Pros and cons of in-house training and trainers

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Having been in my current line of work for over fifteen years, I often get asked to run ‘train the trainer’ workshops for clients’ internal trainers. What typically happens is that someone (usually senior, and/or in HR) decides that the expertise on the payroll needs to be shared much more methodically, and asks for volunteers to run in-house training sessions. Or, the L&D (Learning & Development) budget gets slashed and someone (again, usually senior) decides that the way to go until funds are restored is to get training delivered by people already in the building.

Nothing wrong with that – if it’s done right. I assess training award entries where many of the best have an element of training delivered by colleagues. There are plenty of advantages to having in-house trainers, as they:

  1. Have a grasp of current issues, both at the employer and in the wider industry.
  2. Know how things get done around here (all those unwritten rules…)
  3. Are familiar with systems and processes.
  4. Know who’s who in the organisation.
  5. Can see where colleagues are going wrong.
  6. Are usually fluent in industry jargon (and organisation in-jokes).
  7. Have skills that their participants aspire to mastering.
  8. Are subject matter experts (memo to HR: please stop calling them ‘SMEs’. Any business person will tell you the acronym stands for ‘Small to Medium Enterprise’).
  9. Have heaps of highly relevant examples that will help learners relate the subject matter to their experience.
  10. Are already on the payroll and in the building.

And, you may be thinking, it’s free training, right? Well no, it’s not exactly free. And getting training delivered by colleagues has other disadvantages:

  1. Knowing the participants, the subject matter and what to say about it can lead to complacency: the trainer ‘busks it’, resulting in disappointment all round.
  2. Participants may perceive the training to be low-value when compared with an external course.
  3. Trainers may cancel sessions at the last minute due to an urgent business issue (reinforcing the perceived low value).
  4. Participants may not bother attending as ‘it’s only so-and-so’.
  5. If the trainers spend significant time designing, preparing and delivering the sessions, that time could have been charged out for as much or more than any saving made.
  6. The training design may lack the rigour that a trained external facilitator can provide; for example a clear set of learning objectives with varied activities designed to meet them.
  7. In-house sessions all too often take the form of presentations, and can therefore result in ‘Death by PowerPoint’.
  8. If the trainer is doing most of the talking, participants may not retain and apply the learning as much as they would from a more interactive session.
  9. Participants may avoid asking questions, for fear of being seen to challenge a more senior colleague.
  10. Feedback may not be as forthright about a colleague’s performance compared to that about an external trainer’s.

What’s an employer to do? My top tips:

  • Start at the beginning by clarifying the business performance needs where training can make a difference, and identify the means of measuring success.
  • Assess if the training is required for an ongoing need, i.e. using proprietary process and operations tools, applying essential skills for first-time managers – or a one-off, for example, supporting culture change following a merger/acquisition.
  • Decide if the performance need can best be met by internal or external training providers – or a mix of both.
  • Consider cost and availability.
  • Train your in-house trainers so they can switch from ‘presenting to people’ to ‘facilitating people’s learning’.
  • Train up a faculty of in-house trainers so that there’s more than one person who can deliver each topic.
  • Promote in-house training with the same enthusiasm as external.
  • Get detailed feedback to enable ongoing improvement.
  • Use positive feedback and testimonials to promote repeat sessions.
  • Recognise and reward your in-house trainers’ contribution to the business – their time and effort, impact and results.

You may also find this post useful: 10 tips for getting your in-house training session off to a good start.

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

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