Training and development are crucial for the well-being of lab staff and the health of the organization. The thoughtful development of staff skills and knowledge is critical to the lab’s ability to deliver in the future. The growth of staff knowledge will enable creativity, innovation, and flexibility and will serve to protect the vital organizational knowledge. An organization without a planned approach to training and development will find itself with stale knowledge and without the skills to adapt to the stakeholders’ changing needs.
For lab staff, being included in training and development enables them to envision being an important part of the lab’s future, and is a key element of employee engagement. Higher engagement brings many benefits, including higher retention rates, higher performance, and greater sharing of ideas.
Internal versus external training options
Training and development can be accomplished through several different mechanisms, many of which have low cost to the lab. A good starting point for the lab manager is to consider all of the different training options available to the lab, and to work with lab supervisors to collect the training needs of the staff and the organization.
Training options can be divided into internal and external. Internal options are provided by other staff members within the lab or larger organization. These training and development choices serve to retain and extend knowledge already within the lab. External options are provided by outside organizations, which serves to bring new knowledge and skills to the lab. While most external training options have some cost, there are many low-cost choices available.
External training options include, but are not limited to:
- Certificate programs – like the Lab Manager Certificate program offered through the Lab Manager Academy, which enhances lab managers’ ability to deliver the roles and responsibilities of the position
- Short courses – which are excellent at delivering specific knowledge and information, both in technical topics and soft skills
- Conferences and summits – which excel at delivering cutting-edge information from experienced speakers on specific topics
- Vendor classes – which can be very effective at increasing the skills and knowledge around specific instruments, equipment, and software. Some of these options can be free and delivered at the lab
- University and college courses – are often designed for deeper, more long-term knowledge building and development
- Seminars and webinars – are designed to deliver narrow and specific information of interest from knowledgeable presenters. Many webinars are low cost or free.
All of these external options can provide high value to the lab. Each is designed to serve a specific purpose. The learner and the lab manager need to cooperate to ensure the best option is chosen to meet the intended need.
With the development of many asynchronous and virtual training materials during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are now many more options for effective remote learning than before the crisis. These remote learning opportunities make it even easier for staff to attend external training because they eliminate the associated travel costs and the extra time away from the lab for travel.
Internal training options often consist of some form of cross-training with a more experienced or knowledgeable colleague sharing information with a co-worker. Internal training usually doesn’t cost money, but does require time from both the learner and the teacher.
Some of the more effective internal training options include:
- Storytelling – share key stories about the successes and challenges the lab has faced and addressed. Humans are very effective at learning from stories
- Shadowing – have the learner watch and learn from a colleague as they execute some skill, activity, or experiment
- On the job training – often follows shadowing, where the learner executes newly gained knowledge under the tutelage of the experienced colleague
- Lessons learned – enables a group to explore the learnings available from an activity, project, or outcome around the lab
- Mentoring – often designed to share beneficial behaviors that enable staff to be successful within the culture of the lab
To be successful with training and development, lab managers need to plan a series of different activities:
- Set training objectives for the year – identify the training needs for the lab, document the scope of training needed to address the needs, and discuss the depth of knowledge required from the training
- Allocate the time for training – for both learners and any internal trainers. Effective training requires time to learn and to practice the new skills
- Budget funds for external training – while many low-cost training options exist, having some budgeted funds will enable specific, high value external training options available for the lab. Being able to monetize the benefits of training and development will help with advocating for a training budget.
- Set training metrics – establishing a key performance indicator (KPI) around training and development can help establish these activities as a priority for the lab and the staff. An effective KPI for many labs is the percent of staff who received training during the year. As an example, 75 percent is a good data point as a motivating KPI.
Producing a game plan for training and development
Once the training plans for the lab are established, lab managers need to address the individual training needs of staff and fit them together with the lab’s training needs and the available budget. As individual training plans are developed, it is very important to include training in the annual objectives and development plan for each individual. Including training and development as formal objectives provides a higher priority for these activities and improves the success rate of the training plan. For all the internal training activities, the training objectives need to be included for both the teachers and the learners. Otherwise, training tends to be deprioritized versus the technical work as the year progresses.
Some tips to improve the lab’s training and development plans include:
- Focus on growing strengths – people are much more interested and likely to complete training in areas where they already exhibit some strengths
- Produce thoughtful plans that address the needs of the lab and the individuals, and map them with SMART objectives
- Prioritize the time required to learn, teach, and practice new skills
- Explain why the training is important. Most people won’t do something when they don’t understand why it’s important
- Put in the effort to advocate for and justify a training budget for the lab. That investment will return significant benefits in greater capacity for the lab, improved engagement, and higher retention.