26/11/2012

By Julie Kenny, Chief Executive of Pyronix Limited

When times are tough, investing in employee skills might not seem the obvious solution to achieving growth or simply keeping a business ticking over. But as strategies go, it’s really rather brilliant.

Just last year most UK workplaces reported providing some sort of training, but for many people employed by a small business this wasn’t the case. Sadly small firms are the least likely to up-skill workers, and as a consequence thousands continue to miss out on a very real opportunity to improve their bottom line.

For organisations which don’t train, the decision may seem easy to justify. Existing worker proficiency is one thing, and price is an obvious concern, but perhaps there’s also an opportunity to improve understanding about the links that exist between training and profitability?

One of the most interesting and startling facts on this topic is that firms which train are twice more likely to be in business than those which don’t. A fantastic illustration of just how business profitability is directly affected by training when skills are utilised effectively.

And for those worried about cost, it’s a case of knowing where to look. Online webinars, specialist meet-up groups and professional networks such as LinkedIn have changed the face of training provision, making free and low-cost options not only much easier to access, but also discover.

Traditional methods of in-house training still have value too. Mentoring and work shadowing can be less rigorous in terms of time and resource, but still allow staff to achieve personal development and feel they are being invested in.

Whilst larger businesses generally will have more resources to draw upon, it really doesn’t mean a philosophy of training for business growth is unachievable. Every business, regardless of size, can carry out a basic assessment of the employee skills they have available to try and identify opportunities.

Just talking to staff is a great way to better understand their interests and learn about talents they have which might be worth developing. Is your shop floor worker a budding web designer or do they know lots about social media?

Besides helping balance the books and improving your business’s ability to weather economic storms, studies also show that giving workers the opportunity to train and apply new skills doesn’t just lower absenteeism, it improves job happiness – two indicators that your business is probably on the road to growing a team of more engaged, more innovative and more productive workers. So it’s clearly quite a good incentive to open up training to those who are already performing their job competently.

For those who want to train but feel they’d benefit from support, there are organisation’s ready to help. For years Investors in People has been independently offering cost-effective advice on whether the skills of a workforce are well aligned with company strategies.

As a small business owner myself there are many things I do to encourage innovation at work, and employee training has always been a source of competitive advantage.

From developing people who have gone on to lead market innovations worth millions to seeing stronger and more decisive leadership skills in the boardroom; more than 25 years spent promoting a training culture has helped drive my business’s growth.

Importantly though, my experience is just one account of many, and the wealth of evidence showing just how much training contributes towards a business’s success continues to grow.

The UK’s economy is going through a difficult period, and employees are clearly one of the best resources you have available now to help your business survive or thrive. Taking a calculated risk on staff development isn’t just for the benefit of workers; it’s about finding solutions which work so that you can reap the bottom line rewards that a training and development culture has to offer. Even in a recession.