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Why are employers cutting back on training when they should be investing in learning?

'My training budget is under pressure - or has been slashed or frozen completely. It’s not fair. Training is an easy targe'”: these are the cries we hear far too often from HRs and training providers. And they do have a point.

It concerns me that so many organisations are making cutbacks in training and development at the very time when they should be putting more energy and resources into motivating and engaging their key people, and making them feel wanted, valued and appreciated.

What is it about staff development that leads organisations to think that it is an optional extra? Do they really believe training is so unimportant? That it takes place just to stop the natives from becoming restless?

Haven't they heard that organisations who train and develop their staff in difficult times tend to be the ones who come out of those times stronger and fitter?

Consequently, they are frequently the ones who do better when the good times come. One has to question the underlying belief that you can stop training 'at a stroke' without compromising the well-being of your organisation...

I believe that training - good training - is a vital differentiator for organisations that are striving to prevail in this difficult climate. Consider the theory of American psychologist Frederick Herzberg who, around 50 years ago, first wrote about motivation factors at work.

His central theory is, I believe, just as relevant to our understanding of employer-employee relationships in today's work culture. The theory explains that there are certain factors in the workplace that will engage and cause job satisfaction; and a completely separate set of factors that will de-motivate and cause dissatisfaction. Herzberg made a clear distinction between 'hygiene' or maintenance factors - such as salary, company car, work conditions and personal life - that can cause dissatisfaction if missing but do not necessarily motivate employees if increased, and true motivation factors - such as achievement, recognition and advancement.

Surely in the current tough economic climate, managers should be concentrating less on what they can't do (such as implementing pay increases), and instead consider those more fundamental benefits that they can offer that will act as powerful motivators to engage employees?

For example, employees who are offered opportunities for job growth and development and for acquiring career-enhancing skills, through training and development are likely to become more engaged and motivated. This in turn brings about business benefits for the employer - increased loyalty, job retention, improved production, profitability and customer satisfaction.

Of course, providing training and development for your employees could be a complete waste of time if managers themselves lack the people skills and understanding to fully engage the hearts and minds of their workforce. People respond more readily to leadership rather than control. So managers may also need training in how to engage with, and bring out the best in, their people.

According to a White Paper on employee engagement from the Training Organisation, a primary issue for employees is the relationship with their immediate manager. This accounts for some 80% of employee decisions to engage or disengage, to go the extra mile, or do the bare minimum.

Managers' attitudes and behaviours are the key influencers of engagement. Furthermore, organisations and their managers need to understand the correlation between engagement and organisational performance, and undertake a review of how employees are managed and how they operate.

A disengaged workforce will bring about a negativity which could lead to financial loss, reduced productivity and resistance to change. On the other hand, the bonuses of having an engaged workforce - whether through specific drivers such as training and development, or simply through improved communication - can be enormous. An engaged workforce will help position your organisation against your competitors, putting it on a more secure footing, giving you a significant advantage in the current less-than-secure marketplace.

John Edmonds, head of training and innovation at Pearcemayfield