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    Getting schooled, how local companies get training

    We’d all like to think that we know all we need to know to do our jobs well. And we’d like to believe that about our employees as well. After all, that’s why you hired them, right? However, as technology leaps and bounds and software systems change, many of those in the know find themselves out of their depth.

    But it’s not just technology. Techniques and standard practices in many business shift over time, and what was what “standard practice” is now “what we used to do.” In a business environment where nothing is status quo, how do businesses and employers keep up?

    In many situations, continuing education isn’t voluntary. Many professions, such as legal and accounting, require continuing education to maintain certification or good standing. For companies in these fields, the choice is not “should we offer training” but “where do we get it.”

    For businesses in Loudoun, there are a whole host of solutions that might best fit not only your needs, but also your schedules. With online learning, easier travel and simply being in a robust community near a huge city, the opportunities for companies to find the right training for their employees is simply the where to start on the buffet.

    In-House

    For some companies, the work begins at home. In-house training offers the convenience of having your employees right there for learning opportunities, and may be the easiest way to get them up to speed quickly without sacrificing productivity. It does, however, require member of your staff to be able train and oversee the program.

    For example, Yount, Hyde & Barbour, PC, which operates six offices in Virginia, including two in Leesburg and Middleburg provides in-house continuing education for many of their employees.

    According to Will Murphy, Training and Learning Manager at the company, Yount, Hyde and Barbour, PC offers “a mix of external and inhouse courses everyone takes, where lower level staff primarily take inhouse courses and vice versa as you move up the levels.”
    Murphy estimates that 25 percent of their education budget is for in house training.

    For smaller business, in house training is the only option, and provided when needed by experienced employees. This is the most economical option, as well as the most common. After all, who better to bring new employees up to speed than your employees who are already in the know?

    Webinars

    It used to be that to find an expert on training employees, you needed to make flight arrangements, hotel reservations and hope that your employees could take the time to travel to the site. These days, finding a class can be as easy as turning on a switch.
    Not only do webinars offer flexibility, in many cases, it also offers additional input and interactive options. It also can save a company a lot of money on travel expenses. Many industries are turning almost exclusively to online webinars to provide continuing education.

    “Most education offered by the insurance carriers, and in general by the industry, is done in the form of webinars or online self-study programs,” comments Pamela Pine, COO of Loudoun Insurance Group, which reimburses the cost of such webinars for its employees and encourages them to enroll.

    “LIG encourages education and is always happy to reimburse a producer/agent for the expense upon completion of a course. LIG feels education is the key to providing exceptional service to client base and is paramount in preventing and eliminating E&O [errors and omissions] exposures that would be passed from the producer/agent to the agency in a loss situation,” continues Pine.

    Medical organizations also rely on online training to keep their employees current with the latest practices. For instance, the Virginia Institute for Surgical Arts in South Riding supports its employees using seminars.

    “We participate in a variety of webinars which saves us time and money as a Practice but also as an employee,” says Lashelle Davis.

    These online education courses are becoming less the exception and more the rule says Murphy. “[We] found we are using it more compared to previous years. [Yount, Hyde & Barbour, PC] has also invested in technology to offer online/distance learning when developing in-house courses, where applicable.”

    In addition to “laptop” webinars, employers can also sign up whole groups for training all gathered in a conference room. It may sound complicated, but it is easier than trying to schedule all those trips.

    Seminars and off-site education

    Despite the growing technology, at times there is no substitute for being there. Often, professional associations offer continuing education at their yearly meeting as a benefit to their members – and as a way to attract attendees.

    These off-site classes are sometimes the only option to getting the training needed — especially if it’s very technical in nature. In addition to the training, there is also the added benefit of meeting with colleagues, comparing notes, and simply talking with others that share your profession.

    “If Dr. V [owner Dr. Trang Vo-Nguyen M.D.] or an employee can identify a beneficial training program we are encouraged to attend. Our nurse was encouraged to spend some time in NYC recently attending a skin care conference. We also have plans in the fall to attend several different conferences that are specific to our industry,” continues Davis.

    The downside is, of course, the cost and the employee’s absence in the office. It’s an equation that every company has to calculate.

    Back to the Books

    No matter how many webinars and seminars are available, there are times when only further education will do.

    Tuition reimbursement is not only a way to ensure your employees are fully prepared to handle their job tasks, but it also can serve as a benefit to lure qualified applicants.

    Beyond that, you can possibly reduce recruiting costs by promoting and educating from within. Employees are also benefiting. As higher education costs continue to rise, for many, having the option of getting their education funded by the company is the only way they could afford it.

    Companies as varied as Starbucks and Raytheon tout their tuition reimbursements and list it among their perks for new employees. ADP offers tuition reimbursement from the moment the employee starts. Due to the costs however, many companies attach strings to their practices, such as how long the employee has been with the company or how long the employee must stay. No one wants to be the company that paid for a degree only to have that employee take their diploma and use it to get another job.

    Even smaller companies are offering tuition reimbursement to employees. Zicht Engineering in Paeonian Springs only has two full-time employees, but owner Eric Zicht still offers the benefit. “ paid one’s tuition and books and gave flex-time to get his degree equivalent to two year college [and] paid a summer intern's tuition at a community college for one semester,” says Zicht.

    Also, with the rise of degree programs online, employers no longer have to not only provide tuition reimbursement but also time away from the office. Instead, employees can get their education on their own time, just using your funds.

    Whether you’re encouraging your employees to go back to school or signing them up for the latest software training, it’s an investment that is sure to pay off. You get the benefit of not having to look outside for knowledge while expanding your internal skill set.
    As more and more options for obtaining training are becoming available, not only are more companies in Loudoun offering training and education opportunities, but more employees are taking advantage of the programs as a way to get ahead and sometimes get that degree.

    In the end though, it will be the employers who foster knowledge and continued learning who will have the most education and best trained employees to tackle whatever lies ahead.

    And it doesn’t take a degree to know that will help the bottom line.


    This article was originally published in the third quarter 2013 Loudoun Business Journal.
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