Monday, 2 February 2009

Recession - a good time for CAD & BIM training?

As the recessionary typhoon continues unabated, drawing us all into its swirling centre, the question of staff development crops up time and again.

It seems as if everyone is looking at their budgets to see how they can be reduced. In most firms, financial controllers are looking at training budgets and assessing the benefits of immediately using some of the funds elsewhere or removing them all together! It is a difficult situation and one that presents CAD & HR Managers, and others responsible for training staff, with a serious challenge. How can they reach their targets - and keep projects on track - if their workforce is under-developed?

In Britain, the Learning Skills Council is encouraging businesses to take advantage of government funding for training, which may increase motivation and productivity; "Those (businesses) that make the right investment in training and development will be in a much better place when we come out of the recession. Training is one of the cornerstones of any successful business today, as it makes the organisation adaptable to change and therefore more productive. The last thing you should do is cut your training; now is not the time to lose employees to competition."

Research from the Cranfield School of Management shows that it is cheaper and more effective to 'grow your own' employees rather than shop around for talent. Cranfield's 'Nurturing Talent' report, which canvassed the views of 1,200 training and recruitment decision makers, found that three quarters of employers would rather nurture and develop talent in-house than recruit externally.

Almost half of small and medium sized businesses that develop in-house talent noted a cost saving, 20% recorded improved staff motivation and 45% increased employee retention. The report concludes; "For employers, the nurturing talent concept means managing and developing employees to achieve business goals. This could include training, employee coaching, staff mentoring and job enrichment to stretch employees with new tasks."

A leading US business performance coach states simply; "Train intensively in tough times... and less so in good times. In good times you want employees to be working hard, setting new performance records and serving customers; taking advantage of the good times. Prepare for the good times with intense internal training in tough times - you won't get a better opportunity!"

From our experience at CADsmart, we see AEC firms falling into two distinct categories; those who 'get it' and those who don't. The ones who do understand these principles have a rolling, continuous improvement environment for their CAD & BIM teams, including regular assessment, targeted training, buddying & mentoring schemes - and a clear path from basic skills through to advanced CAD & BIM applications for projects.

The ones who don't, seem to be taking more of a head-in-the-sand approach to their planning. They cut skills assessment from their priority list, along with training & development programs. Their rationale? We're not hiring, so we don't need skills evaluations. These same firms, when it comes to the unfortunate position of letting people go, have no real clue who their best - most productive - users are! They slice 5%, 10%, 20% from their payrolls - losing super-users alongside inefficient ones - without thought for the medium-term consequences!

Sensible business leaders are keen to keep staff motivated at all times. Good leadership is critical during times of fear, uncertainty and pessimism such as these. Companies need leaders who can manage their emotions, stay positive and show resolve. Providing development through internal mentoring, using senior users to mentor less experienced colleagues, can be very effective especially if salaries and promotion are temporarily pegged. The best CAD users will stay only if they are receiving development.

So, when faced with that budget challenge from your FD or CFO, make the case as strongly as you can that your training resources should take priority - and your training programs should be tailored and targeted. If you can achieve this - you can guarantee it will be effective.


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