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To attract and retain, making 2016 your year of learning and development

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Technology is the key to staff training that can help make this year the education year. So stop looking for the best talent and start growing it, says Jeff Haden.

Your employees are smart. They understand. They understand the market. They understand the financial constraints small businesses face. They understand if you can’t pay salaries higher than every other business. They don’t expect to make a lot more – they just want to be paid fairly.

But what they don’t understand is not being given opportunities to learn, grow, and build a career. 

And that’s why companies that focus on staff training, mentoring, and developing their employees can not only attract but also retain the best and the brightest.

Of course training and development comes at a cost, but by allowing for flexibility, investing in technology and looking at ways to build internal training, the benefit is likely to outweigh the cost.

A woman standing in a library looking at a book.

Distance learning

A number of universities offer degree programs that can be taken online – making them more accessible to staff wanting to upskill. Or you can take the informal route.

MIT Open Courseware provides free courses on entrepreneurship. Kutztown University provides 70 free training and development courses. Coursera provides free courses on big data, interaction design, and project management, among others. Allison offers free courses from top publishers and companies like Google and Microsoft. The Khan Academy offers free professional development courses in subjects from elementary maths to history and coding.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ask what your employees want to learn and finding free resources is easy – all you have to provide is the time and encouragement.

Short courses

Distance learning tends to involve courses that are part of degree programs. But what if you want your employees to learn a specific skill? One-off online courses could be the perfect solution.Some are free. CodeAcademy provides free interactive programming sessions for HTML, PHP, CSS, Javascript, etc. Tech-interested employees can learn to code, develop websites, build apps, maintain your back-end systems, etc. Employees interested in marketing and sales can take advantage of HubSpot Academy and even become Inbound certified.Others are not free, but that’s okay: Studies show that companies investing $2,000 or more per employee per year on staff training average 24 per cent higher profit margins than companies with lower annual training investments. And since a number of short online courses are only a quick search away, you’ll quickly find the perfect training option for almost any need.

Internal training programs

Of course you don’t have to look outside your business for ways to help employees learn new skills. 

Years ago I worked in manufacturing. My boss assigned me to help move the production control offices. My job was basically manual labor, but for two days it put me in a position to watch and learn a tremendous amount about how the plant's production flow was controlled.

I found it fascinating, and later I asked him if I could train to fill in as a production clerk. Those two days sparked a lifelong interest in productivity and process improvement.

While you can create formal staff training programs, if you have relatively few employees the effort involved might not be worth the return. That’s okay – informal programs can be just as effective, especially since they can be tailored to the specific needs of the employee and your business. And don’t forget that training always benefits the trainer as well as the trainee; the act of teaching is a learning experience in itself (and will help the trainer develop mentoring and leadership skills.)

Remember, as a boss it’s your job to see the potential in your employees and put them in positions to realise that potential.  And if you don’t know what a particular employee might be interested in, no problem: Ask. They’ll tell you.

Provide feedback

Every employee wants to feel good about their work, and that means they need to know how they’re performing. Feedback – consistent, specific, and useful feedback – not only lets employees understand their current performance, it allows them to identify and understand the skills they need to acquire to advance in their careers.

So when you provide feedback, don’t just focus on the past; show how an employee’s performance is just one piece in a larger career puzzle.

Not only will you show what an employee’s contribution means to the company’s future – which helps that employee feel he or she genuinely matters – but you will also show what their contribution means to their own future.


Here’s the bottom line

Media hype aside, millenials really aren’t that different. Everyone wants to learn. Everyone wants to grow. Everyone wants a chance to build a better future.

Provide professional development opportunities and your employees will not only want to stay – they’ll be more engaged and work harder, too. 

The future of business is evolving to meet the latest digital developments.

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