The Development of Soft Skill Training in the Workplace
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Published: Wed, 07 Feb 2018
Since the beginning of the twentieth century and especially after World War II, training programs have become widespread among organizations in the United States, involving more and more employees and also expanding in content. In the 1910s, only a few large companies such as Westinghouse, General Electric, and International Harvester had factory schools that focused on training technical skills for entry-level workers. By the 1990s, forty percent of the Fortune 500 firms have had a corporate university or learning center. In recent decades, as the U.S. companies are confronted with technological changes, domestic social problems and global economic competition, training programs in organizations have received even more attention, touted as almost a panacea for organizational problem.
The enormous expansion in the content of training programs over time has now largely been taken for granted. Now people would rarely question the necessity of training in conversational skills. However, back to the 1920s, the idea that organizations should devote resources to training employees in such skills would have been regarded as absurd. Such skills clearly were not part of the exact knowledge and methods that the employee will use on his particular job or the job just ahead of him. Nevertheless, seventy years later, eleven percent of U.S. organizations deem communications skills as the most important on their priority lists of training, and many more regard it as highly important. More than three hundred training organizations specialize in communications training (Training and Development Organizations Directory, 1994).
Previous studies on training have largely focused on the incidence of formal training and the total amount of training offered. This study, however, draws attention to the enormous expansion in the content of training with an emphasis on the rise of personal development training (or popularly known as the “soft skills” training, such as leadership, teamwork, creativity, conversational skills and time management training). Personal development training can be defined as training programs that aim at improving one’s cognitive and behavioral skills in dealing with one self and others. It is intended to develop one’s personal potential and is not immediately related to the technical aspects of one’s job tasks. Monahan, Meyer and Scott (1994) describe the spread of personal development training programs based on their survey of and interviews with more than one hundred organizations in Northern California. “Training programs became more elaborate; they incorporated, in addition to technical training for workers and human relations training for supervisors and managers, a widening array of developmental, personal growth, and self-management courses. Courses of this nature include office professionalism, time management, individual contributor programs, entrepreneur, transacting with people, and applying intelligence in the workplace, career management, and structured problem solving. Courses are also offered on health and personal well-being, including safe diets, exercise, mental health, injury prevention, holiday health, stress and nutrition.”
Training is one element many corporations consider when looking to advance people and offer promotions. Although many employees recognize the high value those in management place on training and development, some employees are still reluctant to be trained. It is not uncommon to hear excuses regarding why someone has not received training.
Some people are just comfortable in what they are doing. Some fail to see the value of training because they really believe that they already know it all. And while that might be true, the knowledge value of training and development is not the only perk.
Training and development offers more than just increased knowledge. It offers the added advantage of networking and drawing from others’ experiences. When you attend a seminar or event with others who have jobs that are much like yours, you have the added benefit of sharing from life experience. The seminar notes or the conference leader might not give you the key nugget you take back and implement in the workplace. Your best piece of advice for the day might come from the peer sitting beside you.
Another common excuse is that there is not enough money budgeted to pay for training. Who said that training always carries a heavy enrollment fee? Training can be free. You can set up meetings with peers who are in similar positions and ask how they are doing their jobs. Follow someone for a day to see how he organizes or manages his work and time. The cost to you is a day out of your normal routine, so the only drawback may be working a little harder on an assignment to catch up from a day out of the office. You usually don’t think twice about taking a day of vacation, so why should a day of training be any different?
Time is another often-heard excuse when training and development is mentioned. Have you considered that training and development might actually give you more time? Often the procedures, ideas, short cuts, and timesaving hints learned in training and development sessions equal more time in the long run. Have you heard the old saying that you have to spend money to make money? Well, in a sense, the same is true for training and development. You have to devote some time to training and development to make you more productive in the long run.
What is Training in terms of organization?
“Transferring information and knowledge to employers and equipping employers to translate that information and knowledge into practice with a view to enhancing organization effectiveness and productivity, and the quality of the management of people.” It also means that in organizational development, the related field of training and development (T & D) deals with the design and delivery of workplace learning to improve performance.
Difference between Training and Learning
There is a big difference:
- ‘Training’ implies putting skills into people, when actually we should be developing people from the inside out, beyond skills, i.e., facilitating learning.
- So focus on facilitating learning, not imposing training.
- Emotional maturity, integrity, and compassion are more important than skills and processes. If you are in any doubt, analyze the root causes of your organization’s successes and your failures – they will never be skills and processes.
- Enable and encourage the development of the person – in any way that you can.
- Give people choice – we all learn in different ways, and we all have our own strengths and potential, waiting to be fulfilled.
Talk about learning, not training. Focus on the person, from the inside out, not the outside in; and offer opportunities for people to develop as people in as many ways you can.
A Brief Critique of Previous Approaches to Employee Training
It is a classic question in the training field, first raised by human capital theorists, that why firms train their employees. Many attempts have been made to address this question, but the question of why firms provide general-skill training has not been fully understood. There have been two main theoretical approaches towards employee training, namely, the human capital approach and the technology-based approach. The human capital approach regards training as investment in human capital. Training is provided only when the benefit from productivity gains is greater than the cost of training. The technology-based approach regards training as a skill formation process. According to this approach, the expanded training in the contemporary period is driven by the rapidly changing technologies and work reorganization. These two approaches are popular in academic and policy discussions. What they have in common is that they assume an instrumental logic and technical rationality behind training decisions. Training is provided because it satisfies the functional needs of an organization. Studies with these approaches have largely overlooked the content of employee training, as if all kinds of training programs equally contribute to human capital accumulation or skill formation. Moreover, personal development training becomes a puzzle if viewed from these approaches, because it does not seem to follow from an instrumental logic or technical rationality.
The Puzzle about Personal Development Training
The puzzle about personal development training comes in the following four ways. First, it is not innately or immediately related to the technical aspects of specific job tasks. Second, prior need analysis is rarely conducted for such training, despite suggestions to do so in many training handbooks. Third, organizations and trainers seldom conduct evaluations of behavior or outcome changes brought out by such training. Evaluation, when there is one, is often about how one feels about the training or what one has learned. The evaluation questionnaire is often called a “smile sheet,” as trainees often respond happily to the questions. But the impact of the training remains uncertain. Fourth, the rapid expansion of personal development training has taken place in the absence of scientific evidence of any link between such training and improvement in organizational bottom lines.
So, why have organizations increasingly engaged in personal development training? It is because that the rise of the participatory citizenship model of organization over time has driven the expansion of personal development training in organizations. This argument is based on an institutional perspective towards organizations. It is distinct from previous approaches to training in two ways. First, it recognizes that training is not only provided to satisfy functional needs of firms, but is also shaped by the shared understanding about individuals and organizations, which is called “organizational model” in this study and is independent of the functional needs. Second, training decisions are not only affected by the internal conditions of an organization, but are also affected by the dominant ideologies and practices in the organizational field.
Importance of Developing a Role in Training
Developing a national role in training is important for an employers’ organization for several reasons.
First, it enables the organization to contribute to the development of a country’s human capital, through its influence on education policies and systems and training by public training institutions, to better serve business needs. It also enables it to influence employers in regard to the need for them to invest more in training and employee development – which employers should recognize as one key to their competitiveness in the future.
Second, it provides an important service to members, especially in industrial relations in respect of which sources of training for employers in developing countries are few. Third, it is an important source of income provided the organization can deliver relevant quality training. Fourth, it compels its own staff to improve their knowledge without which they cannot offer training to enterprises through their own staff. Fifth, the knowledge required for training increases the quality of other services provided by the organization – policy lobbying, advisory and representation services. Sixth, it contributes to better human relations at the enterprise level and therefore to better enterprise performance, by matching corporate goals and people management policies. Finally, it improves the overall image of the organization and invests it with a degree of professionalism, which can lead to increased membership and influence. Many entrepreneurs seem to view employee training and development as more optional than essential…a viewpoint that can be costly to both short-term profits and long-term progress. The primary reason training is considered optional by so many business owners is because it’s viewed more as an expense than an investment. This is completely understandable when you realize that in many companies, training and development aren’t focused on producing a targeted result for the business. As a result, business owners frequently send their people to training courses that seem right and sound good without knowing what to expect in return. But without measurable results, it’s almost impossible to view training as anything more than an expense.
Now contrast that approach to one where training’s viewed as a capital investment with thoughtful consideration as to how you’re going to obtain an acceptable rate of return on your investment. And a good place to start your “thoughtful consideration” is with a needs analysis. As it relates to training and development, needs analysis is really an outcome analysis–what do you want out of this training? Ask yourself, “What’s going to change in my business or in the behavior or performance of my employees as a result of this training that’s going to help my company?” Be forewarned: This exercise requires you to take time to think it through and focus more on your processes than your products.
As you go through this analysis, consider the strengths and weaknesses in your company and try to identify the deficiencies that, when corrected, represent a potential for upside gain in your business. Common areas for improvement in many companies is helping supervisors better manage for performance. Many people are promoted into managerial positions because they’re technically good at their jobs, but they aren’t trained as managers to help their subordinates achieve peak performance. Determining your training and development needs based on targeted results is only the beginning. The next step is to establish a learning dynamic for your company. In today’s economy, if your business isn’t learning, then you’re going to fall behind. And a business learns as its people learn. Your employees are the ones that produce, refine, protect, deliver and manage your products or services every day, year in, year out. With the rapid pace and international reach of the 21st century marketplace, continual learning is critical to your business’s continued success.
To create a learning culture in your business, begin by clearly communicating your expectation that employees should take the steps necessary to hone their skills to stay on top of their professions or fields of work. Make sure you support their efforts in this area by supplying the resources they need to accomplish this goal. Second, communicate to your employees the specific training needs and targeted results you’ve established as a result of your needs analysis.
Third, provide a sound introduction and orientation to your company’s culture, including your learning culture, to any new employees you hire. This orientation should introduce employees to your company, and provide them with proper training in the successful procedures your company’s developed and learned over time.
Every successful training and development program also includes a component that addresses your current and future leadership needs. At its core, this component must provide for the systematic identification and development of your managers in terms of the leadership style that drives your business and makes it unique and profitable. Have you spent time thoughtfully examining the style of leadership that’s most successful in your environment and that you want to promote? What steps are you taking to develop those important leadership traits in your people?
Financial considerations related to training can be perplexing, but in most cases, the true budgetary impact depends on how well you manage the first three components (needs analysis, learning and leadership). If your training is targeted to specific business results, then you’re more likely to be happy with what you spend on training. But if the training budget isn’t related to specific outcomes, then money is more likely to be spent on courses that have no positive impact on the company.
In many organizations, training budgets are solely a function of whether the company is enjoying an economic upswing or enduring a downturn. In good times, companies tend to spend money on training that’s not significant to the organization, and in bad times, the pendulum swings to the other extreme and training is eliminated altogether. In any economic environment, the training expense should be determined by the targeted business results you want, not other budget-related factors.
To help counter this tendency, sit down and assess your training and development needs once or twice a year to identify your needs and brainstorm how to achieve your desired results effectively and efficiently.
Your employees are your principle business asset. Invest in them thoughtfully and strategically, and you’ll reap rewards that pay off now and for years to come.
Beyond Training: Training and Development
Training is generally defined as “change in behavior” – yet, how many trainers and managers forget that, using the term training only as applicable to “skills training”? What about the human element? What about those very same people we want to “train”? What about their individual beliefs, backgrounds, ideas, needs and aspirations?
In order to achieve long-term results through training, we must broaden our vision to include people development as part of our strategic planning. Although training covers a broad range of subjects under the three main categories (skills, attitude, knowledge), using the term “training” without linking it to “development” narrows our concept of the training function and leads us to failure.
When we limit our thinking, we fall into the trap of:
- Classifying people into lots and categories
- Thinking of “trainees” as robots expected to perform a job function
- Dismissing the individual characteristics of people and the roles they play
- Focusing only on “what needs to be done” without adequately preparing the trainees involved to accept and internalize what is being taught.
We are dealing with human thoughts, feelings and reactions which must be given equal attention than to the skill itself. We thus create a double-focus: people development and skills training. These two simultaneous objectives will give us the right balance and guide our actions to reach our goal.
To clarify our training and development objectives, and identify our criteria for success, we must ask ourselves a few questions:
- Do we expect an automatic, faultless job performance?
- Does attitude count?
- Does goodwill count?
- Do loyalty and dedication count?
- Does goal-sharing count?
- Does motivation count?
- Do general knowledge and know-how count?
- Do people-skills count?
- Does an inquisitive mind count?
- Does initiative count?
- Does a learning attitude count?
- Does a sense of responsibility count?
- Do team efforts count?
- Do good work relations count?
- Does creative input count?
- Do we want employees to feel proud of their role and contribution?
How can we expect such qualities and behavior if we consider and treat our personnel as “skills performers”? However, we could achieve the desired results if we address the personal development needs of the employees involved.
When we plan for both “training” and “development”, we achieve a proper balance between the needs of the company and those of the trainees. The synergy created takes us to new levels, to a continuing trend of company growth.
Our consideration of the people involved results in work motivation, goal-sharing, and a sense of partnership. Not only do the employee-trainees perform at the desired levels, but they offer to the company and its customers their hidden individual gifts and talents, and this reflects itself in the quality of service. Customers feel and recognize efficient performance, motivation and team-work. They become loyal customers.
We can learn from the case of a small restaurant operator who had become desperate at the negligent attitude of his servers, resulting in customer complaints. He decided to seek professional expertise to help him replace his employees with “motivated, trained” people fresh out of a waiter’s training school.
Following some probing questions it came to light that, besides hourly pay, he did not offer much to attract and retain loyal and dedicated employees. Through professional consultation, he came to realize that even if he paid higher wages to new “trained” employees, the problem would persist because employees want more than wages from their work place. They want:
- Organization and professional management
- Information regarding the business and its customers
- Recognition for their role in the company’s success
- Acknowledgement of their individual capacities and contributions
- Positive discipline / fairness
- A say in the way the business is run.
The restaurant operator realized that until then he had treated his employees as “plate carriers” and this is exactly how they had behaved and performed. He was ready to change his mode of operation: he diverted his focus to the needs of his employees, re-structured his organisation, planned new operational strategies, a human resources strategy, training and development guidelines, disciplinary rules and regulations.
He communicated and shared these in a meeting with his employees and handed out the employee handbook prepared for that purpose. He also reminded them of their responsibilities towards the business, the customers, and themselves (taking charge of their own training, development, and work performance). They were more than pleased when he asked them to express their opinions, make comments and suggestions.
He was surprised at the immediate transformation that took place. He began receiving excellent reviews from his customers, the employees worked as a team, their motivation sky-rocketed and he never had to replace them! All this was accomplished by extending the previous concept of training to that of training and people development.
Training and Development represents a complete whole that triggers the mind, emotions and employees’ best work performance. It is not only business managers and owners who must do this shift in thinking, but Human Resources Directors and Training Managers (whose title should be “Training and Development” Managers). By their actions, they should offer a personal example, coaching and guiding all the people in an organisation to think “beyond training” and invest efforts in people:
- Professional development
- Personal development.
Contrary to what some manager’s think, people do not quit a place of work as soon as they have grown personally and professionally through training and development programs – at least they do not do so for a long while. They become loyal to their employer and help him/her grows business-wise, which offers them more opportunities. They chart their own course for career advancement within the broader framework of organizational growth.
Do we not call employees our “human resources asset”? Whatever their positions, each expect to be treated as such; when they are, they give more than their physical presence at work.
Training & Evaluation
Improving business performance is a journey, not a destination. Business performance rises and falls with the ebb and flow of human performances. HR professionals lead the search for ways to enhance the effectiveness of employees in their jobs today and prepare them for tomorrow. Over the years, training programmes have grown into corporate with these goals in mind. Training programmes should enhance performance and enrich the contributions of the workforce. The ultimate goal of training is to develop appropriate talent in the workforce internally.
In India, training as an activity has been going on as a distinct field with its own roles, structures and budgets, but it is still young. This field is however; expanding fast but controversy seems to envelop any attempts to find benefits commensurate with the escalating costs of training.
Training has made significant contributions to development of all kinds. Training is essential; doubts arise over its contribution in practice. Complaints are growing over its ineffectiveness and waste. The training apparatus and costs have multiplied but not its benefits. Dissatisfaction persists and is growing at the working level where the benefits of training should show up most clearly. This disillusionment shows in many ways – reluctance to send the most promising people for training, inadequate use of personnel after training etc. With disillusionment mounting in the midst of expansion, training has entered a dangerous phase in its development.
Training is neither a panacea for all ills nor is it a waste of time. What is required is an insight into what training can or cannot do and skill in designing and carrying out training effectively and economically.
The searchlight of inquiry may make the task and challenges stand out too starkly, too simply. Using experience with training in India and other rapidly developing countries has this advantage at similar risk. The contribution that training can make to development is needed acutely and obviously. At the same time, the limited resources available in these countries make this contribution hard to come by. These lines are sharply drawn; on the one hand, no promise can be ignored; on the other, no waste is permissible.
Much of the training provided today proceeds as if knowledge and action were directly related. This assumption is itself a striking illustration of the wide gulf that separates the two. On a continuum with personal maturation and growth at one end and improvement in performance of predetermined tasks at the other, education lies near the former, and training near the later. Focusing training on skill in action makes the task wide and complex. Training embraces an understanding of the complex processes by which various factors that make up a situation interact.
For every training strategy, no matter which, the proper focus right from the very outset is on one or more people – on-the-job-in-the-organization – this whole amalgam. Wherever the focus moves during the training programme, the starting point becomes the focus again at the end. The difference lies in what people have learned that they now apply. That difference, in terms of more effective behavior is the measure of the efficacy of training.
The training process is made up of three phases:
Phase 1: Pre-training. This may also be called the preparation phase. The process starts with an understanding of the situation requiring more effective behavior. An organization’s concerns before training lie mainly in four areas: Clarifying the precise objectives of training and the use the organization expects to make of the participants after training; selection of suitable participants; building favorable expectations and motivation in the participants prior to the training; and planning for any changes that improved task performance will require in addition to training.
Phase 2: Training. During the course of the training, participants focus their attention on the new impressions that seem useful, stimulating and engaging. There is no guarantee that the participants will in fact learn what they have chosen. But the main purpose remains: participants explore in a training situation what interests them, and a training institution’s basic task is to provide the necessary opportunities.
Having explored, participants try out some new behavior. If they find the new behavior useful, they try it again, check it for effectiveness and satisfaction, try it repeatedly and improve it. Finally, they incorporate this new facet into their habitual behavior in the training situation. If they do not find it useful, they discard it, try some variant, or discontinue learning in this direction. The intricate process of selection and testing is continuous and more or less conscious. It is important that work organizations meanwhile prepare the conditions for improved performance by their participants upon their return.
Phase 3: Post-training. This may be called the “follow up” phase. When, training per se concludes, the situation changes. When the participants return back to work from the training, a process of adjustment begins for everyone involved. The newly learned skills undergo modification to fit the work situation. Participants may find their organizations offering encouragement to use the training and also support for continuing contact with the training institution. On the other hand, they may step into a quagmire of negativity.
More effective behavior of people on the job in the organization is the primary objective of the training process as a whole. In the simplest training process, improvement is a dependent variable, and participants and organizations independent variables.
The training process has the following major objectives:
Improvement in Performance
Training will be an important aid to managers for developing themselves as well as their subordinates. It is not a substitute for development on the job, which comes from doing, experiencing, observing, giving and receiving feedback and coaching. Research has shown that 80% of a person’s development takes place on the job. However, training can contribute the vital 20% that makes the difference. Training can bring about an improvement in a person’s:
- Thereby raising his potential to perform better on the job.
Training is also directed towards developing people for higher levels of responsibility thereby reducing the need for recruiting people from outside. This would have the effect of improving the morale of the existing employees.
In company training provides a means for bringing about organizational development. It can be used for strengthening values, building teams, improving inter-group relations and quality of work life. The ultimate objective of training in the long run is to improve the company’s performance through people performing better.
Benefits of Training Evaluation
Evaluation has three main purposes:
Feedback to help trainers understand the extent to which objectives are being met and the effectiveness of particular learning activities – as an aid to continuous improvement
Control to make sure training policy and practice are aligned with organizational goals and delivering cost-effective solutions to organizational issues
Intervention to raise awareness of key issues such as pre-course and post-course briefing and the selection of delegates Evaluation is itself a learning process. Training which has been planned and delivered is reflected on. Views on how to do it better are formulated and tested .The outcome may be to:
- Abandon the training
- Redesign the training – new sequence, new methods, new content, new trainer
- Redesign the preparation/pre-work – new briefing material, new pre-course work
- Rethink the timing of the training – earlier or later in people’s career, earlier or later in the training programme, earlier or later in the company calendar
- Leave well alone
The following are the clear benefits of evaluation:
- Improved quality of training activities
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