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Training and its contribution to operational effectiveness during COVID-19: opinion

Training, applied and practised methodically, can and does make a significant contribution to the effective corporate structure. In difficult times like those thrown up by the pandemic, the main areas of focus should be in response to the question: “Is each of our staff able to competently undertake the tasks for which they are employed, or which will arise tomorrow?”

One of the first things to go in a recession or other period of economic hardship is the staff training budget. It’s often seen as a luxury rather than a necessity, and quickly faces the chop.

However, putting people-development on pause during the pandemic until we 'get back to normal' is, quite frankly, not an option. Why? Because we’re not going 'back to normal' anytime soon. Essentially, failure to train is training to fail.

Core purposes

Training is concerned with helping people acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to do the work for which they are employed, or to prepare them for future activities.

It must, therefore, create changed behaviour.

Essentially, training should have two purposes:

  1. The production of work to a required standard of quality, quantity, cost, and time – for this is why the organisation is in business.
  2. The development of staff, by skill and knowledge, to meet the foreseeable future needs of the organisation – and thereby seek to realise the potential of each individual in the desired areas.

As COVID has shown only too clearly, organisations need to be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. This doesn’t happen on its own: it takes a skilled team to devise and action those transformations.

Hence why training is arguably more important now than pre-COVID: the scale of change, and pace with which that change is occurring, in response to the virus demands a skilled, knowledgeable, and adaptable workforce.

Divergent skill requirements

Contrary to the belief of some, training is not limited to technical skills. Modern organisations are increasingly acknowledging the need to develop management skills and even soft skills to deliver optimal results.

Individuals are often promoted into leadership positions owing to their superior technical skills within their particular field. Yet leadership requires an entirely new set of skills. Among them are:

  • management skills: over time, resources, teams, budgets and problem resolution
  • staff motivation
  • delegation techniques
  • advanced leadership skills
  • transition management preparation

Meanwhile, so-called soft skills are relevant for employees at all levels within the organisational hierarchy. However, they are most acutely required among management and customer-facing roles.

These skills cover:

  • communication
  • problem-solving
  • decision-making
  • empowerment
  • empathy
  • productivity
  • teamwork
  • time management

Symptoms of inadequate training

When workplace training has been insufficient to meet the changing needs of an organisation – whether through a restricted training schedule or poor implementation – several issues begin to surface.

These issues can include:

  • poor staff performance
  • decreased staff morale
  • increased employee absence
  • increased number of workplace accidents
  • rising levels of work-related stress

Ultimately, these issues lead to increased staff turnover and revenue losses – neither of which are affordable nor sustainable during a market downturn. Generally speaking, the more severe the symptoms, the greater the hit to turnover and revenue.

Training for sustainable growth

The training function is the subject of more lip-service than most other business and industrial activities. It plays a key role in the quest for efficiency, effectiveness and, ultimately, profit.

An understanding of workplace training and its contribution to operational effectiveness enhances both personal and professional output. During times of great uncertainty, this is even more significant, given the now urgent quest for higher productivity and efficiency.

As the COVID situation continues to play out, there is no perfect option; developing a blended learning approach is most effective.

The one certainty, though, is that employee skills are a competitive edge for any organisation. Investing in training and development is therefore critical for businesses to be able to thrive in our new normal.

Sir Gerard Newcombe is executive director at Group Colleges Australia/UBSS and author of Marketing: The Simple Technique and Surviving Asia. He was knighted by the Order of the Knights of Rizal in The Philippines in 2016 for his work in fostering relations between The Philippines and Australia.

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