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Training Wheels Back in Motion

A new report produced by advisory firm Bersin & Associates of Oakland, California, notes that companies replenished their training staffs and thus enabled employees to pursue career development put off during the recession.

January 16, 2012
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Anticipating a robust economic recovery in 2011, U.S. corporations beefed up their training budgets by 9 percent, according to a newly released annual report.

The Corporate Learning Factbook 2012, produced by advisory firm Bersin & Associates of Oakland, California, notes that companies replenished their training staffs and thus enabled employees to pursue career development put off during the recession.

Yet despite the higher budgets for training, companies remain worried about the uncertain economy, clouding the outlook for future spending.

"A lot of these budgets were set back when companies were expecting a better year than they probably had in 2011. Who knows what's going to happen in 2012?" says Karen O'Leonard, a principal analyst with Bersin and author of the report.

The net effect is that learning leaders remain under pressure to economize by scrutinizing training investments and focusing on value and cost. That continues a trend that began in earnest in 2008.

To minimize training costs, some companies are moving away from vendors when possible. Universal Weather and Aviation Inc., which provides corporate flight-planning services, hired an e-learning specialist in 2011 to develop, publish, monitor and track participation in a required 16-hour compliance course.

The course is mandatory for Universal Weather's 1,500 global employees, and addresses Federal Aviation Administration rules, regulations and policies. The company uses an e-learning suite from Articulate Global Inc. and customizes the content, says Vince Huebner, director of talent management for the Houston-based company, one of 600 U.S. corporations to participate in Bersin's research.

"The cost for us to outsource this training to an external vendor was tremendous. By creating the compliance training in-house, we can capture data that needs to be captured but tailor it to be specific to the aviation industry," Huebner says.

Training staffing was up 7 percent from 2010, according to Bersin. Overall, training budgets spiked 9 percent in 2011, which equates to about $800 in training for each employee. It marks the first significant increase in training budgets since 2007, according to Bersin.

Although learning teams increased in general, Bersin found that the staff-to-learner ratio continues to decline. In 2011, there were about five learning professionals for every 1,000 employees, down from nearly seven per 1,000 in 2007. The decline is partly attributable to a greater use of learning technologies, including social and collaborative tools that enable employees to share knowledge.

"There is a lot of stuff going on in training that's not directly provided by the training group," O'Leonard says.

Indeed, employees received an average of 15 hours of formal training in 2011, up by more than two hours from 2010.

A growing number of organizations have started to equip select employees with skills to assume a training role, often as an adjunct to their main duties, O'Leonard says. They then deliver training across the organization. The objective is to extend the reach of the training organization and enable employees to receive the training they need, without increasing head count.

Garry Kranz is a Workforce Management contributing editor. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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