Do training departments still train?

Aug 30 2010 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

It was George Santayana who said: "Those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it". After yet another frustrating meeting I think I'd modify that to: "those who don't remember the past have plausible deniability. The rest of us have no excuse".

Trends in business, especially in HR, tend to come, go and then recycle. Sometimes, though, the change is more permanent. Here's an example: the role of training coordinator has become less about training and more about coordination.

Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth (the early 90s, when email was in its infancy and it was going to make all our lives easier - remember?) the big trend in HR and Training was to outsource the function. Nobody needed to keep trainers on staff - you could hire an outside company to come in and teach anything you needed, and the internal Training role became largely transactional: teach orientation classes, find vendors, schedule classes and spend your time doing assessments to prove ROI so you could keep your job.

It was exhausting. Besides, everything was going to be on CD Rom and classroom trainers would soon be dispensable.

Then the pendulum swung (at least partially) back: outside training companies didn't necessarily understand your company culture. It was hard to maintain quality control and every department wanted a different supplier because their division was "different from all the others and needed to choose their own training" but budgeting became a nightmare. Thousands of dollars in expensive e-learning went unused (I mean, when was the last time you used a CD Rom?).

So training again became more centralized, standardized and the market in "train the trainer" and licensed content boomed. You could have a couple of trainers on staff that knew 20 different programs and keep them busy enough to justify their salaries while delivering standardized training across the organization.

Now here we are again, with the role of corporate trainer going the way of the brachiosaurus and Total Quality Management. Some of the reasons are the same as ever:

  • People who work internally are considered "overhead", and overhead is evil
  • Just because you're certified to teach a program doesn't mean you actually understand the content enough to teach others. Sales training delivered by someone who's never worked on commission is as annoying and as useless as people who say, " I don't have kids, but I do have a dog, it's the same thing". No it's not, they think you're an idiot.
  • Budgets have once again been parceled out to the departments - and those darned managers think they know what skills their people need to learn better than the professionals in HQ.
After the downsizings of the last few years, the few humans left in training have found themselves with a new job. They aren't delivering training, and unlike the last cycle they're not even necessarily paying for it.

But what they are doing is helping people in the organization find the resources their employees need. In other words, they are becoming evaluators and aggregators of product and resources to the various departments.

As a HR or Training professional, one option is to keep your head down and think the pendulum is going to swing back, but it will only swing back so far. Here's why:

First, remote working and travel costs mean that the number of large traditional training events will continue to decline. More will be done by elearning and webinar. No matter how many courses you're certified in, if nobody schedules or pays for them you can't teach them.

Second, the buzzword in professional development circles is now "learning" rather than "training", and they have a point. Podcasts, blogs, books, webinars - the opportunities for people to pick up the knowledge they need on demand and in small chunks is unprecedented. Why would someone take a full day course in meeting management, when they simply need to learn how to compose a decent agenda?

So the question for organizations is, where will people find that information, who will approve the funding and will it be consistent with how you want to do business?

Finally, training budgets have moved down past the manager level to the individual level. More people are being tasked with finding their own ways to develop their skills and improve their performance. The Training Coordinator's job will be to identify training that meets company standards, set price points and make it available to employees.

Believe me, separating the wheat from the chaff in this field will be (and judging from what I saw at the latest ASTD conference, already is) a full time job.

Inevitably, some companies will realize they want more control over what their employees know how to do, and if they "want something done right" they'll do it themselves. They will find that trainers who understand the company culture will add more value than hired guns from outside, and the pendulum will nudge back a bit.

The way the work world has changed, though, means that the role of the Training professional inside a company will be more coordination than training, and I don't see that changing any time soon. Of course, I'm one of those idiots that thought email would be a good thing, so what do I know?

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He's passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today's virtual communication technology. His books include The Long-Distance Team - Designing Your Team for Everyone's Success. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.