Nearly one-half (44 per cent) of Canadian workers do not have access to employer-sponsored training and, of those who do, 16 per cent decline some or all of the training they’re offered, according to a recent study.
Employees in part-time or temporary jobs (where women are over-represented), less-educated workers and employees of small and medium-sized businesses are the most likely to be excluded from employer-sponsored training, found “Declining Versus Participating in Employer-Sponsored Training in Canada,” published in the December 2011 issue of the International Journal of Training and Development.
“In the academic world, it’s well-known there is a substantial portion of Canadians shut out of employer-supported training,” said Gordon Cooke, an associate professor of industrial relations at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, N.L., and co-author of the study.
“Training is really important to individual workers and it’s also really important to organizations because that allows them to hopefully boost productivity and have a more skilled, talented workforce.”
The recession likely had an impact on employers’ ability to offer training to employees, found the report, which used data from Statistics Canada’s 2005 Workplace and Employee Survey.
“In times of economic weakness, that’s when organizations are under pressure to look for savings, so even though it’s short-term thinking, a general manager might say, ‘OK, that’s it… profits are down, revenues are down, let’s turn off the taps, we’re not going to pay overtime, we’re not going to send people on training, what can we defer?’” said Cooke.
Employees may have less access to training because it’s often difficult for employers to find the exact kind of training programs they need that will promote organizational goals, said Bernadette Allen, CEO of the Competency Group in Charlottetown. A lot of training is generic and doesn’t reflect the specific tasks and roles found at an individual organization, she said.
“It’s very challenging for me to find very specific training that meets the needs of my employees,” said Allen, who has 11 employees.
“Sometimes, the local community college will put on a generic course about something. Well, some of that course might meet some of the needs of my employees but it likely doesn’t meet most of them.”
Managers and professionals are the most likely to decline training, likely because they have better access to and less of a need for training, found the study.
Some employees may decline training because of their personal lives, said Cooke.
“Let’s say a single mom who takes public transit is offered training in the evening, she’s going to say no,” he said.
“Family status, marital status, outside responsibilities could hamper one’s ability to enrol in (training). In that scenario, we’re picturing it’s more likely to be females, more likely to have dependent children and quite possibly lower income.”
Companies should create flexibility around training schedules to address family issues, said Grant Douziech, a senior HR consultant at Koenig & Associates in Saskatoon.
Employees may also decline training due to work-related complications. While they are away on training, employees either have to hand off their work to a colleague or deal with double the workload when they return to work, said Allen.
“Quite often, there may not be someone there who can actually pick up the responsibilities of the person who is going away for training,” she said. “Backfilling for employees on training is a big issue — it’s a big cost for the employer and a concern for the worker.”
Employers may want to offer a variety of training methods and internal training tools whereby employees can access them and do some training on their own time, she said.
Other employees may decline training because they don’t feel they need it and they don’t understand how it could benefit them in terms of career opportunities or advancement, said Douziech.
Employers need to make sure they are tying training and development to an employee’s career plan so she understands what skills she needs to move into a new position, he said.
Older workers are more likely to decline training than younger workers, found the study. For each year younger, employees are two per cent more likely to participate in training.
“If you’re taking part in training, it means you might be taking on a little bit of a different role, it means change, learning new things. I think if people are working towards the end of their career, they think, ‘I’d be just as happy to carry on with what I’m doing rather than taking on new roles which require new skills,” said Allen.
A mentorship program is a great way to keep older workers up-to-date on the ever-changing workplace, said Douziech. Employers can introduce new skills and specific training to older workers, who can then pass the knowledge along to their mentees.
“Let’s say they’re going to introduce a new piece of equipment, so they train the older workers to not only become a better mentor or coach but also training them in the new equipment so they can teach the younger workers,” he said.
“Older workers feel valued (by) being able to teach or pass on their knowledge to someone else — it’s a strong motivator.”
Recent immigrants are about one-third as likely as Canadian-born employees to decline training, found the study. Although they have less access to training, recent immigrants are “super keen” to take any training an employer offers them, said Cooke.
“They know they’re in a bad spot, they probably want access to training and aren’t getting it and, if they are offered it, they’ll take it and, boy, that’s food for thought for a benevolent and strategic employer.”
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