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Top 16 Strategic Training and Development Initiatives for Employees

Last year companies spent $70 billion on training and development. But as much as businesses understand the importance of upskilling their employees, how effective is it? Can you actually see a return on your investment? That’s where strategic training and development initiatives are vital. It’s one thing to center on training but it’s quite another to have a clear strategy. So how can you make your program effective? Here are some initiatives to consider.

1. Learning management system

Probably the most important key to conducting training and development programs for employees successfully is how to go about your training. With newer generations like Millennials and Gen Z, they expect collaborative learning environments. And a great way to create this atmosphere is with a learning management system (LMS).

Using an LMS will enable all your training and development initiatives for employees to be housed in a single platform. This makes accessing files and programs easy and flexible depending on an employee’s schedule. Plus, an LMS can be set up to foster communication and learning among team members which will bode well for these new generational workers. 

2. Industry conferences

No matter what industry you are in, there are conferences, seminars and talks pertaining to key topics. One of the great strategic training and development initiatives is to take advantage of these. If you are a larger company, consider signing up employees for one of these in-person conferences. Plus, there are also conferences to help managers learn better team management skills. 

If you are a smaller company or even a start-up and have limited budget, there are many online or virtual conferences. These don’t come with the hotel and airfare fees and are still great options for gaining needed skills. 

3. Professional organizations

There are memberships and industry organizations that can offer a wealth of information. By becoming members, your employees get access to webinars, white papers and more on key industry topics. This is one of the strategic training and development initiatives employees can invest in on their own time. By simply opting in for daily or weekly emails, employees can see what topics are trending and choose what to read to supplement their existing knowledge. 

4. Books 

For topics that are more complex or require more dedicated time, industry books are great resources. Create a list of suggested books to read with download links, if available. You can then incentivize this initiative further by creating a company book club. Team members would read the same book and then discuss it over a dedicated time like a lunch and learn. Not only will this help enforce the topics learned, but it will offer different perspectives and collaboration between employees. This can further drive new key skills learned.

5. Mentorship program

Onboarding is a great way to get employees up and running within your organization. However, once they step foot in the door, it’s nice to have a more senior team member to provide answers casually. A mentorship program is one of the strategic training and development initiatives that can really integrate a new employee quickly. Mentors can help teach new skills and give the ins and outs unique to a given company. Plus, this relationship offers a fresh dynamic than a supervisor or a co-worker offering a different viewpoint that is often needed. 

6. Guest speakers

While it’s important to hear from company leaders how the company is doing and to communicate key objectives, it’s equally as nice to listen to industry experts or even clients. These individuals can give advice on a certain subject matter, key skill or speak to challenges they experience on a day to day basis.  This offers a different perspective and can help drive employee development. Plus, it will strengthen these outside relationships, making it a win for all involved.

7. Lunchtime learning sessions

Lunch and learn is another great idea for strategic training and development initiatives. Select a few topics that are beneficial to a wide group of employees and invite everyone to bring lunch while they listen. This is an informal way to train employees and also a great setting for peers to discuss what they have heard once the speaker is finished.

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8. Social media

Enterprise learning is the latest trend in training and development programs for employees. And the use of social media is paramount within this trend. There are many great social media platforms where training materials can be found like LinkedIn Learning, Quora or YouTube tutorials. Incorporating social media into your program will give your employees a wider range or topics to learn.

9. Blogs and industry publications

Although the days of subscribing to hardcover trade magazines may be gone, there are several online resources for training and development worth exploring. Making a list of top blogs to follow, both from hard industry skills as well as soft skills like keys to great corporate communication, are great for a well rounded development initiative. Also, many trade publications can now be found online and offer another valuable source of industry information in terms of upcoming trends to watch.

10. Engaging training design

Training not only has to teach, but it has to hold an employee’s interest. Otherwise, it will simply be a motion and new skills learned will soon be forgotten. So take time to look at your training design. How can you enhance your modules? For example, can you use more mult-media like video or voice overs or interactive training sessions? Or maybe you need to examine your system for training. Could the user-interface be more engaging or the navigation tightened a bit? Looking at these factors through the eyes of your employees will help overall knowledge retention. And the more employees learn on the job, the better they will perform.

11. Blended learning

Although there is a general trend of moving online as technology advances, there is a place for in-person training. So training and development programs for employees should include some form of blended learning. This may look different company to company, but every organization will have skills that are best learned in person and are learned better online. 

For example, if customer service needs to learn a new product to field customer questions, this training may work best in a classroom setting. That way, they can walk through the process themselves which will help them better explain it to customers. 

12. Learning styles

When you give someone directions, do you do so by mile markers or do you give visual clues like turn at the corner gas station? Although both sets of directions get you to the same end location, they are two different styles. Learning styles also vary person to person so it’s important to remember this when developing a training program. Four of the most popular learning styles include:

  • Aural learners

These learners retain information best through listening to the material. So learning through things like voice overs, an in-person lecture setting or audio recordings work best with this group. Plus, by offering an audio recording post lecture or a chance to rewind a lesson is also key for aural learners to retain what has been taught.

  • Visual learners

A lot like the example of using a gas station to tell someone where to turn, visual learners like actual cues to help them learn. Things like graphics and videos work well with retaining information for these individuals. Other ideas are downloadable graphs, charts or lesson recaps that these learners can visually see and memorize information from. Also important is to break up large chunks of information with pictures or images that a visual learner can picture post lesson.

  • Kinesthetic learners

Training and development programs for employees who are kinesthetic learners should include the senses. So for example, you have a new product roll out and you hold an in-person meeting and actually have employees use the new product. They can touch, smell and hear it. This helps solidify the learning process by physically interacting with the training. Or if you are training online, you can just as easily have a product or system an employee has to follow along with physically, while listening to the online tutorial. So a step by step process is helpful leaving room in the tutorial for working through each step individually. 

  • Reading learners

Another form of learners are the reading individuals. These employees would do best with information displayed in text form. So incorporating training modules with things like Powerpoint slides or blog-style tutorials work best for reading learners.

Since not all employees are going to be one type of learner solely, it’s best to create a wide range of training and development programs for employees. That way, no matter what learning style an employee has, the training material will be absorbed.

13. Training styles

Training can get monotonous and when it does, employees often tune out. A good way to keep everyone focused and retaining information is to vary training styles. For example, there is peer to peer training, gamification in training and role playing. By using different methods like these, it keeps topics fresh, employees look forward to training and information learned actually gets used in day to day operations. 

14. Coaching 

As we’ve said before, there is a push for making training more and more individualized per each employee. That’s why one of the strategic training and development initiatives for employees is coaching. Even if you don’t have the budget to hire a third-party coach, you can still use the same principles and assign a manager this responsibility. 

The goal is for the coach to walk employees through goals set by the organization as well as their personal on-the-job goals. Then, together they can create a plan for meeting these through the necessary training and development. Not only does this clearly communicate what is expected of each employee, but it puts a plan in place for adding training value for each individual. So it’s a win-win for both employees and companies.

15. Recognition and awards

Another way to improve training and development programs for employees is through recognition. This offers a motivating factor for completing training and also builds healthy competition. For example, employees could earn badges for training completed or an online board of top performers could be displayed for the company. 

Awards and recognition could also be tangible. For example, employees could earn an extra personal day or receive a gift card. Whatever the vehicle is, the end goal is to recognize employees who go the extra mile during the training process.

16. Feedback

No strategic training and development initiatives are complete without improvement. This goes both ways. Training modules need to let the learner know why they are learning what they are being presented, what they do if they have issues understanding what is being learned and where they can express to peers what they got out of the training. With this said, building in online forums and chat rooms helps elicit employee feedback during training.

On the other hand, getting feedback from employees on what can be further improved during the training process is equally as important. Creating an employee training survey and asking questions about training design, delivery, access to information and skills learned is extremely valuable to tweaking the process. Plus, including some open ended questions about how training can be improved is also valuable. You may get some great ideas for improvements you had not considered plus employees will be more vested in training they had a hand in creating.

How can you strengthen your training and development program for your employees?

We’ve given you several great options for improving your training program, but every company is different. So how can you make your development program more robust? It really comes down to surveying your employees, looking at your overall company goals and studying your training metrics. Then you can create a roadmap using a combination of these 16 initiatives. Training should always be fluid and can always be further refined. By taking the necessary steps to constantly tweak your program, you’ll strengthen each employee’s skill set and keep your company competitive.

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