Small business owners face two big questions around training decisions for employees:
What if you train them and they leave?
What if you don’t train them – and they stay?
Cary Hanson, owner of Hansen’s Plumbing and Mechanical in Ventura, California and my blog co-author for today, first heard those questions from a friend during a time he was considering whether and how much to invest in training his employees, and has been guided by them ever since.
‘Hiring and retaining good employees’ closely follows ‘finding and keeping customers’ as the top two challenges reported by small business owners who are committed to growing their businesses. A recent Babson College study (and subsequent blog) of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses alumni revealed that finding potential candidates with the right skillset is the hardest part.
Consistently, small business owners across industries prefer to find people with an eagerness to learn – and especially who will fit the values of their company – and then train them on the actual tasks needed to perform the job. Most agree that training is necessary and is primarily offered to ensure that new employees can start working productively as soon as possible.
Resoundingly our data on Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses participants also shows that small business owners who invest in training are more likely to report growing, and more likely to report growing more. In other words, what is good for employees is good for the business.
Small business owners recognize the importance of providing training – encouragingly, over 85% of those surveyed offer training to all or most of their employees – yet acknowledge uncertainty around process and practice. Owners share challenges around how to approach and afford training and navigating decisions of what, where, when and by whom. And they face tradeoffs investing limited resources and time in workforce development. Recently, Babson conducted a focus group with growth-oriented small business owners from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program to gather qualitative insight about their training approaches – and their proposed solutions to challenges in this area.
Small business owners cite three common reasons for offering training: meet mandated requirements, onboard new hires, and retain employees over time.
First, some training needs are prescribed by government regulations and industry specific requirements, often to protect public safety. Nadia Haddad, owner of Freeway Auto, Inc. in Southern California, describes how her employees are required to pass mandatory state certifications. Working in a quite different industry, Bob Borenstein of Apple Child Care Center must provide a minimum of 18 hours of training for his employees in order to comply with school curriculum certification for his business.
Second, training is required to onboard new employees. Small business owners commonly prioritize training to new hires to get started right away. Growth-oriented owners emphasized the value of training around company culture. Aaron Moore, owner of Precision Painting and Decorating, stressed the need for a cultural introduction to the business, showcasing the types of expected behaviors. Zawadi Bryant, co-owner of Nightlight Pediatric Urgent Care, finds that what is most needed is training in the areas such as emotional intelligence and conflict resolution.
The third focus for training surrounds retention, how to provide professional development to employees within a small company. Mimi Tran, owner of Em Nail Salon, uses a training model in which she hires employees that are already licensed, then the employees go through a customer-service training and she is in the process of developing a management training plan. Mimi believes that employee on-the-job and/or external training is crucial because it provides confidence to employees, especially new hires, to perform their tasks effectively. She has also seen it create long term employee loyalty when they know that the company is committed to their professional growth.
Training methods largely depend on things such as the number of people to be trained, cost effectiveness, and the resources available. When searching for resources a Google search of “employee training” and “small business” brings up more than a half million sites, just raising even more questions about how to identify and select the right resources. We learned that small business owners most frequently use industry associations and local colleges, especially community colleges, as training resources, with an increasing amount of the training delivered on-line. The majority of them combine resources to create their own systems.
Cary Hansen shares what he describes as his deeper and more long-term approach.
I started my business in 1987 and while I did take a false step or two, I’ve grown it into a twelve person company. I need to have the right employees and to do that over the years I’ve come up with my own training approach. I aim to have one apprentice working with each of my plumbers and I’ve organized the way we work in the company so that the most inexperienced progress from the most basic jobs and, if successful, progress through to the more complicated ones. However, I also saw the need for both entry level and ongoing training. We hold training for everyone in the company for the first 30 minutes of each work day. Our dispatcher creates a weekly agenda, although anyone in the company can suggest topics. Then we have a general rotation plan of how the week works, with a different basic topic each day. On Monday we review our standard operating procedure by using our employee handbook. This helps us with making sure our individual values are all aligned with our company values. Tuesday is safety, Wednesday is customer service, and we always do a hands-on training on Thursday. Friday is our wildcard with the training topic open for anyone in the company who has an idea.
Cary is generous with sharing what he has learned over the years, helping to prove the point that small business owners learn best from each other, evaluating what has been tried and tested by others, and then retooling to work in their own businesses. Here are some of the top tips for training from small business owners.
- Community colleges are an affordable, flexible resource to provide training. Besides offering various training programs, many are exploring ways to include small businesses in reviewing training programs in order to “gear it toward providing students with better opportunities to become employees.” Since community colleges focus on adult and continuing education, they are constantly developing new curriculum.
- Apprenticeships provide a means of training as well as a potential career path. Map the work you need done across the business and see if you can identify potential developmental pathways – then hire or select a junior employee to be an apprentice. Of significant note, the senior employees to whom you assign apprentices need to first be trained on how to work with apprentices. Mentoring does not always come naturally.
- Look for training partners. Training co-ops between small business owners allow them to share the resources and the costs of training, especially when each business may need to train only a few people at a time.
- Spend the time to decide upon an actual training plan. Review all your job descriptions to see what skills need to developed (or improved) and create a best practices manual for your own business in order to guide the outcomes you need from any and all training.
- Develop a means of assessing your training and adapting as needed. Is it working? Feedback sources might include employee satisfaction surveys, review by peer groups of business owners, ideas from respected people in the industry, and of course, the quality of the work done by the employees post training.
This article was written by Patti Greene from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.