Is Corporate Training Worth It?

Some studies suggest that people lose 90 percent of the new skills they learn within 12 months, according to an article from the Wall Street Journal, shared with us from a training group. In an interview with Eduardo Salas, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of Central Florida and a program director at its Institute for Simulation and Training, Rachel Emma Silverman discussed his research on corporate training.

Salas said that what surprised him the most in his studies is that organizations don’t rely very much on the science of learning and training. According to Salas, organizations don’t know that much about the topic. They tend to think that just sending an employee to training is enough to ensure that they have learned – and are ready to apply – new skills.

One of the largest mistakes companies make is not to figure out what they actually need from training. A needs analysis is what organizations should do first to ascertain who needs what kind of training. Not doing so can be a huge time and money waster for both companies and employees. Employees are sent to trainings they don’t need -- and don’t get the training they do need -- to do their current jobs better or to advance within the organization.

Additionally, organizations don’t have a good handle on how well employees have understood and retained the content of the topics they learn at trainings. The idea companies seem to have, according to Salas, is that if employees like the training, then it has been successful. There is little connection between actual learning and how people react to the training itself.

Salas also notes that companies erroneously believe that technology will solve their training woes. If there is an app or computer game that covers the training topic their employees need, it isn’t necessarily the best answer to an organization’s training needs. Those case studies and simulations done digitally should have clear learning objectives, feedback, chances to practice, and a way to assess how well an employee learned the material.

Finally, management must be poised to encourage training in terms of employees receiving it and in terms of supporting the structures required to implement that training.

Regarding skills decay, Salas says that people only retain 10 percent of what they learn. Employees need to use the skills they learn in a training right away. That is why there is such a need for practice to reinforce and for assessment as well as for organizational support. The facts from training need to be made readily available to employees so that they can refer to them quickly when they need the information on the job because it’s impossible for them to memorize everything.