Employees put high price on learning, development

BC Liquor Stores and Trojan Technologies tackle training to build loyalty and leaders
By Lynn Johnston
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/04/2008

Companies are often wary of investing too much time and money in training employees because of concerns these well-trained workers will walk out the door as soon as they get a better job offer elsewhere. But a company’s commitment to employee development often trumps salary incentives come decision-making time.

Trojan Technologies in London, Ont., specializes in the design, manufacture and sale of ultraviolet disinfection systems for wastewater, drinking water and environmental contaminant treatment. It needs to attract and retain employees with specialized skills who are willing to grow with an ever-expanding enterprise.

What does this mean? First, Trojan has to find people who thrive in an environment that’s constantly changing. Second, Trojan has to provide ongoing opportunities to learn. These include structured programs at colleges and universities and on-the-job training in industry-specific technical skills.

Every engineering employee at Trojan has a development plan and meets with a career leader once a month. Last year, more than 95 per cent of the 20 associates in Gary Denomme’s career group were engaged in some kind of training.

“Our people want assignments that are challenging and different. We have automated the repetitive work as much as possible to free up employees to do assignments that are more interesting to them,” says Denomme, product engineering manager and mechanical engineering career leader at Trojan.

Orientation gets employees on-board

At BC Liquor Stores, where new front-line workers are put on an on-call list and a wage structure limits salaries for manager-level employees and above, orientation programs are essential to acclimating employees to the culture and engendering loyalty, said Michael Doody, performance consultant at the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch.

In addition to the training provided for front-line workers, leaders and potential leaders also receive leadership courses. Front-line workers and managers have an opportunity to become trainers themselves for courses designed in-house.

“We strive to create a ‘wow’ experience for our new managers from day one, and we support each manager with a peer coach for the first six weeks of their employment,” says Doody.

In addition, outside leadership training is provided by the Sauder School of Business executive management program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Increased product knowledge, provided through training, among front-line workers leads to increased confidence, which has a direct impact on sales. Employees value training, so morale is high and employees willingly share information with each other, creating stronger teams. Employee engagement scores increased from 66 per cent in 2006-2007 to 68 per cent in 2007-2008. And since the implementation of the service and sales programs, the most recent customer service satisfaction survey shows above-target results, reflected in an increase in sales over the past two years.

Training helps workers move into new roles

At Trojan Technologies, an in-house leadership development program was created for all leaders and potential leaders. In July 2007, 52 leaders successfully graduated from phase one of the program. The program continues in 2008 with phase two.

Leaders also work with associates in developing a plan that identifies the elements for success, such as projects they should take on, study required and the behaviours necessary to move into a leadership role. Many technical professionals have developed their leadership skills to take on a management position.

In addition, several employees are making lateral moves across the organization. This includes a manager who, with the support of the company, expanded his knowledge through higher business education and moved from engineering to business development.

Trojan feels succession planning is crucial in building the organization’s future leaders. Denomme is building his team to develop them as future successors for his role and others. His role is continually changing and he now spends much of his time working with associates in international offices in Europe, China and India. The bottom line is “people feel more secure and satisfied about their jobs when they’re developing in their career,” he says.

All employees, even younger ones, want job security. In a recent survey of more than 27,000 university students (

From Learning to Work 2008

), 51 per cent identified security and stability as key factors in deciding where to work. And when questioned about whom they would like to work for, the top five companies were the Government of Canada, Health Canada, Google, provincial governments and Apple.

“These organizations are seen as companies that have a commitment to keeping and growing their talent… This was identified as the number one influencer for making an employment decision by 56 per cent of the students surveyed,” says Eric Meerkamper of DECODE, the Toronto research firm that conducted the study.

If an organization is looking for loyal employees, it needs to give them what they want. Right now, that means professional development. Employees view learning and growth as the pathway to a successful and secure future.

Lynn Johnston is the president of the Canadian Society for Training and Development in Toronto. She can be reached at ljohnston@cstd.ca. For more information, visit www.cstd.ca.

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