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Canadian living standards tied to our ability to learn.

Canadian companies must invest in employee training now or face frightening consequences.

That was the message, loud and clear, from a series of Partners in Profit business seminars held in Sudbury during September and October.

The average Canadian company offers only 17 hours of formal training per employee, per year, Canada Employment Centre officer Jan Morel told seminar participants. Compare that to 57 hours invested annually in Germany, and 200 hours in Japan.

"We want to encourage employers to invest in training and human resource training," said Morel.

Pointing to studies that reveal techno-illiteracy is spreading like a virus, Drake Personnel owner Darla Scott said businesses today are facing a skills gap.

In the last 15 years labor costs have increased 37 per cent while productivity has increased only 15 per cent, she said. This is leading to a change in how companies are recruiting new employees.

"Do we ever consider (a job candidate's) ability to cope with the new technology?" Scott asked.

She suggested asking candidates how they learned technological skills acquired in the past. Were they self- taught? Were the skills learned willingly or forced upon them?

Situational questions are important too, as they help to determine a candidate's attitude toward learning.

"Find the attitude, then invest in skill development," she advised.

The importance of learning was echoed by speaker Herb Roseneck, a training and development consultant with Roseneck & Associates in Sudbury, who warned that if companies fail to adopt a learning approach soon, Canadian living standards will suffer.

"Get committed to an ongoing learning program and get busy," Roseneck said.

He offered a three-step formula for success, one with the added benefit of increasing employee motivation.

First, define a singular objective in the department or company.

Second, train toward that objective.

Third, give employees encouragement.

Roseneck emphasized the importance of adopting a student mentality, which he said is lacking in business, particularly at the management level.

"The unwritten law is: 'J.P., I promise not to tell you about your's (shortcomings) if you don't tell about mine."

While this attitude can create only fear and defensiveness, a learning attitude reduces stress and makes business more fun.

"Becoming a student means that it is O.K. to fall flat on your face," he said, referring to one company that actually presents an award for "the best screw-up of the year."

Once the three-step plan is in motion, just watch what happens to motivation, Roseneck said.

But how can companies justify the cost of training when a weak economy makes their very survival the main priority?

This question was addressed by speaker Jack Boyd, a training consultant with the Ontario Skills Development Office in Sudbury.

Boyd said money saved as a result of a corporate training program will pay for the training costs, though the savings may not be realized in the first year.

For managers to convince themselves of this, training benefits must be translated into dollars at the very beginning.

"People get enthusiastic about training," said Boyd, "but don't always put it into dollars."

A cost-benefit analysis may also qualify companies for grant money from the Ontario Ministry of Skills Development which will pay 30 to 50 per cent of the trainer's fees, including travel and accommodation.

If doing an analysis seems like a difficult task, the nearest Ontario Skills Development Office will help companies develop a step-by-step training plan.

For example, computerization and training in the payroll department may reduce time spent preparing year-end statements from 75 hours to five. A 70-hour time saving can easily be translated into a dollar figure.

"In this case, the payoff is from the training, rather than the capital equipment," Boyd said.

Similar analyses can be made in every area of the company to address not only productivity, but also job accidents and absenteeism, employee turnover and effective management.

"Even if the estimate is 50 per cent, you can still justify the training and get a payback," he said.

Unfortunately, during hard times training is often the first thing to be cut from the budget.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Human Resources Report
Author:Pearsall, Kathryn
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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