Limited training budgets pose a challenge for many lab managers. To meet their training needs we need to scrutinize both internal training programs and those offered by consultants and other external suppliers more carefully. Maintaining an effective training program now can lead to improved employee retention later when the economic outlook brightens and lea to competitive advantage.

Survey of training programs

The results of a 2009 Bersin & Associates study can provide some guidance for lab managers. Bersin & Associates is an Oakland, California-based research firm specializing in enterprise learning and talent management. They conducted an online survey of more than 1,400 organizations having 100 or more employees. In addition to the private sector, organizations included in the survey include local, state and federal government agencies.

According to Bersin & Associates, spending on training-related products and services, which totaled $48.2 billion in 2009, the lowest ever recorded in Bersin's annual report. Payroll for training staff members, which accounted for $27.5 billion of all training spending this year, plummeted 18 percent. Nearly $14 billion was spent on training products, consultants and other services, but that represents a one-year drop of 10 percent.

So if you have fewer training dollars to spend, how can you spend them more effectively? Some consultants charge for training workshops by the number of attendees. Lab managers can limit spending by controlling enrollment and making sure only those staff members who can benefit most by participating actually attend the workshop.

Alternative training programs

There are alternatives to traditional training workshops held in class rooms with one or more instructors in the room. Online training is increasing rapidly. The Bersin & Associates survey indicated about one-third of formal learning was delivered online in 2009 compared to about one-quarter in 2008.

Some large employers have developed online training workshops and courses. These are often essentially a sound track and series of PowerPoint slides. Participants click through the slides at their own pace. There are also training programs available online, often for modest no cost. One example is the series of webinars offered by the American Chemical Society. In addition to webinars on job-hunting and career management, the ACS offers webinars and online courses on such subjects as running effective meetings and project management (http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=1103&content_id=W67_002212&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=970deb72-48a9-4e5d-9608-bd9cb5917fca ) plus continuing chemical education courses (http://www.proed.acs.org/ ) . There is also the ACS Harvard Business Courses (https://acs.learn.com/learncenter.asp?sessionid=3-7673499A-3D4B-42F9-A663-64294F8510C8&id=178419&page=47 ). These 42 online courses cover business subjects such as budgeting, developing business plans, decision making and marketing.

Live remote broadcasts are increasingly being used to eliminate the costs of long-distance travel to attend training. The software used usually allows workshop participants to ask questions.

Some suppliers offer DVD courses that lab managers can purchase and make available to their staff members. For example, The Teaching Company offers courses on critical decision making, the global economy and business law (http://www.teach12.com/storex/coursesdetail.aspx?ps=901 ).

Some companies will bring in consultants to present training programs and record them so other employees can view the workshop later. Lab managers should check with the consultants presenting workshops before they do this to assure that they don't object. Some will.

In conclusion, it's worth it to consider all your options before setting up training programs.