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In our rapidly changing world, training that meets specific requirements and takes in global trends is more crucial than ever – Mel McGoldrick looks at training programs designed for the present with an eye on the future.

Lifelong learning, from cradle to grave, should be relevant to all of us, and it should apply to all aspects of human development. In an era of continuous technological change and increasing competition from a wide range of channels, a commitment to on-going staff development is critical to maintaining a competitive edge in business.

Traditionally, training was something 'done to you' to increase knowledge, skills, and abilities. In retail, historically training was predominately about product knowledge. This was often carried out by the supplier, or delivered by the manager as on-the-job skills training. If other training took place it was usually in a classroom situation.

Technology has significantly expanded the learning delivery methods available today. We can no longer afford to spend long periods of time away from the workplace. For training programs to succeed the providers of education need to be attuned to the needs of the individual, and the need for cost effective, time efficient programs that meet requirements.

Providing continual professional development is significant if you want to be an employer of choice. Professional development needs to be academically recognised, supported by the industry, and transportable to the workplace. There is often a chasm between academia and industry, theory and practice. Trainers and educators for commercial businesses are acutely aware of not just educating for education’s sake. But what does that mean for my business and my bottom line? Businesses don’t just want their people to be taught nice-to-know facts and information but are increasingly demanding practical application in the workplace.

Competent employees don't remain competent forever. Skills deteriorate and become obsolete. The fiercely competitive retail sector should ensure employees are given every opportunity to keep pace with innovative practices and technology so they can be in tune with global developments in their particular area, enabling each individual to be responsible for keeping his or her skills, abilities, and knowledge current so they can prepare for tomorrow's tasks.

The essence of a progressive career development program should include:

* clearly communicating the goals and future strategies of the business

* creating growth opportunities

* offering financial assistance

* providing time for employees to learn.

Corporate Model

The Coles Institute, a partnership between Coles and Deakin University to create a corporate university, was established to provide integrated, flexible education, and training for Coles across all brands within the group. The institute provides a range of learning modules from seminars on project management, safety, food handling compliance, through to MBA courses. The aim of the institute is to give employees more career opportunities and to enable them to be better at their job, which in turn will provide customers with a better shopping experience in stores.

It is estimated that as a result of the aging population, the size of the Australian workforce is set to decrease by 1.5 million people in 2020. It is essential to have a people strategy in place that can meet these challenges of a diminishing pool of candidates. It is more critical than ever to have the right mix of elements in place to encourage employees to join and remain with your organisation.

Costing Benefits

There is great potential for your development programs to have an impact on your bottom line but it's critical to be able to calculate the return in some way. Most organisations would like to be able to measure the costs invested in training initiatives against anticipated results. The challenge is this: it's far easier to measure the costs of conducting training than it is to quantify results. A useful tool in determining costs and savings is to compare costs per participant versus savings per participant.

Comparing costs and benefits can be done in the following four simple steps:

1. Calculate the cost of training. All relevant costs, divided by the anticipated number of participants, gives the cost per participant. This will include training costs such as:

* facilitator fees

* training design

* course materials

* videos and workbooks

* facilities rental

* equipment rentals (such as data projectors)

* production downtime (including employee time off the job)

* videoconferencing facilities

* specialised computer equipment

* administration (e.g., registration procedures or confirmation notices).

2. Determine the potential savings generated. These savings might include:

* fewer errors

* reduced customer turnover

* less equipment downtime

* increased revenue collection

* faster equipment start-up time

* reduced employee turnover

* proper implementation of new strategies

* higher workplace morale through more effective management practices

* less time lost to grievance hearings

* reduced recruitment costs (because training can create more job-ready candidates for promotions)

* maximised productivity of new employees through efficient orientation training.

3. Calculate the potential savings. To calculate potential savings, set goals for post-training achievements by identifying and quantifying the changes a training initiative will produce if all other factors are constant. The factors in the formula include the following:

* assess the current level of performance (for example, 100 error rates per month; six lost customer accounts per month; five days lost to work stoppages per year)

* translate the current level of performance into a dollar figure (for example, 100 error rates x five minutes' correction time x $15 salary per hour = $125 per month)

* identify the change training can produce (for example, reduce errors to 50 per month)

* calculate the savings the target criteria will generate (for example, 100 errors – 50 errors = decrease of 50 errors per month savings = 50 x five minutes/60 x $15 = $62.50)

* identify a meaningful time-line for realising savings based on your best business predictions about factors contributing to errors remaining unchanged

* identify the number of employees in the target training group

* divide the total anticipated savings by the number of participants to identify the savings per participant.

4. Compare the costs to savings.

* multiply the cost per participant by the total number of participants

* multiply the savings per participant by the total number of participants

* compare your figures to establish your business case for training.

While this exercise may seem a little complex, it is worthwhile. The exercise not only identifies actual costs and realistic savings, it also ensures your training expectations are reasonable and targeted to measurable business outcomes. You also need to decide how, and on what, to train your staff. When starting an education program do your homework and consider performing a full training needs analysis. A great goal is to move towards a situation where the learners are encouraged to master the learning and go on to become teachers to their peers. This approach has multiple benefits, developing new skills in those going on to teach their peers, while giving those involved a real boost and establishing greater loyalty.

Looking for people or organisations to carry out your development program is another challenge. There are numerous providers and considerable research and effort should be dedicated to finding the right fit. Specialists in retail are ideal, as customisation of training to suit the specific needs of your business will ensure greater relevance, maximise learning outcomes, and capitalise on the application in the workplace. And, becaus
e career planning is a task done increasingly by the individual employee, it also makes sense to ask them to seek out who, where, and what they think would be relevant for their development.

*Mel McGoldrick is program director for Australian Centre for Retail Studies, Monash University. She can be contacted at mel.mcgoldrick@buseco.monash.edu.au or on (03) 9903 2734

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