Most surveys on what staff value in their work experience will highlight the importance of training and development.
Opportunities to learn and grow on the job influence employee performance and productivity, the retention of top talent and even employee self-confidence with respect to job capabilities. So it’s not surprising the Conference Board of Canada is sounding the alarm over the fact spending on learning and development continues to trend downward.
In its Learning and Development Outlook 2011, the Conference Board reports spending on learning and development in Canada has fallen 13 per cent since 2008. More dramatically, such spending is down 40 per cent since its peak in the early 1990s.
“Although the economic downturn may have contributed to lower learning and development budgets in 2010, the decline in spending is indicative of an ongoing pattern,” said Carrie Lavis, Senior Research Associate with the Conference Board.
“Canadian organizations place less importance on workforce skill development than other nations. This may contribute to Canada’s poor record on innovation and competitiveness.”
The Conference Board observes that during the recession, learning and development spending in the United States declined more than in Canada. But that simply narrowed the gap between Canadian organizations and their U.S. counterparts.
From 2006 to 2010, Canadian organizations spent an average of 64 cents on learning and development for every dollar spent by American organizations. The Conference Board notes in that in 2010, Canadian organizations spent on average just under $690 per employee on learning and development.
Although declining investments in employee development are cause for concern, they may also represent an opportunity for organizations that buck the trend. Such organizations may be able to translate their commitments to employee learning and growth into a competitive advantage when seeking to attract and retain talent.
While learning and development opportunities are typically vital for younger workers, the pace of change in many organizations has made access to training a key concern for employees of all ages.
There are also many ways to address employee development needs. For example, a recent U.S. study found that the vast majority of employees who have advanced their education through tuition assistance programs give these programs high marks.
According to the study, conducted by EdLink, the ROI Institute and Cappella University, more than 86 per cent of respondents reported that job satisfaction, efficiency, quality and productivity were positively influenced by their participation in a tuition assistance program. In addition, more than 94 per cent said the knowledge they acquired was useful to their jobs.
Of course, budgets and other resources are required to deliver learning and development opportunities, either on the job or through continuing education initiatives. It’s important to consider such investments within the broader context of an organization’s human resource or total rewards strategy.
Costs need to be assessed relative to risks and benefits, considering not only performance and productivity, but also the organization’s ability to attract and retain talent. Otherwise, a short-term gain may lead to long-term pain.
Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit www.kapelandassociates.com.