When it comes to training, the question isn't why but how.

Every fall, students return to school. They have the luxury of focusing on their studies without the same concerns business owners have when they send technicians to training programs. Number one on that list of concerns: Who is going to do the work while technicians are attending training programs?

Closely following that concern are issues of how to justify the cost and generate funds to pay for training, not to mention airfare, lodging, meals and other expenses. No wonder many owners and managers hesitate to send their people out of town for training. It seems like a tough decision to make.

Given the critical need for training your people and recognizing return on your investment for training costs, how can you make it happen? Getting the money is the missing ingredient in the management analysis.

If funds are available, the decision is an easier one to make. Maintaining some control over the process, however, is still important. For example, you don't want your technicians out of town on an unlimited expense account. Nor do you want them to consider the trip a free vacation with no requirement to learn anything.

Another question is who gets to go? Do you send everyone or just a select few? You need to determine who goes and who stays. Should managers attend training or just technicians? What about dispatchers or customer service representatives? Can they learn new techniques that will pay off in the operation of your business?

No longer is it necessary to shy away from the matter. I'll share with you approaches that solve most of the barriers you may face when attempting to train your people. If you can solve the limitations you now have, then you are ready to build and maintain the best-trained team of technicians in your community. Let me isolate some of these training concerns and explain how to solve all the concerns I have mentioned.

Who Gets To Go?

That's an easy decision: Everyone goes to training once a year. Though it sounds like a lot of lost man-hours and substantial expenses, the policy is workable. To make it possible, people attending training have to prepare for their absence by planning ahead. For example, if ordered parts were coming in, they would need to inform others who could handle the job and serve the customer. Any service promises made, similarly, need to be taken care of.

Generally, their schedule must be freed up in advance so they can attend the training without causing unnecessary problems for the company. Planning is key. Make sure the employee scheduling training catches up on his work and tells the manager what special circumstances may accompany his departure for a week or two.

As soon as you hear everyone goes to training, it is easy to imagine employees signing up for time off due to training. Some might schedule courses of limited value or even pure recreation if you don't place an important limitation on the training. Employees should only attend training programs approved by the company. By limiting training alternatives to those that will benefit the company, you avoid wasting money on a paid vacation. They still have plenty of choices.

Trip & Expenses Guidelines

Another way to ensure your company's training investment is a productive one is to control employees' expenses while they are attending training. Unlimited expense accounts tend to produce astronomical reimbursement requests.

We have a strict per diem rate that prevents employees from ordering extravagant meals or beverages. In fact, our guidelines state that employees will refrain from drinking alcohol on days the seminar is being conducted - they are there to learn, not drink.

You set the tone for your company's expenses. If there is no policy, or employees observe you spending extravagantly or noticeably consuming alcoholic beverages, they are going to follow suit. It's not just the expenses you want to limit and monitor; you also want to ensure they learn something while they are gone.

One way to encourage, if not guarantee, employees learn the material presented at training sessions is to require them to take notes and share what they have learned. Knowing they're required to show a record of the topics covered in training makes employees take it seriously.

Besides noting the training tips and techniques, we also require a summary of the trip: what worked well, what didn't, suggestions, how they are going to apply the new material they have learned, etc. This information assists in evaluating the course and the organizations involved in its production. The feedback will keep you from sending people to a poor facility or ineffective training program in the future.

Funding Training Programs

We reviewed some ways to make the training programs your people attend more productive, but if you can't afford them, all of those policies make no sense. I have found a simple and automatic way to generate the funds necessary to pay for the training programs your people need. It is called an education account.

Here is how it works: From every job completed, a contribution, say $2, is set aside for education. Records are kept of this accumulation so technicians can determine how their education account compares with desired and approved training courses.

Some limitations on the accounts protect the company and encourage employees to stay. For example, the company keeps the account balance if a technician leaves the company. Also, the technician must use some of the balance for training every year. These policies are an incentive for technicians to stay with the company and expand their education and training every year.

The best part about the education account is the whole process is paid for by the people who most benefit from its use - customers. They contribute to the fund as part of their charges for the work done, plus they receive the benefit of the training, whether it's customer service or new technical information. Everybody wins.

Now that you know how to fund the training and who should attend, there is no reason to delay scheduling training for your people today. The benefits are easy to recognize, and the time outside of work will refresh your employees so they will contribute even more to your company.

Market leaders are sending their people. I hope that includes you.