Lab managers have been faced with cuts in their training budgets since the recession began. Upper level managers have been cutting back on the number of employees allowed to enroll in external training programs and limiting lab staff participation in internal courses that charge the laboratory by the number of employees taking the course or workshop.

The goal in these efforts is to focus scarce resources on high-impact training programs and on the employees most likely to benefit substantially from attending these programs. Maintaining an adequate level of training will help companies strengthen their competitive positions as the economy improves.

Skill Areas to Focus On

So what types of programs are companies still spending money on? According to Josh Bersin, president of human resources firm Bersin & Associates, "Leaders beginning to shift attention back toward skills development, globalization, innovation and rebuilding... Now is the time to focus on and invest in programs that drive innovative thinking, collaboration, employee empowerment, and localization." His conclusion is based on the findings of a 2010 study of 265 human resource, learning, and business leaders. A complimentary copy of TalentWatch H1'2010: Trends in Talent Management and Training is available for download here at http://marketing.bersin.com/TalentWatchH12010.html.

Bersin believes that available training funds should be focused on areas providing "biggest bang for the buck." These include coaching, efficient knowledge sharing and collaboration, onboarding, and management training. Respondents to the survey indicated they believe that the capability of first-line managers is of particular concern. Survey respondents believe that these individuals are less well prepared for their new assignments than are newly hired entry-level employees.

Cutting training costs

So how can companies reduce training costs while giving lab staff members the training they need? Instructor-led training is the primary method companies use to provide training to employees. However, a 2009 Bersin & Associates survey indicated its use declined from 67% of training hours in 2008 to 60% in 2009 (http://www.bersin.com/News/Content.aspx?id=11925). This study collected data from 1,400 organizations.

This traditional method of corporate training tends to be the most expensive.

Use of online training is increasing, from 24% of training hours in 2008 to 33% in 2009. Most of this was online self study with learners proceeding at their own pace and taking tests at the end of segments of the course. Often a minimum score is required to certify that the student has passed the course. Should students record too low a score in one or more of these tests, they have to repeat those sections of the course.

Companies are slowly developing other newer technologies for training employees. While 8% of formal learning was delivered via virtual classrooms in 2008, this increased to 13% in 2009. Virtual classroom technology enables instructors to present coursework using live remote broadcasts or video.

Use of wikis and blogs as learning tools is increasing. Each is being used by about 14% of the organizations surveyed in the Bersin & Associates study.

More organizations have turned to outside vendors to provide training and reduced or eliminated their in-house training staff. Nearly two-thirds of organizations used outside professionals for instruction. One type of cost-effective outside vendor can be company retirees. Also, 51% of the surveyed companies used outside venders fro course development. , and 51 percent did so for course development.