearn, partnering with more than 20 UK and international universities and other institutions such as the British Council to make these courses more accessible in the UK.

Peer to peer learning:

In small businesses it’s often difficult to spare employees for a morning, never mind a day or a couple of days. Therefore the opportunity for staff training days is extremely slim.

Sending one member of staff to a training course is a good way to ensure a whole team isn’t out of the office for an entire day, and the following day they can feed back what they have learnt to the rest of the team.

‘Brown bag lunches’ are another resourceful way for small businesses to top-up staff skills. This involves members of staff who are experts in a particular field teaching other members of the team about their speciality. This can be done at the office in workplace hours, avoiding travel time and cost.

These peer to peer learning sessions will build staff relationships as well as skills, and are some of the most common training strategies small businesses use to upskill employees. At Manchester Digital we actually get people together from different roles within digital for our Peer Club, enabling them to bounce ideas off each other and meet people in their sector that have similar issues. Speaking to local associations can help you make the best training decisions for your businesses.

Shop around:

Training can be an expensive investment, so it’s important to spend your budget wisely. Jumping at the first training course you see could result in you putting money towards sessions that your staff don’t necessarily need, or that you could find cheaper elsewhere.

Have a look at what your competitors are doing if possible, and make sure you shop around to find the best value for money courses for your business. It is also a good idea to check out the person conducting the training on LinkedIn or similar to make sure they are credible experts. Then create a training strategy and share it with your employees to get their feedback, it’s important to include them in training decisions as there might be something in particular they want to build on that you’re not necessarily aware of.