Businesses in the United States compete in a top-notch, knowledge-based economy against both domestic and global rivals. For the most part, competitive advantage is based not on having the best machinery, the most productive land, or the greatest access to natural resources but on having the best people: the smartest, the most driven, the most creative, and the best trained.
To some extent, recruiting and retaining top talent are simply a matter of paying more money for that talent. But this is often an inefficient strategy from a financial standpoint. Another potentially better option for top companies is to invest in upskilling and training their existing talent.
On average, U.S. companies spend over $1,000 per year per employee on training. But some get far more value out of that $1,000 than others. So how do they do it?
For this feature, we polled industry experts to gain some insight into how some companies set themselves apart with high-quality training programs. Specifically, we wanted to know:
- Which companies are currently demonstrating exceptional training?
- What are these companies doing particularly well that other companies aren’t doing?
- What are some examples of how those efforts have paid off?
Examples of Top Companies
When looking for examples of companies that do training best, those that come to mind first are the ones that have made headlines for spending big money on high-profile employee development initiatives.
Often, these are companies that have been around for a while and correctly see investment in training as a means to hold onto and expand their advantage over existing competition and potential newcomers.
“Established companies are reshaping workforces at an unprecedented scale,” says Ian Cook, VP of people solutions with Visier. “AT&T, for example, launched an initiative to retrain nearly half its workforce to the tune of $1 billion after discovering that nearly half of its people lacked the necessary skills needed to keep the company competitive. Over a four-year period, Accenture reskilled nearly 300,000 employees, investing approximately $1 billion annually in training.” Cook argues that without these kinds of major reskilling investments, many traditional firms will be disrupted out of existence.
Other high-profile examples of top companies when it comes to training are Amazon, which recently announced a $700 billion investment aimed at retraining 100,000 employees, and Walmart, which has invested heavily in technology training as it increasingly seeks to leverage technology to improve efficiency and the customer experience.
What Are They Doing Differently?
We noted above that simply spending money on training isn’t enough to ensure its efficacy. Naturally, we wouldn’t expect to see savvy companies like Walmart, Amazon, and AT&T investing hundreds of millions of dollars without a plan to invest that money effectively.
A common trend among the companies that are doing training better than the rest is a focus on technology. We mentioned Walmart putting an emphasis on technology as a way to leverage its parallel and complementary investment in new-and-improved operational technologies.
But technology isn’t just a subject trainees are trained on. Technology also represents a suite of tools employees can be trained with. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can be exceptional for tailoring training to individual employees.
There’s also the use of cloud technologies to improve organization and distribution of training materials. “One of the big changes driven by cloud is the shift away from organizations having to make and distribute all of their learning content to having broad access to many, many different sources of learning content,” says Cook.
He adds that technology has also increased access to external training resources. “In the past organizations would spend a tremendous amount of money, building and curating their own learning courses. With cloud technology, all of that content—and more—is available on a single platform that many organizations can use. So rather than having to make a lot of content and manage it you are now providing access to multiple different catalogues that live in the cloud. As a result, quality content is readily available to far more people.”
Top companies also are recognizing that training isn’t a luxury but rather a necessity. These companies continue to make investments in training even during down times, recognizing the importance of ensuring employees are prepared to hit the ground running when the economy shifts.
Return on Investment
As noted above, training is really a necessity when it comes to remaining competitive in any industry. One return on investment for training is simply ensuring staff have the requisite skills to carry out their organization’s mission.
Walmart is a great example of how companies can and should continually look to technology as a force multiplier, increasing the efficiency and productivity of their workforces and effectively training employees on those technologies in this regard, as well
Additionally, we’ve repeatedly pointed to employee engagement, recruitment, and retention as key benefits of employee training and development. Younger generations in particular crave opportunities for personal and career growth and development. They are often willing to take a relatively lower-paying job if it offers greater chances for such growth.
Employee training and development are musts for any company that wants to grow and thrive in the face of intense domestic and international competition in a knowledge-based economy. That investment must be ongoing—and it must also be strategic.
HR professionals and training and development staff need to be continually assessing current competencies and considering what competencies their organizations will need in the future. A focus on upskilling existing staff can be a big benefit during both tight and booming economies. Top talent is hard to find; it can be easier to grow from within.
But simply throwing money and resources at a training program isn’t enough, as not all training programs are created equally. There are certainly some best practices in training that are followed by top training programs, but there are also companies that stand out even among the top tier, and it’s hard to describe what distinguishes one of the best training programs from a good training program without looking at some examples of the best companies.