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Written by: Geordie MacPherson, CPHR

To invest in employee development, or not to invest in employee development, that is the question which many employers debate during hard economic times.  This is not the first time that someone has written about this and will assure you that it will not be the last. Truth is, during these difficult times, nothing is immune to budget reductions. When executives are looking to reduce costs, making the case to maintain or implement an employee development program has its challenges. Here are three steps that have helped me:

  • Understanding the value of investing in employee development
  • Maximizing the return on investment for employee development
  • Providing employee development solutions for a limited budget

Understanding the value of investing in employee development can be tricky. Especially, if your organization currently does not have an employee development plan in place, have not taken the opportunity to validate the results of previous initiatives or have no clear objectives on what your organization is trying to achieve through their current development plan. I am a firm believer that to assess value, you need to understand what you are trying to achieve, how to measure it and demonstrate results. Let’s face it, if you are unable to quantify the value of employee development, it can be an uphill battle trying convince executives to invest dollars into developing employees.

Let me share some key findings based on past employee engagement surveys that I have been involved with. Those who participated in an employee development program did rank much higher on the following:

  • Overall employment satisfaction
  • Have the necessary tools to complete their jobs
  • View employee development as part of their total compensation package
  • Likely to recommend future employment opportunities to friends and families

Do not take my word for this, numerous studies will support the above – these studies can be found through simple internet searches.

In addition, based on training and employee evaluations, management was able to link employment development with increased performance. Though this is a no brainer, we often forget to measure employee development against performance. Executives, whether they are transparent about this or not, are always looking for a return on investment.

One way to impress executives is by maximizing the return on investment for employee development. Introduce them to the Canada-Alberta Job Grant (CAJG), a funding program where employers and government share the cost of training for employees. The CAJG has the potential of tripling your employee development budget; i.e. for every dollar an employer is prepared to invest, the Alberta government will invest two dollars. This only applies to external training. There are criteria and limitations to this program and would encourage individuals considering this grant to review the Alberta Government’s website - . To further assist employers, some external training institutions will complete and submit a CAJG application on your behalf.

If your organization does not have a budget set aside for external training to take advantage of CAJG, which is especially true for smaller organizations, this can easily be addressed by providing employee development solutions for a limited budget. Here are just a few solutions:

  • Introduce a book club with a focus on business or thought leaders. Benefits of a book club are that it creates an opportunity to hear different perspectives on key takeaways, provides a forum that allows for an open exchange of ideas and creates discussion on how your organization can implement some of these ideas. In addition, everyone is committed to reading a book within a certain timeframe. If your organization is unable to purchase the books, you could always get books through the public library at no cost.
  • I would recommend Toastmasters International to anybody. Toastmasters provides a cost effective yet excellent program for developing individuals’ soft skills which includes communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. Toastmasters is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide – there is a great chance that there is a club nearby that is easily accessible to your employees. If not, you may entertain starting your own club if there is enough interest.

Making the case for employee development programs during tough economic times has its challenges. By illustrating the value of employee development and offering a few solutions such as the CAJG and other cost effective programs, it is rare than an executive who values their employees will dismiss what is being proposed – after all, organizations only stand to gain when they develop their employees.

Geordie MacPherson, CHRP is a long standing member of CPHR Alberta and brings over a decade of experience to the HR profession. He currently oversees the HR function at Tundra Process Solutions Ltd. and serves on several Boards and committees.