Training or Development? There Is A Big Difference

The use of e-learning as a training tool sometimes is seen as the easy way out. The best results, however, combine e-learning with a development approach focused on long-term mentoring and measurable goals.


Many companies think sending an employee to a public training course or mandating e-learning will help the individual learn new skills, broaden their horizons and then apply those new skills to the job. While many employees may learn new skillstheir work environment does not always enable them to effectively use the skill set. With a training course alone, there is little to no support within the business to encourage the application of something new. 

Change, for most companies, is difficult at all levels, and time constraints force people to use time-tested habits like sending employees to training courses. With a standalone training course, there is no accountability placed on the individual and little measurement between the old skill and newly acquired skill set. 

The reality is that we are experiencing a real skill crisis in procurement and supply chain. Baby Boomers are dropping out of the workforce in large numbers with no one skilled enough to replace them. While companies look to recruit new talent, they are largely unsuccessful, leaving procurement and many supply chain positions unfilled for a year or more. There simply is not enough talent to fill the amount of open positions in the marketplace. For every three candidates found, eight jobs go unfilled. 

Companies are now realizing there is a deep need to grow and develop the talent they have internally, as they are not likely to find recruits ready to meet the challenges of a changing and dynamic supply chain. Whether to train or develop staff is the key question of this discussion. Many companies waste countless dollars and enormous man-hours on training programs, which are likely to deliver a low return on the investment and little value to the business. 

To further complicate this issue, many companies have low expectations for the “trained employees” and virtually no follow- up programs to embed the learning. The impact of the training will be realized between a few days and a few months after the training. Some companies are half committed to developing their procurement team. One example of this I've witnessed is an HR director responsible for professional development who allowed his stakeholders to take an easy path by purchasing a group of e-learning modules, which they used to report to the business that the procurement department was getting the needed training. The HR director admitted that his motivation was to cut travel costs, minimize the investment and meet company objectives regardless of the outcome. 

My experience with e-learning is that students wait until the last minute and then take the modules because of time constraints. As they come close to the expiration of the license or their annual performance review, they binge on the modules, often multi-tasking at the same time. The result is minimum absorption of the learning points. This is not to say that e-learning doesn’t have a place in the development process; it is a great prerequisite to get everyone to the same level at the start of the program or review of learning. E-learning requires self-discipline and commitment to work, but what I have found with most companies is that e-learning alone will not get the desired results. 

Attending a one-time public training course can expose a participant to new tools, techniques or processes. However, when employees return from training with new ideas and are highly motivated to apply learning, they are faced with constraining processes, risk averse management, business culture, paradigms and tradition. Over time, those blocking factors inhibit employees, and motivation is lost.

The development approach is targeted on individual and team needs. It provides long-term mentoring, coaching and measurement of progress. Detailed expectations and deliverables are understood in development programs. While development programs have a high cost, they also have a high return and deliver enhanced organizational capability.

Figure 2 below details the sustainability of training and development programs.

Figure 2 Sustainability

 A one-time training course or group of e-learning modules are effective if targeting one skill set, but they fall short in developing the competency of the team. A development program should focus on current and future business needs, alignment to the strategic sourcing process and address company and industry needs.

The chart below is an example of the development process.

Gap Analysis Chart

There are several competency assessment tools in the marketplace that will assist your team with the gap analysis, or you can development your own based on the business need and strategic sourcing process used by your company. I have also used and built face-to-face assessment centers, which use an interview approach, test collaboration skills, develop case studies and see the individuals presentation and influencing capabilities. While the assessment center is stressful on individuals, it is very effective at measuring the capabilities and gaps of the high potential performers. Once you define the business and industry needs, finding the method to determine the gaps is the solution to building a program. As you recruit new people to the organization, you can use the assessment to assure the skill set is compatible with your team and development program. 

Finally, it is essential that the training delivery method be considered. The best result to close individual and team gaps is a blended learning approach, with a combination of e-learning, web-based real-time learning, classroom learning, and real-time coaching. If this program requires the completion of a project using the tools of the training, it will show a return on investment for the training and embed the learning. Not many companies tie the deliverables to the course. When they do, the return is high. In one company the return was $40 for every $1 invested in development. 

If you are looking to grow talent, consider the development approach. The learning can be geared to accommodate the industry, company culture, and align to the business strategy. It is also important to remember that it will be necessary to protect your investment. Reward people as their skills grow, because your company employees can be an attractive target to industry competitors.