Most training is a waste of money

As somebody who creates and runs training courses you may be surprised to learn that I think most training has remarkably little value. I have taught many training courses, and seen people attend many more. Surprisingly few of these people have come away from the training with valuable new capabilities.  This happens for a number of reasons, including:

  • The training course didn’t cover the right content for their needs. If you need to learn a specific skill then there’s no point in attending generic training, make sure the course syllabus is right for your needs. For example if you need to learn how to customize your IT service management tool you won’t learn this on an ITIL training course.
  • They didn’t have the pre-requisite skills that were specified in the course material. I can’t believe how often I’ve seen this one. Examples include the IT strategy course we ran that had a pre-requisite of ITIL Foundation, or an in-depth practical security management course that recommended students first get a Security+ certification. In both of these examples more than half of the students hadn’t taken the pre-requisite training, and didn’t have the knowledge they needed to get value out of the course.
  • They don’t come to the course with a desire to learn. This one is less common, but I still see it quite often. This tends to happen when an organization sends everyone in a department on a training course, and some people either don’t want to be there, or have other more important things on their mind. When someone is so distracted by other things that they spend half the course on the phone they not only fail to learn but they also distract other students, even if they have the courtesy to leave the room before talking on the phone.
  • The instructor was more focussed on helping students pass an exam than on helping them develop valuable capabilities. This attitude is often shared with the students, who also care more about exam results than what they are going to learn. It results in a very tedious exam cramming session where the students do well in terms of exam results, but the training is a complete waste of time and money for their employer. This one is very common with ITIL Foundation training, where there seem to be large numbers of organizations competing to offer the cheapest courses and few focussing on how the training might create value for the students and their employers.

Even if you manage to avoid all these pitfalls, it’s still very rare to get real value out of a training course. This is because most organizations don’t think hard enough about what the course should achieve, in terms of changed behaviour or competence of the people who attend. This means that people attend a training course and then go back to their normal job and carry on behaving exactly the same as before the course.

If you really want to get value out of your training budget then think long and hard about what your expectations are from the course. Make sure the students know what is expected of them, before, during and after the training, and most importantly define some measureable changes that you expect to see as a result of the training, and then measure to see if you achieved your objectives.

If you do this then you have some chance of getting value out of the training, but to really succeed you need to embed the training in an overall improvement project that includes many other aspects of change management. Things that you could do include:

  • Run workshops before and after the training to motivate staff and ensure they understand the changes you expect to see.
  • Set up a mentoring scheme so that students have someone they can talk to about what they have learned, and how they can make practical use of their new knowledge.
  • Measure and report the impact of the training in terms of increased business value that you have created for your customers.

How much value do you get from your training budget? Why not think about some of these ideas next time you plan to send some of your staff on a training course, you may find you get a much better payback from your investment.

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