Do more with less.

Ever since I’ve been in the learning and development field (and that’s a long time), I’ve heard people say when budgets are tight, the training budget is the first to get cut. In the big recession of 1974 (yes, I was there – I was a newbie then), many organizations completely eliminated their training departments. In the downturn of the early 1980s, learning and development functions that had been gradually brought back from the previous decade were again reduced to nothing or near-nothing. In the early to mid 1990s the mild economic downturn then led to cutbacks in training that were again gradually regained.

Then in 2001-2002 — something interesting happened. Learning and development budgets were cut, but they weren’t cut any more than any other area of the organization. For the first time in many or most organizations, learning and development was coming to be viewed as an essential part of the organization, and necessary to achieve strategic objectives.

As for our current economic situation, it is admittedly more severe than any of the other periods I’ve mentioned. Yet ASTD’s State of the Industry report that came out a few months ago showed sustained support for corporate learning. Yes, there have been budget cuts, and in some cases these cuts have been severe. But, rather than eliminating the learning and development function, most organizations today are focusing doing more with less. In fact, there was a marked increase in the number of learning hours delivered last year despite the decreasing budgets.
Here’s a brief recap of what some organizations (maybe yours too) are doing:

  • “Insourcing” previously outsourced learning and development provides huge savings. I talked with a training manager the other day who is getting the necessary certification so she can deliver internally what they had previously been using an external consultant to do. Now there are some very good reasons to outsource some training, not the least of which is that participants tend to listen more carefully to an “outside expert”. Nonetheless, in the short term “insourcing” may make sense, and there are some excellent resources available to keep prep time to a minimum.
  • E-learning conversion of existing instructor-led courseware or other sources of information can be expensive, but it quickly pays for itself when the cost vs the savings is evaluated. If your organization does not yet offer e-learning as an option or an alternative, start investigating it. While I don’t believe that e-learning will ever completely replace face-to-face learning, it is an attractive option when money is tight.
  • Other technology such as webcasts, podcasts, and self-service websites provide effective learning at a fraction of the cost of face-to-face learning. “Is it as effective?” you may ask. While the jury is still out, there are some indications that not only are these types of learning as good as face-to-face learning, but for some people, they are better. (Gasp!)

What are you doing to “do more with less?” Add your comments below.

Until next time…
Barbara

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