Common Challenges with Employee Training

December 4, 2023
Common Challenges with Employee Training

As an organization grows and develops employee training, employee training will likely evolve alongside. This can include more common trends like leveraging learning management systems, but what if you run into questions or issues along the way, such as identifying and rectifying knowledge gaps? We’ve compiled our expertise into an informative guide to help you supplement your employee training.

5 Common Challenges of Employee Training and How to Get Around Them

Is your company working toward a culture of learning to ensure that your employees are fully trained, up to date on safety and compliance mandates, and ready for their next professional challenges or promotions?

Creating employee development programs is a smart move for HR professionals concerned with organizational growth, performance, and employee retention. They help employees improve hard and soft skills, settle into new job roles, wrangle time management, and more. New employees rely on them for onboarding and orientation purposes, and those who seek career advancement value the upskilling.

With a well-done learning and development program, you’re bound to notice increased employee productivity, lower overhead costs, and stronger company culture. But through it all, you’re also likely to encounter the typical challenges of employee training.

Here’s a look at some of the most common training challenges faced by HR professionals and training managers in pursuit of a healthy learning culture within the workplace.

Lack of engagement

For many HR teams and managers, lack of employee engagement is the biggest training challenge. This occurs when employees don’t view the training as valuable or beneficial. Some may even see it as a waste of time, a derailment from the numerous unfinished projects that need attention.

Solution

It’s up to a training manager to effectively communicate the mutual benefits of the training. Often when employees understand how it will help them as well as the company, they become more interested and invested.

For example, the company may notice a problem with communication. The training manager needs to properly explain the issue and how the forthcoming training program will help improve everyone’s written, spoken, and nonverbal communication skills. The trainer may simply say that upon reviewing emails and communications between departments, they’ve noticed a lack of clarity leading to misunderstandings. A communication course can address clarification so that messages are understandable and everyone has what information they need to complete their tasks. Knowing this will bring relief, not angst, to employees who’ve been on the receiving end of miscommunication.

Lackluster engagement can also occur when the training is boring. If you’ve obtained employee feedback from previous training courses, review it objectively. Take note of anything boring or otherwise ineffective, and update new and repeat courses and training methods as needed. Consider new and interactive features, like gamification or artificial intelligence (AI), along with traditional methods. As applicable, take the extra time to ensure that the right employees are receiving the correct training. For those to whom the information is irrelevant, even the best training programs will be boring.

Multigenerational workforce

These days, multigenerational workforces are the norm, not the exception. The advantages of this typically far outweigh the challenges, but considerations do arise. For instance, employees of one generation may be more tentative toward training software and apps. They may also prefer in-person learning or videos over AI-driven training and gamification. Those of a younger generation may prefer gamification and be proficient in the use of various training-delivery applications. They may also have hectic home lives that prevent them from spending hours on professional learning and coursework.

Solution

Make your training courses available in multiple formats. For instance: Offering a course on communication in the workplace? Consider an in-person version for those who prefer an interactive classroom setting. You can record the class for a virtual version whereby others can view it on-demand. Finally, you can create a micro-learning opportunity by breaking the class down into bite-sized lessons. Use a combination of audio, video, images, and text as appropriate. By offering multiple formats, you help ensure that a given training session effectively reaches all who need it.

Dispersed workforce

Keeping employees engaged with corporate training initiatives can be extra challenging within a dispersed workforce. This is especially true for international companies and those with a combination of on-site and remote employees and contractors. Differing time zones, schedules, and even languages can present barriers to traditional training practices. But as business evolves globally, so does innovative methodology.

Solution

To remain on track with organizational development, offer your training courses online via computer-based learning-management systems, instructional videos, and webinars. Live video-conference calls work well for real-time Q&A and broader interactivity, as long as time-zone differences don’t interfere with sleep schedules. In some instances, you may consider hiring external trainers to train staff at your local satellite offices.

Lack of time

If you expect employees to engage in or complete training during their off time, you may be disappointed. Some of them may have professional and personal obligations or other time constraints that hinder their ability to participate in long training sessions.

Solution

Ensuring that everyone can access the required training may be as simple as creating micro-courses. Micro-learning courses are short videos and training sessions that can be accomplished in 2 to 5 minutes. They can be presented in a variety of ways, including via mobile apps that can easily be viewed on a phone or tablet. This allows employees with limited time to complete courses in what spare moments they find amid a hectic schedule.

Inability to track and measure training effectiveness

Ineffective training and development initiatives waste valuable resources for all involved. To ensure that your employee training courses are effective, you’ll want to track and measure certain metrics.

Solution

First you’ll need to determine what metrics are important. They should be relevant to the organization’s and employees’ goals alike. Then you can custom-build them into your own training software or use the metrics offered by your chosen third-party platform.

For insights, solicit and review employee feedback for past and newly completed courses. Follow up with separate employee surveys 3 to 6 months after they take the course to gauge whether the material has helped them in their job.

By keeping these challenges in mind and tracking metrics, you’ll be proactive in determining the success of your training materials and courses. If you notice that the courses aren’t as successful as you’d like, you’ll know how to update them accordingly.

Identifying and Filling Knowledge and Training Gaps

Training and upskilling benefit both your employees and your business. Discover how to find and fix training gaps in your organization.

Here's what you need to know:

  • Many organizations are having difficulty finding qualified talent, so training and upskilling benefit both employees and the organization
  • Analyzing where you’re having problems is the 1st step: finding the cause is the next
  • Analyze the practices you have in place to see where employees may need training or additional tools, and look for areas where problems occur
  • Take steps to fill knowledge gaps by job category
  • Assess each employee to determine what to train on
  • Once you assess what training is necessary, analyze whether it’s being delivered effectively

If your company is like hundreds of thousands across the country and the globe, you’re feeling the weight of skills and talent gaps. Unemployment levels are at near-record lows: with 100 million Americans part of today’s ‘inactive labor force.’

For business, this means difficulty finding applicants: even more difficulty finding qualified applicants.

The solution for many companies is training. The challenge is identifying where training is needed, and how to deliver it effectively.

A recent survey by Deloitte found 71% of CEOs anticipate the largest disrupter for business in 2022 will be labor and skill shortages. All new hires need training — from orientation to the businesses’ practices and protocols to upskilling to meet minimum requirements.

All businesses benefit from highly skilled employees. They run more efficiently and productively, and they innovate.

For applicants and staff members, training attracts and retains. When companies invest in upskilling, talent sees their worth and value.

The skills gap is a cause of anxiety for workers. Almost half surveyed by Degreed believe their current skills will be irrelevant in 2 years. Training meets the needs of business and staffers.

How to find training gaps in your organization

In every organization, there are training gaps. Production slows to a crawl or stops altogether in some areas. In other areas, there are consistent problems and concerns.

If it’s a supply chain issue, little can be done. But if it’s a skills gap, it may be reversible. Analyzing where you’re having problems is the 1st step: finding the cause is the next.

Training gaps may show up in errors, returns, or customer dissatisfaction. You may see performance issues where employees simply aren’t meeting goals or working effectively.

They may present as turnover: frustrated employees may simply move on. It’s important to assess where your organization is meeting goals and projections to determine where training will be the most impactful and effective.

Start with systems to determine where training may be needed

Analyze the practices you have in place to see where employees may need training or additional tools. Look for areas where problems occur.

Do employees have the tools they need to do the work correctly? In some cases, there may be equipment that needs updating.

Working with obsolete software or unreliable machinery may be to blame. Assess what upgrades will cost versus the cost of downtime. An investment today could translate to significant savings in the future.

If the problem isn’t due to equipment, analyze whether employees are using it correctly (and safely). If they’re not, training or retraining may be warranted.

Look for other root causes of problems. If you’re consistently processing returns, for example, evaluate whether it’s a customer or fulfillment issue. Are clients returning items that are substandard or not as described? You may need a vendor upgrade or more accurate website.

Are people returning products that aren’t what they ordered? Analyze where, in fulfillment, workers are making mistakes and why. If hardware is the issue, it’s an easy fix. If staff members are the cause, more intensive training can resolve the problem.

Steps to take to fill knowledge gaps by job category

Always start by identifying company goals. What are you looking to improve? Are you hoping to maintain current (or pre-pandemic) productivity levels, or are looking to upgrade?

Training should be based 1st on company need. Employees may gravitate toward soft skills, but they’ll need to master necessary tasks first.

Break down needed skills by job or job category. It may seem difficult, but consider the best talent you have in each area.

Assess the skills they bring to the job to determine what is necessary. Fluency using the tools needed is only the beginning and should be the easiest training gap to fix.

Next, look for skills that go past technical capability. Talent may work with software intuitively, but are challenged to interact effectively with colleagues, or the reverse might be true.

Once you’ve quantified the hard and soft skills necessary to do the job, find and fill training gaps for individuals and teams.

Assess each employee to determine what to train on

Once you’ve listed what ‘haves’ are needed for the job, compare them to the ‘haves’ each employee brings to the table. A position may need word processing and spreadsheet fluency as hard skills: strong problem-solving and communication skills as soft. Assess each employee to determine what to train.

For some positions, you may need to start with the hard skills — using tools or equipment, for example. For others, soft skills are a priority — dealing with difficult customers, for example. As they master these priority skills, add on additional training to round out their skill set.

Group training may be the best option if gaps are seen among teams. For some staff members, direct training or mentoring may be the right choice. Online classes are also an option for training that can’t be done in-house.

For soft skills particularly, remote or gamified training may be the best route. Tailor the training, as much as possible, to the task and learner to assure the best outcome.

Employees are eager to train, reskill, and upskill

Extensive data suggests employees are eager to reskill and upskill. A survey from PwC Global found 77% of staffers are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain.

Employees want training, but they want it to be effective. Examine training methods and delivery to assure time isn’t being wasted and employees aren’t becoming frustrated.

If training doesn’t net results, this is an avenue to explore. Effective training relies on knowledgeable trainers who are patient and understand not everyone learns at the same pace.

Unfortunately, not everyone has that skill set. If this is the case at your company, consider looking into how to improve your management training.

If training (or retraining) isn’t effective, look for the cause. Training must be easy to understand; broken down into parts that build on past knowledge; and flexible.

Some staffers will absorb knowledge quickly, mastering steps with ease. For these workers, you’ll need to adapt to their pace to keep them from getting frustrate and bored.

Others are learners that are more methodical: they want to try it several times, or analyze all the options, before they consider themselves fluent. Slow down training to meet their learning style.

A new hire who understands the basics of Excel, for example, doesn’t need to start at square one. If the task is they master complex formulas, start at the middle, rather than the beginning.

Successful training may include training the trainers: showing them that adapting to the needs and style of the learner doesn’t slow down the process (or speed it up), it makes it more personalized and effective.

Fill the training gaps you have today and avoid them for the future

Filling the training gaps you have today is necessary: avoiding them for the future is critical. In some cases, uncovering training gaps revealed larger issues: systems, tools or procedures that made it more difficult to perform. In other cases, skills needed to be taught or upgraded to make the process work seamlessly.

Keep an eye on where the most common skills gaps occurred for current employees and have a plan to target training in these areas for future staff members. You may need to concentrate more heavily on procedures and or delivery.

Once technical skills are mastered, consider automatically requiring training for power skills (soft skills). Continuous learning is key to maintain current levels. To grow, it may you may need to go further.

You won’t be alone. A survey from Citrix 82% of workers and 62% HR Directors believe they’ll need to upskill or reskill at least once a year to maintain a competitive advantage.

Many businesses are too busy trying to train employees to analyze what training is effective and needed. You may be upskilling in an area that’s nice to have, but not a direct link to performance or productivity.

Once you assess what’s necessary, analyze whether it’s being delivered effectively. Create a logical progression for an upskilling program to make sure your company and your employees are getting the most bang for your training buck.

Training Employees to Ask Less Questions through Self-Service

HR is essentially a service department: the job is talent acquisition, retention, and management — there to help with the staff’s professional endeavors. The department with “human” in their title is typically the go-to “resource” to answer employee questions, but they can often be repetitive, basic knowledge questions that employees should either know, or know how to access independently.

The time spent on repetitive questions may be nominal in your organization, or it may be a significant drain for HR. If you’re answering the occasional query (and typically from newer staff members) your employees likely have a good grasp on information and how to access it. If your email is loaded and your phone is ringing off the hook routinely, you might want to examine what’s being asked, why it’s being asked, and how to fix the situation.

Need-to-know basics

There may be a good reason employees are constantly calling HR: they may not have resources available to answer questions, from basic to complex. Do you have materials available to them, in print or online, that offer a “look here first before you call” option?

A complete employee handbook that’s easy to use and easy to access is important in every company. Staff members need these resources to:

  • Get their work done
  • Make sure they’re following the rules, and
  • Avail themselves of the benefits and perks your company works hard to offer

If they don’t know the information is there, how can they use it? If they don’t know the policy, how can they abide by it? Too often overlooked, the employee handbook is a critical tool for business and for employees. If you don’t have one, prioritize putting one together and distributing it to staffers stat.

Why ask me?

Consider the questions you’re being asked routinely and even occasionally. Are all these questions something that should be (or are) in employee handbooks? Do employees have access to their handbook online, or were they issued one for themselves and one for their team or department? If handbooks aren’t available, creating, distributing, and communicating they are a resource to answer questions quickly can reduce your time on the phone and answering emails. If your employee handbooks don’t contain the answers to common questions, it needs an update and redistribution.

Some organizations issue employee handbooks to new hires when they start on the job, which is a great way to help transition. Some organizations forget existing staff may need access to the same information, particularly if the handbook is updated. Whenever there’s an update to the handbook or company policy, make sure to communicate and disseminate the information to all staffers, new and long term.

EFAQs

Tackling the problem today is easy with a small investment in time. Spend a week or two compiling frequently asked questions and compile a company FAQ page or sheet. Post the page on your internal site and keep a copy of the FAQs to email employees when they have a question.

Email

If they email a question that’s on the FAQ sheet/page, respond with a link to the page or a copy of the FAQs and a note that the answer to their question (and others!) is available here. Yes, it takes longer to type that in than it would to respond “Thursdays,” but the investment in retraining them to look it up first is worthwhile in the long run. You may even be able to create an auto response (or a standard signature response) that explains the answer is there.

Calling

If they call with questions, before responding ask if they looked up the answer in their employee handbook or on the FAQ page. If they say yes, (and you know the answer is there) ask them to bring up their copy on their computer (or pull out the print copy) and guide them through finding the answer together. Again, it’s an investment in your time today that will pay off long term.

When employees ask a question, your first response should be, “Did you try to look it up, and if so, where?” If they tell you they looked in the handbook, pull out your copy and ask them to pull out theirs. Talk them through using the index (if there is one) or how to find the page with their answer. Depending on the staff member, they may thank you for helping them use the guide, or be upset you made them help themselves — either way, they may call less frequently in the future.

Getting the word out

Whether the information is in your handbook or it needs updating, communication is a key next step in creating independent employees who know how to look it up first. While it’s fast to simply respond to questions, retraining employees to find the answer on their own is the long-term goal.

Routinely email employees prompting the employee handbook or FAQ page is a resource that can help them at work. Communicate updates to the handbook or employee FAQ pages whenever they occur. Let people know a new version is out there with a quick note of what’s changing or being added. The occasional “hey did you know?” email to staff members reminding them all their questions are answered in these resources can help them rethink looking first, asking questions second. Bonus points: making these emails fun or entertaining is a great way to capture employee attention and retention of information.

Big ticket items

Policy manuals are another resource for staffers. These are typically more detailed than the handbook; less about when payroll is run, more about benefits, legal rights, and responsibilities. Every company should have a policy manual that’s current and accessible to employees. Most companies keep their policy manual in an online format that’s accessible to all staff. Communicate any updates to all staff when they’re issued.

If you’re still using hard copy policy manuals, departments should have their own copy of the manual. Assign a manager to assure employees have access to the team’s copy, and to make sure whenever a new policy is issued or an update is made to an older policy, that person makes the correction to the manual and communicates (in addition to company-wide communications) that the new version is available for employees to read.

When you definitely should go to HR

Your handbook, policy manual, and/or FAQ guide should have some caveats. Include that employees should definitely come to HR if they’re experiencing:

  • Problems with a manager that are complex and not being resolved
  • Sexual harassment or discrimination: talk to your manager first, but come to HR if the situation isn’t being resolved quickly or satisfactorily, or if you want HR to be informed throughout the process
  • Problems with paychecks or benefits

To solve the endless inquiries, it will be important to examine why staffers keep calling. If information isn’t widely known or easily accessible, that’s on HR to correct. If it wasn’t widely issued and communicated or readily available, or written in language that’s confusing, change should come from HR to give employees the help they need to help themselves. Ensuring the information is out there — and easy for them to find — makes training easy when you stop answering questions and start guiding employees on how to look it up.

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