If you were given the choice between seeing a doctor who was current with his medical training and one who hadn't read a research paper in 10 years, which one would you choose? For most jobs, it's critical that people keep up to date with the latest knowledge and techniques in their field. Otherwise, they fall behind.
Technical training is the process of helping employees improve the practical skills they use on the job. Unlike communications or leadership training, which aim to improve a person's soft skills, technical training focuses on what people do each day, from constructing houses to nursing.
What Is Technical Training?
Technical skills are the abilities your staff members need to perform the jobs for which you hired them. This could be anything from engineering skills, programming skills or writing skills to operating equipment efficiently to using the firm's client relationship management tools or knowing how to interpret website analytics. Technical skills are usually practical, and they are always job specific. This distinguishes them from soft skills, which are transferable.
It follows, then, that technical training is any type of training that improves someone's technical skills. An employee may need technical training because her skills are not up to standard or, more likely, because the job is evolving and the employee needs to get current on the latest thinking.
Who Needs to Develop Their Technical Skills?
The short answer is that everyone needs to improve technical skills. Just about every occupation is concerned with skills development. Lawyers, for example, must engage in continuous technical skills training to stay ahead of changes in the law. Developers must learn new programming languages, nurses must learn new care standards and the marketing department must keep up to speed with the rapidly changing demands of SEO.
For small businesses, the need to technically train all of your staff may seem like a headache. Training employees takes time and costs money. You might have to bring in third parties to deliver the training, which doesn't come cheap. Even if you train in house, there are costs associated with missed time and lost production.
You may be wondering if it's worth it. The answer is usually "yes." There are so many benefits of technical employment skills training that it really should be seen as an investment in the business rather than an expense.
Trained Employees Are Loyal Employees
Around 42 million employees will leave their jobs each year, according to a 2018 report by Work Institute, and the top reason employees give for leaving is a lack of opportunity to develop skills. Employees who feel undertrained are not happy. They worry that they're underperforming or making mistakes, and they worry that a lack of training will make them less valuable in the job market.
These employees are much more likely to jump ship and find an employer who will invest in them. This has significant turnover costs for your business.
Trained Workers Are More Productive
Everyone understands the benefits of vocational education for those just starting out in their careers. You wouldn't hire a plumber who hadn't completed a technical-school plumbing course, for example, or a child care worker who did not have a diploma in child and health studies.
So, why allow competent employees to become less competent simply through lack of training? The quality of their performance will be lower than it could be, and it may take them longer to do the work because they are less efficient. This costs you money through lower work output.
Trained workers, by contrast, are significantly more productive than their untrained counterparts. One study by the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce found that a 10 percent increase in technical education led to an 8.6 percent gain in productivity.
Trained Workers Save You Time and Money
When a poorly trained worker makes a mistake, the work has to be done again. This creates multiple costs for the business. For instance, if an employee creates a CAD drawing incorrectly, someone has to reprint the file. This costs more money in ink and paper. It takes time to check the work and time to fix the mistake. If you work on a project fee basis, then this additional time commitment could push down the rate you're getting for the project.
Worse, mistakes can cost you your reputation with the client. The client might lose trust in your abilities if you sent the wrong CAD file. In the worst case, you might lose customers. If the work was done correctly the first time, these costs wouldn't be there.
Technical Training Reduces Business Risk
When competency slides, your business and your people are at risk. Production standards may fall, for example, or the business might fail a quality control check or an audit.
In the worst case, a lack of technical training could bring about actual harm to employees and visitors. Poorly trained employees are a danger to themselves and others when, for example, they are not trained on the proper safety procedures to follow when operating dangerous machinery, or they are underqualified for their positions.
If a workplace accident happened in this situation, it could be argued that the employer was negligent by failing to provide adequate technical training. This opens up the possibility of a lawsuit where an injured worker or visitor could attempt to recover damages for their injuries.
Importance of Technical Skills in Management
Technical skills are important for all staff but are especially important for lower-level and mid-level managers. That's because managers are often responsible for training their subordinates. If they don't know how to complete a task, how can they guide the team or effectively judge others when it comes time for performance reviews?
In other words, the need for technical training is still there even as you move up the corporate hierarchy. The training may take a slightly different form– new managers may need training on statistics, data interpretation, budgeting, financial management, project management and business process management, for instance, as well as their usual technical skills training. Fundamentally, the need for technical competence does not go away.
Delivering Technical Training the Right Way
The good news about technical training is that unlike with soft-skills training, the hard skills you're improving can be categorized, defined and measured. Take, for example, training in HTML and CSS for the marketing team. These employees who are managing your blog posts and website need to know how to lay them out properly. It's easy to define competence in these areas since certifications are available or employees could sit for a test.
There are many ways to deliver the training, and it does not have to be expensive. Besides formal training programs, there may be options for online learning, on-the-job training and simply observing experts on their jobs. More generally, you need to recognize that technical training is not a one-time endeavor but rather a program of continuous learning.
The rapid advancements in technology mean that the credential your employee earned a couple of years ago is now obsolete. There are new ideas in every sector, and your staff must stay on top of them to ensure their value and relevance. The investment is worth it in terms of productivity gains and a happier, more loyal workforce. When the staff gets better, the business gets better.
Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a business writer. Her articles have appeared on numerous business sites including Typefinder, Women in Business, Startwire and Indeed.com.