CXO

Create incentives to learn

Many employees feel they have all the skills they need to do their jobs. However, they don't realize that, with the constant change in technology, their skills can become outdated faster than they think. TrainingRepublic reader Thomas Roncevic shares his thoughts on how to get your students to class for those needed skills.


Do you have trouble getting your employees to commit to training? Are you faced with employees who have adopted the “I already have the job” mindset and who figure they have the skills needed to do the work, even when the technology used has changed?

Perhaps you haven’t made your company’s training priorities clear. Or, perhaps your employees lack a perceived incentive to acquire new skills and knowledge. The following tips spell out techniques for inspiring your employees to acquire the skills they need to perform their jobs.

Company-mandated training
Companies invest in new equipment and software to stay competitive and improve their products or services. To protect this investment, companies often require all employees to acquire the new skills needed to run the equipment. In essence, the company is saying: “You must acquire these new skills to remain employed here!” There is no choice in the matter; everyone gets trained.

This ultimatum may seem like the least palatable technique, but in actuality, every company should have a clearly stated training policy. Sometimes, it is the only way to push certain employees in the same direction that the company is moving.

Pay/bonus incentives
By using pay or bonus incentives, a company in effect “pays” its employees to learn skills that he/she needs in order to remain employed. This practice is, of course, the favorite of employees but may not make sense for your company. If a company has invested in new equipment and software simply to remain competitive in the marketplace, the company may not be counting on increased revenues due to its investment. In this case, pay or bonus incentives would not make sense.

If, on the other hand, the company’s equipment/software investment was aimed at opening new markets or increasing revenues, a pay or bonus incentive may be the way to go.

Is there a better way?
The first two techniques represent opposite extremes. In the first case, the company holds the employee hostage, and in the second the employee holds the company hostage. In order to get either technique to fly, you’re more than likely going to have to bargain with management—particularly when it comes to legal and budgeting issues.

However, since the biggest problem with employee training is generally related to incentive, it is best to come up with something employees would view as “profiting from the effort.” That is, employees need to feel somehow rewarded (other than just by keeping their jobs) for putting in the extra effort required to learn the new software.

The middle ground
The trick then is for the company to offer the employee something that can be perceived as a reward for the expended effort. In some cases, the reward could be something as trivial as:
  1. Pass the beginner’s level, win a T-shirt.
  2. Pass the intermediate level, win a coffee mug.
  3. Pass the advanced level, win a $10 gift certificate.

One such reward offered by an instructor at our school to his students was an “MCP” key chain–-given to the students when they passed their first certification exam. Everybody ended up getting one, but it came to be considered a “right of passage.”

Another possibility is to offer one or two substantial rewards (paid vacation, computer system, etc.) to the person in the company who gets the highest scores on some type of examinations given after training is completed. An added “morale booster” would be to throw a company-wide pizza party in honor of the effort expended by all of the employees and at which the winner(s) would be announced.

The warning here is that trainers cannot permit the rewards to be perceived as too trivial. For example, simply putting a chart up on the wall indicating each employee’s progress—the reward being the recognition (“that and 25¢…”)—might cause other employees to avoid the sessions for fear of being perceived as a “brown-noser like Fred."

Mandatory training on company time
Since the company has invested in equipment and software upgrades, it should anticipate the need to upgrade the skills of its employees to meet any new requirements. Employees could be given training as part of their regular work duties. While the training is going on, productivity may take a hit. But after the training is completed any perceived losses can be made up by increased productivity on the new equipment and software.

Training lunches
Another incentive would be to offer free pizza or sandwiches at the end of a training session. The employee acquires new knowledge/skills and gets a free lunch at the same time.

Combining mandatory training with rewards or contests
Perhaps more desirable to the employee is to be trained during work hours and have the possibility of “winning” or “earning” some reward/award.

This is possibly the best overall technique. The training team does not need to pressure employees to take the class because it is mandatory. Employees don’t feel as if they’re being forced to put out extra effort because the training is on company time. And with the possibility of “winning” something, he or she might actually put in some extra effort at actually learning the material.

Pay increases based on acquired skills
The company may want to (or have to) tie annual pay increases to the employee’s ability to use the new equipment and software. Obviously, these are the new “tools” which employees must know how to use in order to properly do their jobs.

There are both problems and benefits to this technique that are worth reviewing.
  • In some cases, this could be a “new policy” which might affect the contract that the employee signed when first hired. The ramifications might be both financial and legal, in terms of the job description.
  • Some form of measurement tool/examination would have to be created and administered in order to adequately and fairly judge the employee’s improvement.
  • This technique might require an “attitude adjustment” on the part of the employees—they must be convinced that one of their job requirements is to stay current with the technology.

The main benefit to the employee is that he or she can see the obvious “reward” for acquiring the new knowledge and skills. They aren’t necessarily threatened with the loss of a job, but any desire for higher pay or advancement would be accompanied by the knowledge that they have an obligation to stay current. Money might not be the only incentive, but it is one of the best.

The main benefit to the company would be that its work force, while still productive, would become more adaptable to change—particularly in the use of technology. When employees become accustomed to, and convinced of, the need for training as a requirement for continued employment, they become less apt to sit back and “just do their job.”

A side effect of this is the fact that the more the employees know about the new technology, the more they are worth on the job market. A company might have a rather large investment in training an employee. And it could end up losing that employee to another company that’s willing to pay a higher salary for someone who “already has the training.”

The moral of the story
Although I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist, I feel pretty safe in saying “people will respond in a manner similar to the way they are treated.”
  • If employees perceive that they are being treated poorly or unfairly, they will probably not make much of an attempt to cooperate.
  • If employees perceive that they are being treated fairly, they will at least make some attempt at achieving the desired goal.
  • If employees perceive that they are being given a chance to improve their current condition in some way, they will make a decided effort at achieving the goal.
Is your training program for new hires only? Do you have career development courses? What type of courses do you offer? How often are they offered? We’d like to hear about your company’s training structure. If you’d like to share your story or comment on this article, please post your comments below. If you have suggestions for future article topics, please send us a note .

Thomas Roncevic is the lead instructor for the Computer Programming and Computer & Internet Programming curricula at Computer Learning Centers , Pittsburgh, PA. He has worked as a technical trainer and instructor in electronics, robotics, and computer programming and networking for the last 15 years.

Thomas is now a published writer, with his name in the lights. After he responded to “Take the TrainingRepublic challenge and possibly win a prize,” we invited him to elaborate on his thoughts for our site.


 

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