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Companies can blame themselves for skills shortages


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By ROBERT NAYLOR JR.

 

There was a time when trainers were considered indispensable members of corporate leadership teams. Smart senior executives knew that continual assessment of organizational capabilities by in-house experts who could develop targeted strategies to fill learning gaps would improve agility, competitiveness and profitability.

But that was before the economic downturn; before some short-sighted bean counters reminded cash-strapped senior managers of the ages-old lie that “those who can, do.” Corporate learning professionals were targeted as hangers-on who had outlived their usefulTraining Graphicness. Within a few years, practically every trainer I knew was unemployed, most unable to find work back in operational roles where they had previously excelled.

In this new organizational paradigm, managers are supposed to know what to do, and those willing to admit shortcomings are often shunted aside. The result is that mistakes, poor decision making and just plain bad management at every level often go unchallenged. More than that, overburdened and underpaid front-line and middle managers are left without a key resource for strategizing, problem solving and coping. Many are burning out because of high levels of stress and low levels of support.

In this new organizational paradigm, orientation programs are being scrapped and entry-level employees are expected to arrive with skills that rival much longer-tenured colleagues. I was once approached by a manager who wanted to fire an intern, saying the college senior wasn’t as good as the experienced professionals on staff. Veteran employees who want or need to enhance skills are expected to do so on their own time and at their own expense. In too many companies, the idea of a learning curve for those taking on new assignments is all but a thing of the past.

Businesses of all types are scrambling to fill key workforce skill gaps, but they have only themselves to blame for the scarcity of many of the most desirable and essential abilities.

The elimination of trainers and training programs is – as the old saying goes – penny-wise and pound foolish. A March 2013 article in Forbes Magazine says a company’s learning strategy is one of its most important sources of competitive advantage. The Houston Chronicle says training programs strengthen the skills needed by each employee to improve and build confidence, they ensure that employees have a consistent experience and background knowledge across the organization, and they show employees that they are valued.

These are hardly intangible things. They directly impact employee morale and productivity, which directly impact corporate profitability. Senior executives looking to improve productivity need to seriously consider restoring or enhancing learning functions and they must not settle for people who have burned out in other roles. Corporate learning professionals have to be skilled operations practitioners. But they also need to be talented presenters, facilitators and teachers. They must be able to function as part of the senior management team, comprehend corporate goals and strategies, understand what skills are essential for organizational success and have the ability to assess where gaps exist. The Association for Talent Development says corporate learning professionals must have the ability to design and deliver training, manage the learning function, measure and evaluate the results of training, and manage organizational knowledge. They also need to know how to identify subject matter experts within the organization and teach them how to train others.

Companies struggling with such issues as productivity, execution, decision making, communication, collaboration, and development of employees and managers would do themselves a favor to consider enhancing training and learning functions. It will be money well invested.
©2015 Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved

Robert Naylor is a journalist, journalism educator, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact robert@naylorcoaching.com.

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