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Proof some organizations are starting to take learning and development seriously

Conference Board of Canada sees boost in training, spend per employee
training, development, education
Canadian employers spent an average of $889 per employee on learning and development in 2016-17, an increase of $89 since 2014-15. Shutterstock

By Brian Kreissl

Last year, I blogged about how I believe learning and development are going to be “huge” in the relatively near future. With employers beginning to realize so-called skills shortages may be the result of employer reluctance to train and develop employees, the need for coaching and building “bench strength” among succession candidates, the realization that colleges and universities aren’t able to turn out job ready graduates and the fact that larger numbers of baby boomers are now starting to exit organizations in greater numbers mean organizations are starting to invest more in learning and development.

This was recently confirmed by the Conference Board of Canada’s 2018 Learning and Development Outlook, released on Jan. 23. The report, by Simon Cotsman and Colin Hall, found that Canadian employers spent an average of $889 per employee on learning and development in 2016-17, an increase of $89 since 2014-15. It also found the number of annual training hours rose from 25 hours per employee in 2010 to 32 hours in 2016-17.

Narrowing of the gap in training spend between Canadian and U.S. organizations

Canadian employers are also gaining ground on their U.S. counterparts when it comes to training spend. Organizations in Canada now spend 81 cents on the dollar per employee when compared with their American counterparts, which is a dramatic increase from 57 cents spent in 2006. However, some of the narrowing was the result of American organizations spending less on training rather than Canadian organizations spending more on learning and development budgets.

Nevertheless, this will hopefully result in higher productivity among Canadian organizations — at least in relation to our U.S. competitors and trading partners. Greater spend on learning and development theoretically improves employee productivity. It can also result in enhanced employee retention and engagement since employees increasingly look for meaningful development opportunities from their employers and want to feel like their skills are being kept current and marketable.

The value of increased spend and the rise of e-learning

There is obviously a debate about whether or not employers should invest in learning and development, with opponents of such spending arguing there is little point in investing in employees who are likely to leave the organization anyway. However, the opposite argument is that by not investing in employees’ skills, knowledge and competencies, employees may leave sooner and are likely to feel disengaged when they know their employers aren’t investing in their development.

My personal belief is learning and development are important tools not only to help drive efficiency and productivity, but also to help organizations meet their compliance requirements, improve health, safety and wellness, and retain and engage their employees.

While employees may leave the organization after receiving expensive training and development or tuition reimbursement benefits, few people these days stay with organizations for their entire careers and the learning and development they do receive on the job may just make them stick around for a few more years and increase their commitment to the organization while they’re still there.

Learning and development can obviously be quite expensive, and like most things there’s no doubt it is becoming more expensive to train employees. For that reason, some people might argue the increase in training spend isn’t as meaningful as it first appears. However, the real proof of employers’ enhanced commitment to learning and development lies in the increased number of training hours per employee on an annual basis.

Annual training days or hours per employee are recognized metrics for gauging just how much training employees are receiving by their employers. Obviously, this isn’t the whole story, as it doesn’t speak to the quality or efficiency of the learning, just what skills employees are developing or acquiring (if any) or the actual impact on the bottom line, but it does show an increased commitment and willingness to train on the part of employers.

Nevertheless, the Conference Board also found employers are becoming more likely to offer learning and development through e-learning than traditional classroom training. While classroom learning is still the preferred method of delivery, online learning is gaining ground in many organizations.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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