Employee Education Supporting Small Business Growth
This is a guest post from Jori Hamilton (see bio at the end of the post). Thanks for the interesting ideas Jori…!
Starting a small business is an ambitious endeavor. You likely have goals in mind, and you may have set out plans for your company’s ongoing growth as a key part of your business plan. Any smart entrepreneur knows, though, that a primary indicator of your ability to achieve your goals is the quality of the staff that you bring on board.
It’s important to remember that simply seeking out ostensibly the most qualified candidates for the roles and hiring them is not enough. To empower your staff to have a continuously beneficial impact on the business, you need to put time and effort into talent development. This should include a focus on providing education to employees so that they always have the knowledge and skills that allow them to not just function in their roles but innovate and thrive.
This can understandably be a daunting prospect for some entrepreneurs who don’t necessarily know how to approach employee education. That’s okay; part of the key to being a successful entrepreneur is just hitting the ground running and figuring things out as you go. But given how vital employee education can be to your success, it’s certainly worth taking some time to understand its value and how you can make it work.
Understanding the Benefits
As with any aspect of your company, when the prospect of investing your limited funds in your employees’ education arises, it requires thorough review. This helps establish the positive impacts it could have on your operations.
Some of the potential benefits include:
- Enhanced Skillsets
Probably the most obvious benefit is the fact that you will be directly investing in learning that provides skills that boost your company. Aside from vocational training, there is also the potential to invest in formal education that is appropriate for the direction you want the business to grow in. If you are looking to expand internationally, strengthen your finance department, or enhance your long-term marketing prospects, it can be wise to support workers through a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program. This not only helps to imbue your business with employees who are better suited to the ambitions of the business, it can also give those who feel their careers might have plateaued or needed a change in direction positive focus for their energies.
One of the reasons that small entrepreneurs hold back on investing in employee education is the potential for turnover. Or, worse, that they’ll take the skills you’ve given them and use them elsewhere. However, that ignores the tendency for talent development to actually have a positive effect upon retention. When you provide continuous education and resources, workers see that you are willing to invest in them and to help them to grow. This behavior breeds loyalty and boosts morale. Indeed, a recent study by LinkedIn found that 94% of workers polled stated they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career. As such, education helps to keep employees engaged, and saves the company money through reduced turnover.
At a time in history where information is not just available but shareable via the internet, you must have a stellar reputation. Investing in employee education sends a message that you are providing skills that give your customers the best level of service. It also indicates to the industry that you’re creating positive competition and pushing boundaries. Gaining a reputation for talent development is likely to attract better quality employment candidates to your business.
Let’s face it, particularly if you’re sponsoring employees through formal education, it is generally going to represent a significant investment. Not all small businesses have the funds available to give their company and their employees the level of learning they would like. That’s not to say it’s impossible.
When addressing employee education resources, you can consider:
- Online Courses
Businesses are frequently leveraging technology to improve their businesses, and it is no different for education. For the most part, even when there is a degree at the end of it, online learning is generally going to be lower in cost than an in-person institution. The certifications gained during these programs are also increasingly becoming recognized across industries.
In some cases, the course offered by institutions — whether it’s a university like Stanford or an educational business like Udemy — the course itself will be free to engage in, with costs only becoming a factor for examinations or providing a certificate. Spend some time researching what online courses are relevant to your needs and your employees’ interests.
- Grants and Loans
If there is no way around engaging in expensive educational courses or tools for your employees, it’s worth researching the potential for obtaining sources of funding assistance. Your first consideration should be looking into what workforce development grants are available in your area. These are provided on both state and federal bases and often geared toward raising skills in certain industries or specific communities.
It may be the case that you can take out a loan with an institution to fund a course or agreeing to partially fund a course with the employee contributing part. If your workers have concerns about their ability to obtain a loan due to bad credit, help them to understand their options. Federal student loans are usually the most accessible to those with low scores, or you may be able to act as a cosigner. Even helping to educate them on steps they can take to repair their credit as a step toward their formal development can help to demonstrate your support for them.
To ensure that employee education has the opportunity to have an impact on your business, your focus can’t be entirely on providing the training itself. Rather, it’s important to provide support that allows employees’ development to be as successful as possible.
As such, you need to consider:
- Learning Environment
If you are providing your employees with access to courses, particularly e-learning programs, it is just as important to make sure that your workers have the right space to learn in, in-office or at home. Talk to them about creating a designated study area where they won’t be disturbed, and whether they have sufficient internet access to take online lectures. Discuss how they intend to set boundaries and make time for breaks and self-care. It may even be wise to contribute toward costs of additional equipment or access to a private study area. While this might represent an up-front expense, it may well be cheaper than the cost of retaking the course because your workers aren’t studying in appropriate areas.
- Paid Time Off
Education takes time, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to assume that your workers undertake their training in their free time. Aside from anything else, that’s just a recipe for burnout. You can support employees by providing paid time off to undertake modules of their courses and attend seminars. Any business owner knows too how important preparation is to success, so ensure that they also get days off to study before key examinations.
When you engage in assisting education for employees, it can be instrumental in ensuring your business can grow safely and successfully. It’s not always a low-cost endeavor, but there are options available that can both suit your budget and help make certain you see a return on your investment. Above all else, seek to support your employees through their development, and build a relationship that will be mutually beneficial for years to come.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity, marketing strategies, and HR solutions. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach