Learning and development in a downturn

What role does learning and development have to play in this difficult economic climate?

These days we are all looking at our personal budgets, trying to get better value for money and asking what we can cut out to make savings. Businesses are of course doing the same; looking for budget savings across the board including the area within which I work; learning and development.

At the Fidelity Cayman Business Outlook in January, the experts’ opinions were that this downturn is not over yet and recovery will take some time. In my view, business should not just opt for short term, quick fix reactions by reducing learning and development costs today but should assess how more limited resources can best be employed both for the current and future success of the organisation.

I would suggest that the first thing to do is to carry out a knowledge, skills and behaviour audit; what areas do you need to work on to maximise your business opportunities? Then make the most of your in-house resources to meet those needs. Use more experienced employees to transfer knowledge and behaviours; be it by coaching or mentoring, running workshops or having a staff member job shadow them. Spreading the knowledge in-house will leave your existing employees with wider sets of skills and has an added advantage in that you are getting a head start for strategic planning purposes, having more people able to fulfil more roles.

If you do need to use outside resources good business practice dictates that expenditure should be targeted and whilst we would all hope to do this at all time; straightened financial circumstances puts our behaviour under the spotlight. No more sending people on courses to tick the box that training has been provided! Really think about whether the aims and objectives of the course will benefit your business and the employee in their current or future role. Consider investing in a tailor made training course to cover exactly what your organisation’s needs are. Then make sure that you have steps in place to support and assist in the transfer of what is learnt to the business after the course has been completed.

Businesses will not stand still over the next few months and will continue to make promotions, particularly of people who will be in management and supervisory positions for the first time. Whilst it is always going to be good practice to provide training, cutting corners now and dropping people in at the deep end when times are tough may cause more harm than good. Whilst time and money for programmes concerned with education and longer-term development may not be available, resources should be found for short programmes to give managers the knowledge or skills needed for specific projects on which they will be working. Potential beneficial areas for training might be: – managing change, the planning and management of difficult projects in which the rules keep changing, motivation, and finally improving productivity and reducing costs.

In times when more traditional rewards and motivators such as monetary bonuses are no longer readily available providing training shows your employees you are prepared to invest in their and your business’s future.
People and their development are key to the success of any organisation, no matter what the economic climate – forget this at your peril.


Emma Woodhouse, Stepping Stones Training and Development Ltd.