Kevin Young, General Manager EMEA, Skillsoft, outlines his top tips for organisations wanting to ensure that staff apply what they’ve learnt to their daily roles.

Training plays an essential role in developing a highly skilled and productive workforce, but how do you make sure that employees retain what they have learned?

Training is a costly investment, and one that can quickly disappear down the drain if not retained or applied by the employee.

In fact, conservative estimates indicate that an individual’s productivity levels can increase by eight per cent if they can apply their training to their role. That equates to 160 hours of additional output, or roughly 20 days per year.

Sadly, the reality for many organisations is that their training programme delivers little long-term value to the business - simply because employees fail to apply what they’ve learnt in a classroom environment to their daily role.

In comparison, alternative methods such as e-learning have proved more successful, with pupils retaining up to 80 per cent more information than if they attended a classroom course.

Align training with business goals

All too often, companies embark on expensive training initiatives that deliver limited value to the business or the individual. If a training project is to be successful, then it should be tied to specific business goals. And it needs to be measurable.

Start by looking at where the business wants to be in one, two, five and even ten years time. Then identify the talent you currently have and where the skill shortage lies within the organisation. Only then can you be sure that your training programmes are relevant and support the organisation’s strategic objectives.

Outline expectations from the outset

Many organisations make the mistake of relying heavily on staff to flag their own training needs. Companies shouldn’t rely on staff alone, and just supplying a regular roster of ongoing courses isn’t the answer.

Once the skill gaps have been identified, intervene and communicate to employees in person the importance of their development within the context of the organisation’s long-term objectives.

Explain what is required from them before, during and after the course, and provide a step-by-step personal development plan that includes measurable and quantifiable objectives.

Discuss how the skills will be used

All training should have a practical outcome. It should improve staff performance and productivity and it should arm them with the relevant skills required to meet the business’ current and future objectives. From the outset, staff should understand how their newly acquired skills will be used on the job.

By engaging staff in a discussion at an early stage, they can understand the relevance, importance and practicalities of the course to their role. With this approach, staff will become more aware of their contribution to the success of the business, which can go a long way towards boosting staff morale.

Find the right training mix

Today, businesses often feel they have one of two choices: classroom-based or virtual online learning. While classroom-based courses certainly offer a practical, hands-on approach to training, virtual training also offers a whole host of benefits.

This includes money saved on venue, tutor and travel costs, together with the flexibility to complete training courses around both the individual’s and the business’ time constraints. But what’s right for one individual or company may not be suitable for another.

Try to provide staff with the right blend of training courses to suit the individual; one that is likely to keep them motivated. This could mean a mix of both, where for instance an element of the training is conducted online and later re-enforced in a classroom environment.

The advent of smartphones and tablets, as well as a wide range of technologies, also offers companies the chance to be more creative in their delivery of training programmes.

Measure, measure and measure

Measuring the value and outcome of learning programmes is critical. It enables companies to demonstrate the value and return on investment they’ve achieved and it helps to ensure that staff are applying what they’ve learnt to their everyday role. Unfortunately for most companies, their evaluation ends when the course does.

As a result, resources invested in training often go to waste. Instead, businesses should consider measurement, using defined success criteria, as an ongoing element in their training plans.

For instance, once a course has been completed, it is vital to measure employees’ initial reaction, satisfaction and planned action derived from a learning intervention. This could be through a simple post-course survey.

At regular intervals, even a year on, analyse learning with tests, simulations and / or instructor evaluations. Skills gained can also be analysed over time to see if on-the-job behaviours have changed as a direct result of the course.

By gathering data on how employees are using their new-found skills, companies will be well placed to spot future skills gaps, while ensuring that staff are applying their skills to their roles.

For organisations that get it right, the benefits are clear: a motivated and productive workforce, lower training costs and increased profits - all the ingredients needed for business prosperity.