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Training in a boom bust industry

14 March, 2018

Every industry goes through ups and downs but some are more volatile and subject to external forces than others. And when the good times end, you can be sure that the Training Department will shrink more quickly than the awesome $100 shirt that you bought and accidentally put on a high heat cycle in the dryer.

In a boom, there are almost unlimited resources available. Training departments swell, budgets are plentiful and there is plenty of support to bring in outside contractors and consultants when needed. But when the bubble bursts, training resources disappear so quickly that your head will spin. The impact of training (or not training) often takes time to show up in safety and production figures so it is an easy target as a “quick fix” for the shrinking budget.

So how do you build a sustainable training plan that will see you through the good times as well as the more challenging times? It’s not easy but there are a few things that you can do in good times and in bad times to keep the quality of your training as high as possible.

WHEN TIMES ARE GOOD:

1. ESTABLISH GOOD RELATIONSHIPS

This is just as relevant in bad times but people tend to be more open to communication when they don’t have the pressure of budget cuts hanging over their head. So it’s the perfect time to establish great relationships with the departments that you support. Work with them as much as possible and make sure that they are aware of the value that you are providing. Not only will a good relationship make it easier to have the difficult conversation about choices that have to be made in a downturn, but happy department heads are more likely to support you when your training resources are at risk of being cut.

2. INVEST IN ELEARNING

Elearning is not appropriate for all courses but for courses that are run again and again and do not require a lot of interaction, e-learning may be an option. And once you have developed an e-learning course, you don’t need to worry about allocating resources such as trainers and training facilities that might not available if things get tough. Just be aware of licensing fees for your LMS (if you choose to run with one).  When the purse strings get tight, it may be hard to justify the cost. There are multiple LMS options available, so take the time to choose wisely.

3. AUTOMATE ADMINISTRATION TASKS

In a boom period, when there is a heap of training going on, there is a heap of administration that comes with it. Training and assessment materials have to be printed and then filed manually or scanned and filed electronically. In a downturn, nothing disappears as quickly as administrative support for departments like safety or training. So, even though there is less paperwork, there is also a whole lot less help. Try converting your assessments to eForms and use tablets in the workplace. This cuts down on paperwork and time and your trainers will love you for it. It’s a simple, relatively cheap thing that you can do that will make a huge difference.

WHEN TIMES ARE NOT SO GOOD

1. BE HONEST

Know the difference between your needs and wants.

What training do you need to keep the wheels turning safely? All other training is nice to have. It may add value to the organisation, make employees happier and make the work environment more pleasant but does it keep employees safe and contribute directly to production. This may not be as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of arguments that can be made for every type of training (and why would you do any training if it didn’t contribute in some way to safety and production) but it is important to make sure that if you have to cut, you are not cutting the most critical training.

2. CUT OUT THE FRILLS

Meals, snacks, hiring rooms, travel and functions all add significant amounts to the cost of training courses. This might be OK during the boom times but even then, is it necessary? Sometimes, the answer is yes. If you have to hold the course in a location that people need to travel too, then you also need to provide accommodation and meals. But make sure that it is necessary and not just the way it has always been.

3. MAKE IT SCALABLE

Making training scalable can be tricky and should be considered as you are developing courses.  The induction is the classic example.  When things are rolling along well, there will be a large number of new employees.  You may have to run inductions several times a week just to keep up with demand.  And you may need a couple of trainers to run the inductions to deal with all the paperwork and other aspects of the course.  But when things slow down and new starter numbers shrink, are you still running the course the same number of times with the same number of trainers?  You may need to scale it down.  This could involve a conversation with HR about restricting the days that new starters can arrive.  Have a look at all options and stay realistic.  As long as the quality of your training remains high, you are doing a great job.