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How Training Toughens Up Employees and Improves Your Brand

— by Jessica Stillman

Learning developmentTraining

After several years on life support, the American economy is starting to show stirrings of life. But it’s clear that even if unemployment numbers are dropping, we aren’t soon likely to return to our parents’ economy (or our grandparents’, for that matter).

Between fierce competition and lightening-fast technology improvements, we’re now in an age of perpetual job uncertainty.

And that poses a three-pronged challenge to workers, employers, and training professionals: How should these they handle the reality that stable, decades-long jobs are a thing of the past? For workers, there’s no shortage of interesting reading material on how to embrace instability, from entire books of advice to Fast Company‘s recent series on “Generation Flux,” which claims that the future of business is “pure chaos.”

For companies, it creates another quandary: If workers are liable to leave after just a few years, should they even bother investing in improving their skills? Ben Casnocha, an entrepreneur, blogger, and co-author of The Start-Up of You, says yes. While it may be tempting to slash training and insist on only hiring job-ready candidates, Casnocha advocates for the opposite. He urges companies to embrace training, not despite the resiliency it requires from employees, but because of it:

“Instead of denying the job-hopping, opportunity-seeking ways of young talent today, it seems wiser for companies to face the reality and embrace it. Help employees develop transferrable skills. … And be very explicit with new hires about the expectations: ‘We expect you to give us a really strong tour of duty for 2-3 years. When you leave, we expect you to be part of our corporate alumni group. We want you to be part of our corporate alumni network. We want you to help recruit new employees. We want you to be lifelong ambassadors and evangelists for our products and services.'”

Training your talent to toughen up to deal with the rough-and-tumble economic realities isn’t just altruism (though employees are bound to appreciate it), it’s also a way to motivate them to perform at their peak while they’re with you, and arm them with the skills to excel at their jobs. Plus, as Casnocha points out, it’s pretty good for your brand.

Training as Good Business

That point was echoed recently by the Washington Post’s Capital Business blog. “Having career-resilient workers is not just good for the employees,” according to Joyce E. A. Russell, the director of the Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s School of Business, “it is also critical for employers if they hope to be successful in tomorrow’s rapidly changing competitive world.” Russell suggests several ways employees can help build their workers’ resiliency:

  • Be honest about challenges facing the firm so employees understand what new skills they might need in the future.
  • Allow employees opportunities to shadow workers or cross-train in other departments.
  • Encourage employees to consider lateral moves to enhance their knowledge of the firm.
  • Create an environment of continual education by supporting and rewarding employee development and learning — offering, for example, training programs or tuition reimbursement.
  • Provide opportunities for self-assessment. Have career counselors and career resource centers available.
  • Have managers trained as coaches and mentors to assist employees.
  • Encourage employees to create individual development plans that meet their personal career needs and the firm’s strategic goals.
  • Before going outside for help, try to redeploy existing workers to teach them the new skills needed.

Do you think toughening up your current talent through training is a worthwhile investment?

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user tibchris.

London-based Jessica Stillman blogs about generational issues and trends in the workforce for, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist.

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