External training providers are individual trainers or specialist training companies that are external and not linked to your organisation. These trainers are brought in to educate and develop your workforce and impart new skills to staff.
In contrast, in-house trainers typically take the form of individuals, or groups of individuals, who seek to pass on their expertise to those who are further down the corporate ladder. When seeking to enhance a workforce, most companies are faced with the same decision: do we provide training in-house, or do we use an external training company?
How To Improve Your Training Provider
If you’re a training manager, then this guide could be your helpful assistant and help minimise the risk of outsourcing part or all of your training. So read on to discover how to source the most suitable training provider for your organisation.
The seven parts to finding a training company are:
- Define your training needs
- Search for training providers
- Solicit training strategies
- Evaluate training proposals
- Explore proposed solutions
- Launch your training program
- Evaluate your training company
1: Defining Your Training Needs
The first part reveals the first stage in your training plan – defining your training needs.
It may seem obvious, but so many training managers fail to properly assess the training needs in their organisations. Too often, we give way, too quickly, to the managers and directors who demand “this group of people need that type of training”.
Rather than bowing to others wishes, and seeking training that may not be successful at addressing skills gaps, it is vital that training managers begin by with honest and detailed discussions about what is needed.
To begin, first determine who needs training. The key is to be very specific in order to minimise costs; vague answers such as “a few of the sales people” are unhelpful. If you want to spend wisely, learn the specific number of people who need training.
What type of training?
In tandem with who needs training must be explorations of what type of training is needed. For example, is it to enable a team to use a new piece of software more effectively, or to manage their time more successfully? Also, your role as a training manager is to identify what training is needed, not only what is wanted. The best way to determine this is to link the training need back to an identified business need or a known skills gap.
Using the previous example: if 65% of staff cannot use a new piece of software without repeatedly asking for assistance, thereby impacting efficiency, then training in this area could be highly beneficial.
On the other hand, if a sales manager requests training for his team in time management simply because he went to an interesting conference about this issue, then this would require further investigation to determine if a need exists.
Once all training needs have been identified, it’s then up to you as the training manager to determine which of these needs are to be met and how. This enables you to focus on the most important training issues and help you set specific goals for your training, which the outcomes can later be evaluated.
In the first part of “How To Improve Your External Training Company” we explored how to identify your management training needs. In this next section we share with you how to complete a productive search for suitable training providers.
2: Searching For Training Providers
External training provider vs. in-house training
Increasingly, organisations are utilising external training companies, due to the benefits associated with this approach.
There are a number of benefits gained from using an external training provider compared with using an in-house “expert”.
For example, external providers often offer a greater breadth of experience, as they come from outside and hence have experience of other ways of thinking and doing. So, they will be better equipped to challenge any entrenched attitudes that may be present in your staff.
What’s more, external training companies may have a greater depth of knowledge in particular specialisms. This makes them able to offer a more detailed and nuanced training experience compared with in-house training.
Also, training providers are usually more flexible in scaling up or down the volume of delivery, with a variety of training packages available. These range from short one-off training days for smaller groups, to training courses designed for spanning multiple sessions with larger groups.
Notably, the most important benefit in hiring an external training provider is that the person(s) delivering the training will possess the relevant set of skills required to deliver training effectively. It’s important to remember that leading a training course requires a special set of skills that in-house staff may not have: just because someone is a great manager or an in-house expert does not mean that they are necessarily a good training facilitator.
How Much Do External Training Companies Cost?
While there can be many benefits to using external training providers, it should be noted that doing so is not always cost effective. External trainers typically cost more than internal trainers, and while this may be a worthwhile investment, costs will nonetheless factor into any decision about training.
For example, some external trainers want their travel expenses and accommodation paid for, particularly if they are travelling from farther away. Furthermore, costs vary depending upon the length of the course. Benchmark costs for one-day short courses can be upwards of £500, although certain institutions that provide courses (such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Charted Institute of Personnel & Development) may offer discounts to members of these institutions.
Training Provider Examples
There are a number of established training companies that will provide training to your employees. Names include:
- Reed Learning, which offers courses in a range of areas, including in time management, negotiation skills, leadership, stress management, effective communication and marketing.
- Charted Institute of Marketing (CIM), which is one of the world’s largest organisations of professional marketers, offering a range of courses that aim to raise the standard of marketing around the world.
- Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is an association for human resource management professionals that offers a wide range of courses designed to develop the skills of personnel.
- Hemsley Fraser, a global organisation committed to innovation that offers robust learning solutions.
- Train in a Day, the UK’s best-value training company.
If you can identify your training needs and find a suitable training provider, it is likely that your organisation and your employees as will benefit from sourcing an external training company.
Once you have defined your training needs, the next step is to search for an appropriate training provider to meet those needs.
Naturally, your first port of call may be your current training provider – having them fulfil your training needs could be advantageous as they will already have an existing knowledge of your company and trainers may already be known to your staff.
However, even in situations where your company has used a particular training provider for an extended period, it is always a good idea to look elsewhere as other providers may be better equipped to meet your needs and may offer more competitive prices.
If you want to guarantee the maximum return on your investment in training, you should always be looking at other providers in addition to consulting your current one.
Training Needs and Limitations
Searching for new training providers can sound like a daunting and time consuming process, but it really doesn’t have to be. Before you begin your search, first make sure your needs have been identified and also ensure that you have given due attention to your training limitations; i.e. the restrictions and factors that could make training choices less effective.
Limitations that you need to keep in mind before beginning your search include:
● Formative restrictions. e.g. day courses may not possible in some companies
● Travel restrictions. Has your company banned overnight travel?
● Location restrictions. If your premises are unsuitable for hosting a trainer, you will need to find a provider that has its own or that is willing to travel to a third party location.
Searching For A Training Company
Once you have clarified your needs and your limitations, it’s time to get searching for a provider. Aren’t sure of where to start? Simply Googling “training provider in (insert your area)” can be a good place to begin, or alternatively you can search for a few key terms that you’ve identified from your training needs analysis, e.g. “ACT database training”.
Another effective way to identify the right training provider for your company is to search some of the key training provider directories, such as TrainingZONE, to see what is available. Additionally, you may wish to attend trade fairs where providers will be present, such as the CIPD exhibitions, to discuss your needs face-to-face with potential providers.
Training Company Recommendations
One final way that you could find a provider is by seeking recommendations from people in your sector. In fact, recommendations and reviews in general are vital for finding the most effective providers; whether you find a potential provider through doing a Google Search, through TrainingZONE, at an event or expo, or through a recommendation from a colleague; you must ensure that you seek out online reviews and client testimonials to get a feel for what people are saying about the quality of your marketing training provider. You don’t want to end up with a provider that promises a lot, but fails to deliver, and testimonials are the surest way to safeguard your return on investment. Always remember that colourful brochures prove nothing when it comes to looking for a training provider; recommendations and client testimonials really will be the most important tool that you can use in this process.
1. Define Your Training Needs
2. Searching For Training Providers
3. Solicit Proposals
4. Evaluate Proposals
5. Further Exploration
6. Internal Launch
7. Evaluating Progress
How Do You Increase Training Return on Investment?
Employee development and training are crucial elements in the operation of all businesses, who are increasingly turning to external providers to meet their training needs.
Yet in these current times of economic difficulty, when companies cannot afford to waste a penny on ineffective training, how can you be sure that your provider is giving you the high return on investment that you need?
Whether you are a training manager or with responsibility for HR, this FREE Guide To Managing Training Company Selection will provide you with tips and techniques to increase your training return on investment.
Part 3: How To Solicit Training Proposals
Once you’ve identified a number of potential training providers to contact, you can now start to collect proposals from them.
“training providers will have a clear idea of what is needed”
But before you contact them, be sure that you have a good, consistent brief that outlines in detail all of the management training needs that you want the provider to meet; this way, training providers will have a clear idea of what is needed from them and will be able to propose training interventions that should have a tangible impact upon how your organisation operates.
Comparing Training Proposals
Furthermore, having a detailed brief will reduce the amount of dialogue needed between you and any potential provider as they will have a clear idea of what’s required straight away. This should cut down on the amount of follow-up questions they need to ask in order to craft their proposal. Plus, giving a clear and consistent brief to each potential provider allows for you to make comparisons between competitive proposals much more easily.
This has been Part three of how to improve your training provider. Part Four will continue to advise to to select an appropriate training provider.
Part 4: Evaluate Training Proposals
While a consistent brief should ensure that proposals are comparable between different providers, you may find that in reality prices vary greatly between different companies. The temptation here is to just selected the least expensive option, but don’t be fooled – effective
training managers look at the expected return on their training investment.
What this means in practice is that instead of just looking at the costs of a particular training proposal, you need to consider the value that you will receive from the investment. With this aim, be sure to discuss proposals further with potential providers in order to clarify details and get a better sense of the facts and figures involved: you don’t need vague statements such as “our training should improve staff productivity”, you need hard facts like “on average our training improves staff productivity by 6% year on year”. Once you have tangible information such as this, you will be able to look at your own financial accounts and projections and work out the annual cost savings and revenue increases that you can look forward to receiving.
Don’t forget to factor in additional costs such as your staff’s time attending training sessions, travel expenses, accommodation etc. Once you have an idea of all the costs involved in a particular proposal, and a clear understanding of what returns you can expert, and over how long
you can expect them, this will enable you to use metrics, such as a break even analysis, to determine which is the most cost effective training proposal. Be sure to also factor in timing issues: if one option promises a 50% return on investment over 5 years, and another promises 50% over 18 months, it’s clear which option you should select.
With all of this data your choices should narrow down quickly, leaving you with a reasonably clear indication of which proposal is most suitable.
Part 5: Training Exploration
Whilst your ROI evaluation may give you a clear idea of which proposal to choose, the reality is that all of your potential providers will be eager to do business with you, thus enabling you to use your comparative data as leverage in further negotiations. Just because one provider seems to offer the best ROI doesn’t mean the other “nearly perfect” providers should be dismissed: you now have the opportunity to reach out to them and explore the possibility of making some alterations to their proposal to create a winning solution for both parties.
Enter into discussion with potential providers to better understand what the elements of their proposed programme are, and explore the extent to which these could be customised to provide you with more suitable training. Look at the tools that are utilised in each proposal – how suitable are they for your company? Do they need to be changed? If so, how will that impact the costs of the training? Just remember: not all customisations may be possible, so be willing to compromise. And make sure that you think carefully beforehand about defining the acceptable margin in which you’re willing to do so.
In addition to these negotiations surrounding the content of training proposals, this is also the ideal juncture to negotiate the cost of the proposed training interventions. Armed with your data on ROI, you should have a clear idea of what it is that you need and how much you’re willing to pay for it. But remember: throughout all these negotiations, keep things amicable. Ultimately, you will want to work with the chosen provider and they want to work with you. Even if you don’t come to an agreement this time, be sure to part on good terms as this is a connection that could lead to future dealings and training programmes.
After completing this exploration stage with your range of potential training providers, you should have a clear idea of which provider is the most suitable one for your needs and your budget. You now need to make a final choice about which training provider is the one that you are going to use.
Part 6: Training Company Launch
Once you have chosen a training provider, it’s important to make this decision known to your colleagues and launch the training scheme to your staff. It’s worth recognising at this point that your choice of training provider may not be universally accepted by all of your colleagues; for example, some may question why you didn’t go with the your existing training provider, whilst others may wonder why you didn’t go with a big name firm that is well-known in your industry. If you’re on the receiving end of these kinds of questions: don’t worry, remember that you’ve done calculations and engaged in negotiations with potential providers to ensure that this is indeed the best provider for your needs. You can even justify your choice by showing your colleagues the comprehensive needs analysis you undertook at the start of this process, the multiple proposals you have solicited, and your ROI calculations. As a result, your colleagues cannot fail to see the wisdom of your choice.
Even so, as a training manager it may still be necessary for you to “sell” this training to your organisation: it’s important to bear in mind that when all is said and done, you are deliberately upsetting the apple cart and shaking up the status quo in order to bring about tangible change through learning and development. While the facts and figures may make total sense, people are naturally resistant to change; you may therefore have to employ a number of the strategies detailed below in order get your staff on side. Things to consider include:
- The ways in which you’re going to communicate this training choice to your staff. You could use different forms of publicity, including presentations, newsletters, or brochures from your training company. Just make sure you back everything up with positive testimonials from people who have used your chosen training provider previously.
- Focus on the training needs in your organisation that need to be met, rather than getting bogged down always discussing the tools that will be employed to meet those needs.
- Make sure you spell out the disadvantages with your company’s current way of doing things and how the training you have sourced will greatly improve things.
- Throughout all these conversations, remember that everyone you speak to will be thinking “what’s it to me?” Make sure you spell out the benefits of training in a personable and relevant way. For example: “you and your colleagues will enjoy a day out of the office to learn new skills and provide an opportunity for team building”.
With the training programme “launched” internally, and with staff and colleagues on board, it’s now up to your chosen training provider to deliver the agreed upon training.
7: Training Company Evaluation
As a training manager, your role does not end as soon as your external provider begins to deliver the agreed upon training; rather you need to maintain an involvement in the process and, most crucially, take responsibility for coordinating an evaluation of the training once it has been delivered. Many training managers fall into the trap of using ineffective methods to evaluate training that do not necessarily give an accurate measure of success. For example, many employ feedback questionnaires upon the completion of training; while these may be good at assessing delegates’ feelings towards the training and the trainer who delivered it, it’s unlikely that these measures will give a reliable insight into the effectiveness of the training at plugging skills gaps within your organisation. For example, the trainer may have delivered a fun and enjoyable training session, which would be indicated by delegates on feedback questionnaires, yet there is always the possibility that in reality delegates just had a good time but didn’t learn anything actionable.
Similarly, getting delegates to self-assess after a training course can be inaccurate, as delegates have a tendency to overestimate how much they have learned in response to being exposed to new information.
How then, should you as a training manager evaluate the progress that your staff have made? How can you determine whether the training your provider delivered was of high quality and will yield its anticipated ROI?
The answer is that you must rely upon tangible performance measures.
By all means, use questionnaires to evaluate delegates’ attitudes towards the training; if nothing else this will at least give you an idea of whether or not you should request the same trainer again if you use this provider in future. But you must also identify key performance indicators (KPIs)
prior to beginning the training programme: hopefully you will have done this as part of stages 1 and 3 above. You then need to compare these indicators in the aftermath of training, and continue to compare them over time: that way you will not only have an idea of whether the training has yielded tangible results, but you’ll also be able to see if staff are retaining their new knowledge, or whether they are slipping back into old habits.
Examples of metrics that you could employ to evaluate the effectiveness of training include:
- Productivity: has it improved?
- Number of accidents at work: have these reduced?
- Workplace morale: has this changed for the better?
- Number of sales: has they risen?
- Absenteeism: are staff having fewer sick days?
- Customer satisfaction: are you receiving fewer complaints?
Of course, not all of these indicators may be relevant to your business, but there will certainly be some here that you can use. Ultimately, these changes should then lead to positive changes in your bottom line that should be in line with your initial ROI calculations.
It sounds obvious, but so many training managers forget that training must lead to tangible, measurable, empirical results in your organisation. By following the stages outlined in this document, you will be able to identify important skills gaps, thus empowering you to make better informed decisions when searching for a training provider. By paying close attention to KPIs indicators, you can then evaluate the effectiveness of your training provider’s offerings in a suitable amount of detail, allowing you to see clearly how successful the learning has been.
Whilst it may seem like more work initially, following the advice above will ultimately enable your choices to make a tangible difference in your organisation by helping you to choose the training provider that is right for your company.