Training is simultaneously becoming more and more critical—and more and more expensive. In the quest for the right balance between cost and benefit, here are a few tips to keep in mind before you sign off on the next training request.

Demand and support full participation
Many people are quick to volunteer for training—especially the expensive kind that might get them out of the office for a few days while enhancing their resume. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as they get the maximum benefit out the time and expense associated with the course.

One way to help ensure that this will happen is to demand perfect attendance and full participation. Most important, you must then do your part to make sure their schedule allows for it. The quickest way to waste your training budget is to schedule an employee for an expensive and lengthy training session, and then send them to Denver for two weeks in the middle of the course.

Get measurable results
Have you ever paid a few hundred dollars to send a group of employees to a seminar to hear a panel of famous speakers—or to some similar event? A few of the employees will end up having to cancel, and the ones who do make it will tell you it was “great” a few weeks later when you remember to ask. Some of these events are okay, but you’ll get a greater return for your training dollar if the exercise includes some kind of measurable result. Look for courses that end with an evaluation, a test, or certification that attempts to quantify the long-term effects of the experience.

Take the training yourself
The best way to evaluate the quality of a particular training program is to take the training yourself. You can’t share in every training session your employees will take over the course of the year, but you should choose a few key courses and participate. In doing so, you will not only endorse the training as a worthwhile effort, but you will also get a good feel for where the curriculum serves the needs of your organization. Best of all, you will upgrade your own skill set in the process.

View training as an investment, not just an expense
The elements of high-quality training—expert instructors, effective training materials, small class sizes, and so on—aren’t cheap. That doesn’t mean that cost is the only measure of the quality of a program, but the kind of training that significantly enhances the value of an employee can wield a surprisingly high price tag. That price doesn’t seem so high, however, if you view it as an investment.

For instance, if you’re willing to hire a network expert at $50,000 a year or so, why not invest perhaps $10,000 to add network administration to the qualifications of an existing employee? In those cases where you can do so, you’ll avoid all of the other training requirements associated with a brand new employee. You’ll also send a signal to your workforce that you’re committed to your employees’ professional development.

The training budget is a much more critical component of corporate strategy than most people realize. Properly managed, it can provide some of the best ROI in your business.

Mark Kimbell is the vice president of operations for ASAP Automation , systems integrators in the material handling industry. Follow this link to comment on this article or write to Mark .