Employee Training Strategies for Businesses on a Budget

By: Chris Lewis

There is no doubt about it: employee training programs can be quite expensive, particularly for small businesses. Thankfully, alternatives are available.

Consider the following strategies to tap into your current workforce to foster both employee productivity and employee development – without significant impact to your bottom line.

Employee Cross-Training
It’s a situation small business owners know all too well: extended employee absences can impact business productivity. But happily there is a solution — some businesses have chosen to cross-train their employees.

This training plan is simple. By sharing their techniques and knowledge, employees show their fellow colleagues how to perform their most significant tasks, so their responsibilities are fulfilled during work absences.

To successfully implement cross-training in your business, Jill Morrone, owner of an ice cream parlor and restaurant in Brimley, Mich., offers these tips:

  • Propose. Suggest the program to each of your employees and determine which employees are interested in contributing their time and knowledge.
  • Choose. From there, decide which employees are the most adept to training others. Generally, senior workers are more willing to train others, but this may vary according to your specific business and industry. Encourage cross-generational training among your employees.
  • Confirm. Once you have determined which employees will cross-train their colleagues, ensure they are prepared for the training process. You may have to offer guidance, especially as the training first begins.
  • Balance. Always provide trainers and trainees a proper with a balance between their own job responsibilities and the training itself.
  • Practice. Provide trainees with an opportunity to actually apply their new skills prior to employee absences. This will reduce the likelihood of future and often avoidable mistakes.
  • Motivate. To increase employee participation in the future, reward all participants by offering incentives such as gift cards or casual dress days.

“Through cross-training, you can develop an integrated workforce that is prepared for long-term absences and is more knowledgeable of your business’s operations,” says Morrone.

Employee Mentoring
Far too often, employees are offered additional responsibilities with little or no direction. Even worse, they can be hired without receiving any formal employee or management training . The result: worker productivity declines.

These issues can often be addressed or even eliminated via a mentor-protégé training program.

Small business owner and photographer Anthony Alichwer of Easton, Pa., has implemented such programs with positive results. He offers this initial advice:

  • Pair mentors with protégés. Discuss your idea with senior employees for their feedback. Match interested employees with protégés, according to similar career paths, interests, and goals.
  • Familiarize. Before training begins, ensure that mentors and protégés have an opportunity to meet, become acquainted, and identify their goals. Failure to do so may result in unsuccessful training.
  • Create an agreement. Mentors and protégés should consider developing an agreement that includes the duration of the training program, goals that should be fulfilled, and follow-up meetings.
  • Offer opportunities. Perhaps your mentor-protégé pairings would be interested in attending networking events or listening to guest speakers. If so, enable them to advance their learning. Don’t be afraid to offer suggestions.

“Meet with the partners to ensure that both mentor and protégé’s interests are being fulfilled,” says Alichwer. “Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the training program and ask how the program can be improved in the future.”

Brown Bag Seminars
A more informal method of employee training are brown bag seminars offered during your employees’ lunch breaks. These sessions are best kept voluntary and, for the most part, casual and free.

Alichwer generally hosts brown bag seminars on a monthly basis, but they can be held as often as you wish. He believes these seminars are beneficial for the following reasons:

  • Intimate and interactive. Unlike other training options, brown bag seminars allow employees to interact with one another on a wide range of training topics, from customer service to marketing. These interactions increase employee bonds and, ultimately, improve teamwork.
  • Timely. A majority of brown bag sessions are an hour long or less, so as to avoid taking too much time away from employees’ busy schedules.
  • Leadership. Give all your employees the opportunity to lead a session. The result is a more confident and team who can practice their leadership and communication skills.

“Employee fellowship will likely improve your business’s operations,” says Alichwer.

Video Conferencing and Audio Conferencing
Finally, Morrone suggests video conferencing and audio conferencing as employee training program alternatives.

Each of these training programs is especially useful for small businesses whose employees telecommute or frequently travel.

To experience the training firsthand, employees only need Internet access and cellphones.

Morrone believes employees will notice the following benefits with either conferencing option:

  • Connecting capabilities. Whether employees are at your company headquarters or traveling, they can effectively communicate with one another. Video conference users are usually networked into one primary location in which they communicate via web chat, while audio conference users can listen to speakers’ training presentations and communicate with trainers post-session.
  • Organized. Most conferences are clearly-structured and easy to follow, giving employees the ability to take notes and prepare questions.
  • Question and answer sessions. A majority of conferences include Q&A sessions, allowing employees to communicate with trainers and resolve any issues.

“Employees are often located remotely for business travel,” Morrone says. “Video and audio conferencing lets them expand their skills and knowledge even when they are away from their offices.”

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